The world may be a finite place but its growing population will never run out of internet addresses. On the occasion of World IPv6 Day on Wednesday, an initiative of the non-profit Internet Society, trillions of new free addresses on the internet have been released to accommodate the growing numbers of websites on the World Wide Web. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was responsible for administering the release.
The addresses follow the new IPv6 protocol, successor to the IPv4 protocol whose deployment saw a dramatic boom starting in the late 1980s with the growth of the internet and was left almost exhausted by April 2011.
Although the IPv6 requires upgraded infrastructure to operate, its introduction does not mean IPv4 will be phased out. In fact, the infrastructure corresponding to IPv4 is expected to be in use for at least the next two years even as IPv6 is eased in. However, IPv4 will eventually be rendered obsolete.
The principal difference between the two protocols is the way they define the addresses between different devices logged in to the World Wide Web.
The internet works by transporting packets of data from one host to the other using routers that identify each host by its address. The definition of this address is regulated by a standard protocol.
The number of addresses defined by the IPv4 protocol stopped at a little under 4.3 billion because each address was a 32-bit integer – 188.8.131.52, for example -- building up to 232 possible addresses.
The IPv6 protocol overcomes this barrier by allowing 128-bit integer addresses to be assigned to hosts, or systems, bringing up the number of allowable addresses to a whopping 340 trillion, trillion, trillion. In essence, this provides an almost infinite plot of ground for the World Wide Web to grow in.
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) distributes the available internet protocol addresses to the five regional information registries (RIR). The Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, which comprises the fast-growing countries India and China apart from 56 other economies, was the first RIR to exhaust its allocation of IPv4 addresses, on 15 April, 2011. Thus, it was the first RIR to receive the new block of IPv6 addresses.
Because of the new definition, corporations now have a lot more freedom in defining their addresses on the internet. Google, for example, has filed for .youtube, .google, .docs and .lol top level domains with IANA, looking to build on its product branding as well as possible creative potential. The application fee alone for each domain was sold for $180,000.
The IPv6 definition also incorporates some other upgrades that ease and strengthen privacy, network processing by routers, and the division of addresses into subnets to make address allocation more efficient.