One of the functions of IP is that it assigns and keeps up with the addresses of all devices on the internet. These addresses are assigned to the organization and then to a device. The addresses show a relationship to the network they are on as well as the organization they belong to, but can be changed to a different device.
There are also MAC addresses assigned to all devices, which is assigned when the device is made. The MAC address is like your house number and the IP address is similar to the name of the family living in the house.
IPv4 (version 4), which is most widely used, only has 4,294,967,296 possible unique addresses. Many of them are used for special purposes so the usable number is less. IPv4 addresses are 32 bits long and are four decimal numbers separated by periods like 192.168.2.1.
In the late 1990’s we began running out of addresses when every device had its own specific address on the internet. We worked around this at that time by using things like NAT (Network Address Translation) and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) so we could use the same addresses in different organizations, but they had one common device hooked to the internet. This gave us about 12 years to get the “bugs” out of a new sixth version (IPv6) and get software and hardware designed to implement it.
The addresses in IPv6 are four times as long as in IPv4 which gives us 3.403×1038 unique addresses (or a 3 with 38 zeros after it.) The addresses in IPv6 are 128 bits long and are in hexadecimal (base 16 number system) so they look different than IPv4 address. This now means we have plenty of addresses for devices for the foreseeable future.
Recently there has been a major push to move to IPv6. Software and equipment made over the past eight years or so are IPv6 compliant, but older software (such as Windows XP) and equipment may only work with IPv4. To facilitate a move to Ipv6, newer software and hardware is made to support both IPv6 and IPv4.
On Wednesday, June 6, the internet industry pushed to begin using IPv6. Major equipment at major networks and devices running the internet switched from looking first for IPv4 packets to looking for IPv6 packets first, as well as addresses, and if it was not an IPv6 packet it then recognized it as an IPv4 packet.
Send your questions to Dwight Watt at email@example.com. He teaches at a technical college in northwest Georgia and does consulting work for businesses and individuals. His website is www.dwightwatt.com.