Why you shouldn't worry about IPv6 just yet

networked computers

It may save the world from networking Armageddon, but Steve Cassidy says we shouldn't be too concerned about IPv6 just yet

I’ve just returned from a parallel universe, one that is apparently located right alongside our own and separated from us by only a thin membrane of rolled-up dimensions.

No, this isn’t part of my application for a scriptwriting job on the Syfy channel; I’m just about recovering my mental equilibrium after a brief excursion into the world of IPv6.

In case you’re not familiar with this “future of the internet” protocol, you can see an example of an IPv6 configuration if you’re using Windows 7 or OS X Snow Leopard – it will be sitting under the networks control panel or preferences, apparently not doing anything.

According to these networking experts, we’re only a matter of months, or maybe weeks, from network Armageddon

Ever since Windows 7 came out I’ve been asked whether this extra protocol should be disabled or removed, but there was a steady stream of another kind of email long before that.

The other kind of emails are rather more disconcerting. According to these – let’s be charitable and call them “far-sighted” networking experts – we’re only a matter of months, or maybe weeks, from network Armageddon.

Around a long time

New devices are being added to the internet faster than Mexicans buy lottery tickets, perhaps even ten times the rate of iPads, and this means that, sure as eggs is eggs, we’re going to run out of unique IP addresses.

And that will be a terrible thing, and digital poverty will envelop us, and all the world’s routers will stutter to a halt. The only magic balm that can avert such a meltdown is – wait for it – IPv6, and I’m a craven, antisocial hack for not showing some frontier spirit and leading my erring flocks out of danger. This all started when Tony Blair was elected. The first time. Yep, that’s how long IPv6 has been around, and it’s quite a few weeks ago now.

The IETF hit the road with RFC2460 back in 1998, when the fear of running out of addresses seemed just as strong as it does now, which I’d have to say rather casts doubt on the whole factual basis for such fears.

In the intervening decade and a bit, an awful lot of smart engineering has been applied to the net, but by and large we’ve seen our networks survive without the predicted meltdown. That rather raises the question, if I’m using the same IP address range at home that I was given by accident as part of BT’s broadband trials back in the 1990s, then what’s all the fuss about?

Own router

The reason I’ve kept that same internal address range is because, like pretty well everyone else nowadays, I have a router. Inside this router is my private network, while outside it is the public internet.