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More IPv6 Please!

No one needs to tell me I’m an exceptionally geeky individual. Once people find out how excited I get over XML collection formats (like Atom) and universal authentication schemes (like OpenID), it’s pretty obvious that I like neat stuff regardless of how computer-centric it is. In many cases, I find myself most attracted to things which could have a positive bearing on computer users everywhere. While some of them are on the surface and easily visible to the average user, others are not so obvious. All too often, people have no idea that these technologies or systems exist!
One such example is the network addressing scheme used by the Internet Protocol (the IP in TCP/IP protocol suite). IP is used to transfer information between machines on a network as well as to assign addresses (ever hear of an IP address?) to enable machines to specify transmission sources and destinations. Currently, we’re using Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) which provides addresses usually written with the instantly recognizable dot-decimal notation. While IPv4 has been very good to us so far, it uses a 32-bit address space which can provide only 4,294,967,296 (232) unique addresses. It might seem like a lot, but we’re slowly running out of addresses with the rate of depletion expected to increase as more computers, mobile devices and general users become connected.
While there are several factors currently slowing down the depletion of IPv4 addresses, they are not without their side effects (like NAT). The correct solution, is to make a transition from IPv4 to IPv6, the next version of the Internet Protocol.
In addition to having a 128-bit address space (2128^ or something ridiculous like 3.4×1038), IPv6 has several other advantages including features like automatic address assignment (SLAAC) and built-in security (IPsec). Basically, IPv6 is pretty rockin. With this in mind, why isn’t IPv6 more widely deployed?
The short answer is that since the entire Internet is already built on top of IPv4, it’s pretty clear at this point that transitioning to IPv6 will be rather painful. Still, there are some signs which indicate improvement. The Linux Kernel has supported IPv6 for ages, Windows Vista has it enabled by default along with Mac OSX and several other Apple devices. In fact, the US Government has mandated that Federal agencies and their network backbones must deploy IPv6 by 2009.
For now, people interested in tinkering with IPv6 must use a service which will provide them with a 6to4 tunnel so they can pass IPv6 data over the IPv4 Internet. Someday, IPv6 will be the default. Until then, feel free to write both your ISP, your Congressmen and your Senators urging them to push for a switch.

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