A Short Guide: IPv4 & IPv6

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In early 2011, the Internet ran out of IPv4 addresses for the first time since their inception in 1970, marking a fundamental - yet subtle - change in web technology. With this came the introduction of the vastly-improved IPv6 format, offering users an unfathomable number of unique IP addresses, enhanced security features, and more. However, many people still aren't sure about how this change will affect them in the long run. This guide will help Internet users, business owners, and consumers understand this massive change and all the benefits that come with it.

IP Addresses and IPv4

Every device that connects to the Internet - whether it's a computer, smartphone, or tablet - has a unique address known as an "Internet protocol" or "IP address". This format is responsible for how data travels over the Internet or any other network. Compare this to a physical mailing system, which consists of unique addresses and specific formatting for sending mail. Internet protocols work similarly, assigning individual addresses to connected devices and establishing a header format that all data packets must follow in order to communicate between devices.
Until 2011, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) had been the standard for over four decades. IPv4 operates on a 32-bit address system, allowing for around 4.29 billion unique IP addresses. While this may seem like a large number (because it is), there are no longer enough IPv4 addresses for every device on the Internet. Apocalyptic as that might sound, there's no need to worry: IPv6 is here.

Meet IPv6

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest IP format, and it comes with a few significant changes. The most important of these changes is its address system which, unlike IPv4's 32 bits, operates at 128 bits. This allows for 2^128 unique IP addresses, or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion! This ensures that every person can have enough unique IP addresses for around one billion personal devices each. As a result, IPv6 allows the Internet to stay in use for a very long time.
In addition to a more robust address system, IPv6 also offers a couple other major improvements. One of these is a simplified header format that eliminates unnecessary information from data packets, resulting in a compact and simplified sending protocol. IPv6 also automatically checks packet integrity and encrypts Internet traffic, offering a greater level of security than ever before.

Making The Switch

As the world continues to adopt IPv6 as a web standard, IPv4 addresses will eventually become obsolete. Thankfully, switching isn't difficult; in fact, most modern operating systems have IPv6 built in already. Many wireless routers, however, are not IPv6 compatible and will not be able to communicate with IPv6 addresses.
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