Our 20-year-old internet is finally running out of IP addresses
Available internet IP addresses are on the verge of running out in the web’s vintage configuration. The International Assigned Numbers Authority, a non-profit group that manages the planet’s inventory of 4.3 billion internet addresses, handed out the last five bundles for distribution worldwide on Thursday. The pending exhaustion of internet IP addresses will facilitate transition to a new Internet protocol waiting in the wings.
The old internet is on its last legs
The last remaining internet IP addresses were handed out Thursday to Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) that distribute them to the world’s geographical domains. This essentially depletes the 4.3 billion locations made available when Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) was created in 1981. But the internet won’t run out of IP addresses for a while. RIRs will lease them to ISPs and wireless carriers and web hosting companies. Some IP addresses are permanently assigned, others are pulled from a stash when routers or smartphones go online. It is generally believed that six to nine months will elapse before there are no more IPv4 addresses left.
The new internet may last forever
Fortunately, the IANA and other groups entrusted with the stewardship of the web saw this day coming. A new system was developed in 1999 called Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). IPv4 addresses use a 32-bit number and dotted decimal (base-10) notation: 188.8.131.52. IPv6 addresses use 128-bit numbers and letters as well as hexadecimal (base-16) notation: 3FFE:F200:0234:AB00:0123:4567:8901:ABCD. What do the extra numbers and letters mean? The fresh inventory of IP addresses in IPv6 adds up to 340 undecillion–or 340 trillion bundles holding a trillion networks that can each handle a trillion servers, routers, PCs, smartphones, cars, appliances or whatever else becomes connected in the future.
The transition from IPv4 to IPv6
The inevitable transition from IPv4 to IPv6 will probably be painless for the average consumer or business. But it will be a major headache for people deeply involved with the web’s infrastructure, because IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t compatible. Right now, a device connected via IPv4 cannot communicate with a device connected via IPv6. But after the internet created in 1981 finally fills up, IPv4 and IPv6 can coexist. Software and hardware developers have been creating transition technology and the latest operating systems include default support for IPv6. There’s no need to panic. Remember Y2K?