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Internet Protocol Version 6
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The internet is the worldwide publicly accessible network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard internet protocol (IP). What started as ARPANET in 1969 quickly grew into a gargantuan network that spans the entire world. The main technology that made global communication possible is called the Internet Protocol or IP for short. The IP says that data must be transferred in packets or blocks. An IP packet-based data transfer is no different from how a post office delivers mail. An IP packet has its own source and destination address. Routers are used to forward these packets to their destinations. Just as street address, city, state and zip code are required to deliver regular snail mail; IP packets use 32 bits of information for addressing. This allows for a maximum of about 4.3 billion addresses that can be used using the present IP technology known as IPv4 (IP version 4). That is definitely a big number, but not really when compared to our total world population. As of 2007, there are about 6.5 billion people in the world; one billion of them use the internet. To add to this problem, more than one person can use multiple devices that have internet access. Also, the number of people newly adding to the list of internet users is growing at a substantially speedy pace. To further add to the problem, mobile phones, cable TVs, cars, GPS devices are newer lists of technologies that also use internet and require IP addresses. Every electronic device on the planet can potentially have its own IP address. Though some techniques such as Network Address Translation (NAT) have kept a limited pool of IP addresses from going dry, they won't last forever. This is why the next generation of internet protocol, IP Version 6, is soon to be implemented across the globe. The main feature of IPv6 is that it uses 128 bits of address space instead of 32 bits - thereby quadrupling the amount of data dedicated for an address. This allows for roughly 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses. Here is the exact number of addresses IPv6 can cater to: 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456!!!
This astronomical increase of addresses is expected to last for an incredibly long time. The earth is about 4.55 billion years old. If we had been grasping 1 billion IP addresses per second since the earth was born, we would have by now used up less than one trillionth of our address space. However migration to the IPv6 from the current version of IPv4 is a gigantic challenge because almost the entire world wide commerce is critically dependent on internet; changes need to be implemented seamlessly with no disruption to the user. Since it is kind of impossible to update each and every router to cater for the new version within such short durations, a highly efficient solution is required for proper transition from IPv4 to IPv6. To ease the transition, network engineers need to be extremely careful. One such change that assists proper transition is being done on a purely software front and is called the dual stack. Dual IP version 4 and IP version 6 stacks simply mean that a single computer has both versions of the internet protocol working at the same time alongside each other. An email server for example, will be able to provide service to an IP version 4 host and an IP version 6 host simultaneously. This allows step by step upgrading of applications while still allowing older applications to be justified. Operating systems for individual PC's and Mac's have been providing IPv6 support since many years. Routers need to be configured to route IP version 6 traffic. Cisco has made this task exceedingly simple by adding an IP version 6 command-set to both their global and interface configuration modes. All basic router functions are hence compatible with IPv6 functions. Routers that support IPv6 are limited to large enterprise routers, like the 7600 series. But IPv6 functionality for small home and business routers like the 2900 series is not very far away.
Until then how do we make use of IPv6 capabilities, in an IPv4 network? This is where tunneling techniques are being used where ever IPv6 packets are smuggled through IPv4 networks. 6to4, PPTP, AYIYA and GRE are some of such Tunneling techniques. All that is necessary to tunnel such packets are border routers that can translate or encapsulate IPv6 packets for their journey. Dual stacking and tunneling are just temporary solutions for this much needed migration from IPv4 to IPv6.
Keywords: IPv6, IPv4, IP Version 6, IP Version 4, IP, Internet Protocol, IP Address, Internet addressing, Routers, dual stack, tunneling, NAT, Network Address Translation, Cisco
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