Internet protocol address, or IP, is a way of assigning a label to the devices on the internet. This protocol allows us to uniquely identify every device that is connected to the internet. This, in turn, lets a device virtually connect to another device on the internet for the transmission of data. There are two types of internet protocols that you might have heard of, IPv4 and IPv6. Today, we are going to explain the differences between these two protocols.
This was the first version of the internet protocol, and it was deployed in the early days of the internet around 1983. IPv4 is still the most common internet protocol in place today, with over 90% of internet traffic using it.
The design of IPv4 is based on 32-bit addresses, which means it can assign up to 4.3 billion unique addresses to devices. An IPv4 address has up to 9 numbers that are separated by dots. Even though 4.3 billion addresses sounds like a lot, IPv4 has reached its limits. With the exponential increase in the number of devices connected to the internet, IPv4 depletion is on the rise (we have ran out of numbers). The number of devices has exceeded the limit of unique addresses – and thus, increasing the cost, value, and scarcity of IPv4 addresses.
IPv6 is the next generation of the internet protocol. It was first deployed in 1994 and had been evolving ever since. It solves the limitation of address space as it features 128-bit addresses. This means that there are 340 undecillion unique addresses, and there will be no shortage of unique addresses anytime soon. Unlike IPv4 addresses, IPv6 addresses consist of alphanumeric and hexadecimal that are separated by colons.
IPv4 vs. IPv6
Apart from the address spaces, there are many other differences between the two internet protocols.
The IPv6 supports multicast addressing, whereas IPv4 does not. Multicast addressing lets the packets that are bandwidth-intensive to multiple destinations simultaneously.
Another difference is the absence of autoconfiguration on the IPv4. An IPv6 supported device can automatically generate an address as soon as it connects to the network.
Another difference between the two internet protocols is speed. Although technically IPv6 is faster than IPv4 due to the absence of NAT translations, the IPv4 networks of today are incredibly optimized and can perform better than IPv6 of today. However, with time and optimization, IPv6 will eventually be the faster protocol.
After reading this, you might be wondering why IPv4 is still the most commonly used IP, and that is a valid question. The answer to that is a lot of network operators today simply has not changed what has works, and lives by the rules “Don’t change or update what’s working.” For a network to be IPv6-compatible, it has to redesign its architecture and invest a good amount of time and money. As with any other legacy technology, it takes a long time for the world to move on to the “next-gen” technologies, and the fate of internet protocols is not any different.
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