By Woody Leonhard
Although the consequences aren’t as dire as it sounds, the Internet ran out of IP addresses (roughly analogous to telephone numbers) last month.
While the Web won’t come crashing down anytime soon, you’re going to be affected by the new numbering scheme — and some details may catch you unawares.
Last October, Fred Langa talked in his LangaList Plus column about the changes under way. Simply put, the Internet has run out of IP addresses under the old IPv4 scheme.
This is no namby-pamby upgrade. The current 32-bit IPv4 scheme can handle just under 4.3 billion different Internet addresses. And we’ve used them up. (That represents an astounding number of networked devices potentially in use.) The new, 128-bit, IPv6 numbering method can accommodate 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses. It’s, ahem, unlikely that we’ll need that many addresses anytime soon.
But IPv6 incorporates much more than added addresses. There’s a complex scheme of layering, protocols, security, and communication enhancements buried in the standard. For the most part, you won’t have to worry about the details. But there are a few areas where you can help — and where you can be taken in. Caveat surfor! (Web-surfer, beware!)
Moving to a new format for IP addresses
An IP address identifies a specific piece of hardware on a network — one device, one unique IP address. And the Internet has grown into a mighty big network — with far more devices attached to it than anyone could have imagined back in 1977, when IPv4 was invented.