Who knew? The Internet is not infinite

By Susan Richardson, Manager/Content Strategy, Code42

In January 2011, the world ran out of Internet addresses. Every device on the Internet—including routers, phones, laptops, game consoles, TVs, thermostats and coffeemakers—needs its own IP address to move data over the Net.

When it began, it seemed like 4.3 billion 32-bit Internet addresses would be ample. Now, tech companies (and governments) are scrambling to move onto a new system for Internet traffic routing. By 2020 there will be an estimated 50 billion devices online—so something’s got to give.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The limited supply of new Internet Protocol addresses is nearly gone. Asia essentially ran out in 2011, and Europe a year later. North America’s allotment is due to dry up this summer.”

IPv6 saves the Internet!

IPv4 is the fourth revision of the Internet Protocol (IP) used to identify devices on a network through an addressing system. Its successor is Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), a 128-bit address scheme that will provide 340 undecillion IP addresses.

That’s 2128 or 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 new addresses.

IPv6 has been in development since the mid-1990s when it became clear that demand for IP addresses would exceed supply. IPv6 will coexist with and eventually replace IPv4. The transition will happen gradually to avoid the division of the Internet into separate v4 and v6 networks and to ensure connection for all v4 and v6 nodes. Most companies use a strategy called dual stack to ensure that their equipment can use both v4 and v6 for the foreseeable future.

To start deploying IPv6:

    • Ensure all networking equipment (including planned purchases) are IPv6 capable
    • Individuals and businesses can request IPv6 connectivity from their ISP and users can ascertain if their connections support IPv6 here
    • Content creators, developers, and enterprises can make their own websites and content available over IPv6
    • Governments can require IPv6 compliance of all contractors and business relationships, and lead by example in deploying IPv6 across all websites and services

Update: The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) activated the IPv4 Unmet Requests policy (NPRM 4.1.8) in July 2015. For the first time, ARIN is unable to fulfill an IPv4 address request.  Requests are now either being added to a waiting list or requestors are referred to an exchange where they have the opportunity to acquire surplus IPs.

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