Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is a version of the Internet Protocol that is designed to succeed Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) that has been in operation since 1981. The main reason for the redesign of the Internet Protocol was the IPv4 address exhaustion. As of January 2011, a report projected that the IPv4 address pool would be exhausted before the end of 2011.
IPv6 was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It uses a 128-bit address, whereas IPv4 uses only 32 bits. This expansion provides considerable flexibility in allocating addresses and routing traffic. It also eliminates the primary need for network address translation (NAT), which was deployed in order to alleviate IPv4 address exhaustion.
IPv6 implements many new features but it isn’t compatible with IPv4 when it comes to deployment. IPv6 and IPv4 are treated as almost entirely separate networks with devices having two separate protocol stacks if access to both n
etworks is needed, with tunneling of IPv6 on IPv4 and vice versa. Compatibility with IPv6 networking is mainly a software or firmware issue. However, much of the older hardware should be replaced.
All major operating systems in use as of 2010 on personal computers and server systems have production quality IPv6 implementations. Microsoft Windows has supported IPv6 since Windows 2000, and in production ready state beginning with Windows XP. Windows Vista and later have improved IPv6 support. Mac OS X Panther (10.3), GNU/Linux 2.6, FreeBSD, and Solaris also have mature production implementations.
Most applications with network capabilities are not ready but could be upgraded with support from the developers. Java applications adhering to Java 1.4 (February 2002) standards have support for IPv6.
Hardware and Embedded Systems
Low-level equipment like network adapters and network switches may not be affected by the change, since they transmit Link Layer frames without inspecting the contents. Networking devices that obtain IP addresses or perform routing based on IP address do need IPv6 support.
Most equipment would be IPv6 capable with a software or firmware update if the device has sufficient storage and memory space for the new IPv6 stack. However, manufacturers may be reluctant to spend on software development costs for hardware they have already sold when they are poised for new sales from IPv6-ready equipment.
In some cases, non-compliant equipment needs to be replaced because the manufacturer no longer exists or software updates are not possible, for example, because the network stack is implemented in permanent read-only memory.
Does your hardware support IPv6? Did you taking into consideration upgrading your hardware? Share with us your thoughts.