It's been a long time coming, but major websites, web services, and Internet service providers are finally getting behind IPv6 in a big way. Today, June 6, 2012, is World IPv6 Launch Day. Most Internet users won't see much of a difference, but it's there, under the surface – and it guarantees that the web will continue to grow.
Before I get into what World IPv6 Launch Day really means, and who's participating, let me quickly cover the technical end. IP addresse, as Vint Cerf explains in a video posted by Google, were created in the early days of the Internet, when it was considered an experiment; they were allocated “sort of like phone numbers,” he noted “sufficient to define 4.3 billion termination points in the Internet.” In 1983, “that seemed like it would last forever – but remember, it was an experiment.” And the experiment never ended.
Additionally, those setting up this “experiment” didn't envision at the time all of the uses to which we've put it. It's not just desktop computers getting on the Internet; it's mobile devices of all kinds, from laptops to smartphones, TVs, gaming consoles, watches, cars, home appliances, and more. All of a sudden, the 32-bit Ipv4 protocol that gave us 4.3 billion addresses doesn't seem like nearly enough room.
And it isn't. Cerf notes that there are currently 5.5 billion mobile devices alone. If they all tried to get online at the same time, they couldn't. Fortunately, in 1996, some very smart people created IPv6. It's a 128-bit Internet protocol with room enough for 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses, according to PC Magazine – or simply 340 trillion trillion trillion, if you feel like rounding. That should be enough to last for many years to come.
While there have been a number of successful tests of IPv6, many companies have been slow to adopt the new protocol. That changes today, as a large number of major companies are turning on IPv6 and keeping it on permanently. You can get a list from the World Ipv5 Launch Day site. You'll recognize many of the names: Google, Yahoo, Bing, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Cisco, Akamai, KDDI, D-Link, and many others.
Fortunately, Ipv4 won't be turned off for quite some time yet. Most users won't notice any changes, as they'll be able to continue using their normal Ipv4 services. If you're concerned as to whether you'll experience any problems, you can check Google's IPv6 test site.
If you're a webmaster, there's a little more cause for concern. While Ipv4 and IPv6 access can be offered basically side by side, IPv6 is not backward compatible. What does this mean? “If you have a large audience for your site, you should consider prioritizing support for IPv6 users. If you don't support connections over IPv6, you will be dropping traffic without even knowing it as it won't make it to your web server logs,” notes Ray Grieselhuber at Search Engine Watch. You may well find, however, that the switch is not technically complicated; Yahoo offers an IPv6 help page. So get ready. Gartner projects that more than a quarter of new Internet connections will be using IPv6 by 2015, and you don't want to lose all that traffic!
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