Expansion of the Internet

World IPv6 Launch You probably already know but today (6th June 2012) is the World IPv6 Launch Day 

To give you an idea of the significance of this, perhaps I should start with a bit of background on what IPv6 actually is in the first place. Back in the early 1990s, the computing community began to realise that the Internet was running out of space. Actually, that’s a bit misleading, we actually realised that we were running out of addresses. For those who don’t know their bits from their bytes, the Internet is founded on the Internet Protocol (IP) which provides a unique IP address to every device connected to the internet (it’s basically a bunch of numbers that looks something like 111.222.333.444 that identifies your computer) but I won’t go into the finer details of how it works here.

A bit of back story…

Now IP, or Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to give it it’s proper name, was designed back in the 1970s and 1980s when the Internet as it is now was beyond the imagination of even most computer scientists and they were more concerned with the technicalities of building a global network. So, they figured that a suitably large address space, 4.3 billion, would be enough for whatever purpose we put it to, sounds reasonable right? Well then the Internet became pretty-much the foundation for much of our daily lives and suddenly everyone (and more importantly everything) wanted to get online.

To give you an idea of the problem, think about how many internet-connected devices you interact with on a daily basis, you might have a laptop/desktop computer at home, maybe you also have a smartphone and/or a tablet, when you get to work you’ll probably interact with one or more PCs there, and that’s not even considering your Internet-connected TV, games console, etc, etc. So once you consider this on a global scale, that 4.3 billion addresses starts to look pretty tiny and that’s exactly the situation we found ourselves in.

IPv6 to the rescue!

Now, when we realised that we needed ALOT more space and soon, what were we to do? Well, build a new protocol of course, and that’s what IPv6 is all about! Instead of 4.3 billion addresses, we’re suddenly free to use 340 trillion trillion trillion (that’s 36 zeros folks) unique addresses which should be enough to sort us out for now. Again, I won’t bore you with the details, but designing a protocol to replace the most fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of the Internet wasn’t easy and it’s taken a while to get right but now, with the advent of the world launch day, we’re basically seeing the IPv6 is read for the big time!

So, when will you see all these new and shiny IPv6 addresses in the Internet? Well, the answer is that they’re there already and have been for some time. IPv6 has been included in everything from your Operating System to your favourite web site for a number of years, for instance did you know that it was in Windows XP? Google meanwhile has offered its sites over IPv6 for at least a couple of years now.

So what does that mean for me?

Here’s the good news, probably not a great deal! If everything goes according to plan then one day your ISP will turn on IPv6 and everything will work just as it did before (from your perspective). The whole point of IPv6 is that it simply makes space for a much larger Internet than we currently have so think of it more like a giant road improvement / home building scheme rather than anything that will directly affect you and your online life. That’s not to say that we might not run into road works every so often but the aim is that by the end of it we will have an Internet that’s big enough for everyone and that can only be a good thing.

If you’re interested, feel free to look through the Google IPv6 day page which has lots more interesting details.