Many web surfers don’t know it, but the introduction of new internet address standards might change the way they get online.

Since the supply of useable addresses governed by the IPv4 standard (internet protocol, version 4) has been exhausted, IPv6 has now been introduced. This will allow a previously impossible variety of addresses, says Christoph Meinel, a professor at Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute.

But what does this change mean for everyday surfers? Here’s an overview.

Why are IP addresses necessary? In order for internet-capable devices to share information, they need a unique machine-readable address. These addresses are assigned based on a standard of internet protocols.

But, since humans have a hard time remembering these strings of numbers, websites are also labelled with domain names, like www.google.com. When these addresses are typed into browsers, special servers translate them into IP addresses for the benefit of the computers.

What is the difference between IPv4 and IPv6? Until now, IP addresses have been assigned in blocks of four numbers with up to three numerals each: 217.79.215.248, for example.

The new IPv6 standard won’t convert the numbers into the decimal system, rather a hexadecimal system, recognized by its combination of numbers and letters.

The new standard can be recognized by its eight blocks, separated by colons — 2001:db8:0:0:0:0:1428:57ab, for example.

Will my computer be able to process the new standard? In most cases, yes. But an IPv6-capable operating system is a prerequisite. Those can be found in any Windows system post Vista.

There are ways to install the functionality into Windows XP systems.

Mac systems starting at 10.2 and Linux, in general, can support IPv6.

Will my DSL access support the new standard? In most cases, no. Contemporary routers, like the ones provided by telecommunications companies when DSL packages are ordered, are still set for the old IPv4 standard. In some cases, IPv6 can be added with a firmware update. When purchasing a new router, make sure it supports IPv6.

Should I anticipate problems during the transition to the new standard? Generally, no. Internet use shouldn’t be affected after the switch — at least that’s what providers are promising. Those providers have modified their network so that data packets reach all users whether they are using IPv4 or IPv6 standards, a method called dual-stack application. Alternatively, software solutions, like those based on tunnel technology, can be used.