What Are IPv4 and IPv6?

3rd September, 2014 by

IPv4 and IPv6 are integral to the way the Internet works, but what exactly are they and why should you care?

The Internet is growing exponentially and there’s no sign it’s slowing down. Although the use of the Internet has increased, the way we send and receive information has remained basically the same since conception in the 1970s.

However, the next few years will see one major change to the way the Internet works. This involves IP addresses, or the numbers that work behind the scenes when we see web addresses like YouTube.com or Yahoo.com.

Let me explain…

Every web address, whether it ends in .com, .org, or even .pink, has an IP address connected to it. For example…

The domain Twitter.com has the IP address attached to it.

The domain YouTube.com has the IP address attached to it.

The numbers serve two principal functions that all relate to data processing on the Internet. Firstly, IPs work in a similar way to normal addresses – they give a web address its own unique location. Secondly, they provide directions of a sort – the numbers explain how the computers of Internet users get to the site.

These numbers are crucial, but also hard to remember. So instead of keeping a web address rolodex, the powers that be gave us words to associate with the IP addresses called domains. A domain is the way we remember and search for websites like Twitter.com and YouTube.com used in the examples above.

The original IP system – IPv4 – has worked brilliantly for more than 30 years, but we’ve recently run into one problem. Not long ago, we started to run out of unique numbers for IP addresses.

Enter IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), the next generation of Internet Protocol and exit IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4), the way we have transferred data for the last 40 years.

If you are fairly new to the world of web hosting, there can be some confusion concerning the differences between Internet Protocol versions (IPv4 and IPv6). Here is a helpful guide that will explain everything you need to know about the Internet Protocol developments.

IPv4: The Beginning

Internet Protocol version 4 consists of four numbers, called octets, which are separated by dots. For example (the limited broadcast address) or (Google) are both IPv4 IP addresses.

In total there were 4,294,967,296 unique IP addresses available. It seems like a lot, but in reality, there are less than 9 million IP addresses left. Running out of IPv4 addresses is now inevitable and with the emergence of the internet of things (IoT) more and more devices require web connectivity and therefore more IP addresses. We have existed on our limited supply of IPv4 addresses by creating subnets, which is the equivalent of apartment numbers at one street address. This enables us to use one IP address for multiple connections but can get confusing and messy when many devices are connected to one set of numbers.

This is the reason for upgrading to more numbers – otherwise known as IPv6.

IPv6: The Future

Developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), IPv6 provides a way to prepare for the inevitable IP address shortage. An IPv6 address looks like this…


There are 142 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses (yes three trillions) of these IPs available, which is enough for every device in the world to have its very own without any signs of shortage, ever. Because of the incredible number of addresses, IPv6 drastically simplifies the way information is sent through the web.

Progress: The Big Switch

As of May 2014, only four percent of the web had moved to IPv6. The problem with everyone taking the plunge from the older version to the new and improved IPv6 is the compatibility of the hardware we all use every day.

IPv6 requires equipment and hardware designed for both protocol IPv4 and IPv6 versions called duel compatibility hardware. Replacing your home equipment with dual compatibility hardware isn’t too daunting, but for big operations like your local Internet service providers (with racks and racks of hardware) this is a massive and costly transition. Although the change is slow moving, it’s inevitable and is essential to the growth of the Internet as well as the world.

On a personal level you most likely won’t notice the switch. If your router and modem are less than five years old, you are most likely ready for the switch. Your hosting companies and Internet service providers will slowly cross over and your service won’t miss a beat. If you are interested in seeing how close you are to making the jump you can test your own IPv6 readiness athttp://test-ipv6.com/. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t quite there yet, there is plenty of time to see a change and there isn’t a deadline.

UK2 as well as our other brands are well on our way to IPv6 compatibility, having already swapped our IPv4 equipment for dual compatibility. This allows our clients to easily transition into the future of data transmission.      

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