Why Is IPv6 Important to Internet Users?

Question: What Is 'IP version 6'? Why Is IPv6 Important to Internet Users?

Answer: Until 2013, the world was at risk of running out of available computer addresses. Gratefully, that crisis has been averted because an expanded form of computer addressing has been phased in. You see, every device that connects to the Internet needs a serial number, much like every legal car on the road requires a license plate.

But just like the 6 or 8 characters of a license plate are limited, there is a mathematical limit to how many different addresses are possible for Internet devices.


The old internet addressing system was called 'Internet Protocol, Version 4' (IPv4), and it successfully numbered the computers of the Internet for many years. IPv4 uses 32-bits of recombined digits, with a maximum of 4.3 billion possible addresses.

Example IPv4 address: 68.149.3.230
Example IPv4 address: 16.202.228.105
See more examples of IPv4 addresses here.
 

Now, while 4.3 billion addresses might seem plentiful, we were set to run out of addresses by the start of 2013. Because most every computer, cell phone, iPad, printer, Playstation, and even soda machines require IP addresses, IPv4 was insufficient.

Good news: a new internet addressing system has now been phased in, and it fills our need for more computer addresses. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) has rolled out across the globe, and its enlarged addressing system will fix the limitation of IPv4.

You see, IPv6 uses 128 bits instead of 32 bits for its addresses, creating 3.4 x 10^38 possible addresses (that is a trillion-trillion-trillion, or 'undecillion', an impossibly large number). These trillions of new IPv6 addresses will meet the internet demand for the foreseeable future.
 

Example IPv6 address: 3ffe:1900:4545:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf
Example IPv6 address: 21DA:D3:0:2F3B:2AA:FF:FE28:9C5A
See more examples of IPv6 addresses here.
 

When is the world switching fully over to IPv6?

Answer: the world has already started embracing IPv6, with the big web properties of Google and Facebook officially switched as of June 2012. Other organizations are slower than others to make the switch. Because lengthening each possible device address requires so much administration, this massive switch won't be complete overnight. But the urgency is there, and private and government bodies are indeed transitioning now. Expect IPv6 is now the universal standard, and all major modern organizations have made the switch.

Will the IPv4-to-IPv6 change affect me?

Answer: the change will be largely invisible to most computer users. Because IPv6 will largely happen behind the scenes, you will not have to learn anything new to be a computer user, nor will you have to likely do anything special to own a computer device. In 2012, if you insist on owning an older device with older software, you might need to download special software patches to be compatible with IPv6. More likely: you will be buying a new computer or new smartphone in 2013, and the IPv6 standard will already be embedded for you.

In short, the switch from IPv4 to IPv6 has been much less dramatic or frightening than the Y2K transition was.

It is a good techno-trivia issue to be aware of, but there is no risk of you losing access to the Internet because of the IP addressing issue. Your computer life should be largely uninterrupted because of the IPv4-to-IPv6 transition. Just get used to saying 'IPv6' out loud as matter of regular computer life.+