Published on Oct 6, 2023
Naqcho Ali
Read time: 4m
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Unravelling the Internet's Epic Battle: IPv4 vs. IPv6 - What You Must Know

IPv4 and IPv6 are two versions of the Internet Protocol that are not compatible with each other. IPv4 is the widely used version, but its addresses are running out. IPv6 offers a practically limitless number of addresses. Both versions have advantages and disadvantages.

Introduction

The Internet is a network of interconnected devices that communicate using a language known as IP (Internet Protocol). IP acts as a means of communication enabling devices to understand one another and exchange data. However, it's worth noting that not all devices speak the version of IP. Presently there are two versions, in use; IPv4 and IPv6. These versions aren't compatible, with each other. Offer advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, we'll delve into the disparities between IPv4 and IPv6, their significance and how they impact the future of the internet.

What is IPv4?

IPv4 short, for Internet Protocol version 4 is the iteration of IP that was developed back in the 1970s and 1980s. Today it remains the widely used version of IP accounting for approximately 85% of all internet traffic. IPv4 utilizes 32-bit addresses offering around 4.3 billion addresses. Each device connected to the internet requires an IP address to establish communication with devices.

As an example when you enter "https;//greip.io" into your browser, your device sends a request to the server's IP address, for hosting that website.

What is IPv6?

IPv6, short, for Internet Protocol version 6 is the upgraded version of IP that emerged during the 1990s and 2000s. Its purpose is to overcome the limitations of IPv4 and accommodate the increasing number of devices connected to the internet. Unlike its predecessor, IPv6 employs 128-bit addresses, which opens up a mind-boggling number of possibilities— 340 undecillion (a figure with 36 zeros) addresses.

To put it into perspective this vast quantity would allow us to assign an IP address to every atom, on Earth with plenty left in reserve. In addition, IPv6 boasts features that enhance its efficiency, security and scalability when compared to IPv4.

Why do we need both IPv4 and IPv6?

The reason we require both IPv4 and IPv6 is that they are not compatible, with each other. A device that exclusively supports IPv4 cannot directly communicate with a device that exclusively supports IPv6 and vice versa. This poses a challenge as the availability of IPv4 addresses is depleting rapidly. Since its inception, the internet has experienced growth resulting in an increased number of devices requiring IP addresses. The demand for IP addresses has surpassed the supply of IPv4 addresses leading to some devices having to share IP addresses or employ methods, for internet connectivity.

IPv6 addresses the issue by offering a range of IP addresses practically limitless, in number. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that not all devices have embraced IPv6 yet. According to Google 35% of users currently access its services via IPv6. Therefore there are still devices reliant on IPv4 for internet connectivity. In light of this, it becomes essential to maintain both IPv4 and IPv6 protocols to ensure communication and internet accessibility, across all devices.

How does IPv4 vs. IPv6 affect you?

As an end user, there will be a few differences that you'll probably notice while using IPv4 and others while using IPv6. Almost all the websites and online services you use now accept both versions of IP, and your devices can automatically switch over depending on the availability and preference of your network provider. But there are some distinctions that offer advantages or disadvantages to either version of IP.

Some benefits of using IPv6 include

  • Better and faster connections: IPv6 eliminates the need for address translators (NAT) - where several devices use one IP address. NAT can cause delays or even errors in the transmission of data, especially with time-sensitive applications like video calling or online gaming. With every device featuring its own distinct IP address under IPv6, quality and speed are improved.
  • Enhanced security: With IPv6, there is the availability of end-to-end encryption such that data cannot be easily eavesdropped or interfered with by middlemen as it moves over the internet. Encryption will also make activities like IP address forgery and hijacking more difficult to execute by hackers thus averting practices like identity theft and cyber-attacks.
  • Easy management of networks: IPv6 comes attached to an easy configuration and administration process associated with a stateless address autoconfiguration (SLAAC) mechanism through which devices can automatically configure an IP address without the need for a server or manual handling.

Some drawbacks of using IPv6 include

  • Incompatibility issues: The reality that not all gadgets at the moment apply IPv6 signifies that various sites or online services could fail to open or function fully by applying IPv6. Such as, there are certain email providers or online banking platforms which do not support IPv6 and this might mean an issue in sending and receiving emails as well as doing transactions online.
  • Added costs: Transitioning to IPv6 will signify additional capital expenditure on hardware and software for network providers or device manufacturers. An example is the case of routers where some of these may be incompatible with IPv6 and thus they have to be replaced or upgraded.
  • Learning curve: IPv6 has a different format as well as syntax as compared to that of IPv4, which may need some training or education for network administrators or users. For instance, in the case of Ipv6 addresses are longer and more complex than that of Ipv4 making them harder to remember or type.

Conclusion

Both IPv4 and IPv6 are needed for the functioning and development of the Internet. They supplement each other through their pros and cons, which continue all devices' work to get connected to the internet and use it for communication purposes. As a user, you may not find many differences between using either IPv4 or IPv6 but you must know the pros and cons associated with both versions of IP. By knowing the dissimilarities that exist between IPv4 and IPv6, users can identify for what purpose they should prefer one version over another while dealing on the net.



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