Why you shouldn't worry so much about IPv6

Don't worry, the Internet as we know it isn't ending as IPv4 addresses are exhausted.

A critical juncture in history arrived this week as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned the last IPv4 addresses to the five regions of the world's Regional Internet Registries.

This represents a milestone for the beginning of the end of IPv4, after the alarm sounded a few years ago about how the world would eventually run out of over four billion possible IP addresses. Since then, the world's ISPs, communications equipment makers, and content providers have promoted what they are doing to show that they are ready for this new age in Internet connectivity.

"The sooner we all move to adopt IPv6, the better and brighter that future will be as our imaginations will not be stunted by clumsy IPv4 work-arounds," said Lynn St. Amour, President and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC) at a press conference in Miami on Thursday.

In the meantime, though, IPv4 networks will continue to run as they have before. In fact, according to Google, a mere 0.2 percent of all Internet users worldwide rely on IPv6 connections as IPv4 addresses are used up this year.

But to make the switch to IPv6, what must SOHO businesses and billions of users do to prepare? Probably not much, if anything at all.

It is likely that you will not notice the switch if your PC is running Windows Vista or Windows 7 and you purchased your router during the past two years or so. If you run Windows XP, though, it is necessary to make a minor configuration to the operating system by typing "netsh int ipv6 install" in the Windows command prompt to access IPv6 sites.

For Linux distributions, you will likely have to so some finagling. Ubuntu, though, clearly explains what you have to do to establish both native and tunneled IPv6 connections.

A major test of how well the world's Internet users are ready for IPv6 will take place on June 8. That's when Akamai, Facebook, Google, Limelight Networks, and Yahoo will run on IPv6 connections for 24 hours.

But despite the millions of users of Windows XP as well as Linux around the world likely won't configure their operating system for the June 8 test day, Google says they needn't worry, and it maintains that 99.95 percent of its users will not even notice the switch that day.

Before then, however, several sites allow you to test a PC's IPv6 connectivity. Options include accessing ipv6.google.com, ipv6-test.com, or www.v6.facebook.com for Facebook. It's also possible to use Microsoft's ping command as a direct way to test the connection.

IPv6 rollout will be gradual as the vast majority of Internet users will continue to use IPv4 addresses for the next couple of years. Again, besides some issues that older modems and operating system might pose, most users should not notice a difference. So it looks like the final end of IPv4 addresses won't end with a bang, but a whimper.

Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe and tweets at @brucegain.

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Bruce Gain

PC World (US online)
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