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IPv6 to be Widely Enabled on World IPv6 Launch Day

by Alex Blewitt on Jan 18, 2012 |

Following on from the success of last year's World IPv6 day, in which major organisations such as Facebook and Google enabled IPv6 connectivity for a 24h period, the Internet Society has announced Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Bing) and on World IPv6 Launch Day (6th June 2012) the websites will switch on their IPv6 support and leave it permanently enabled, almost exactly a year since the World IPv6 Day (8th June 2011).

IPv6 is an evolution of IPv4, which enables a far greater number of addresses to be made available. This is just as well, since the global governing body of IPv4 addresses ran out last year and the regional agencies who distribute them are expected to run out of their allocation later this year. In addition, IPv6 includes built-in support for encryption and removes the need for NAT routers (which have scalability issues) in order to accommodate the growing number of internet-connected devices. All modern operating systems (including those used by mobile devices) can support both IPv4 and IPv6; the back-haul internet carriers already use IPv6 for much of their routing; the key problem is now getting IPv6 to the home.

One of the other goals of World IPv6 Launch Day is to encourage the consumer-oriented device manufacturers to build in IPv6 support for their end routers. Almost all users connected to their ISP do so using IPv4 at present, and any connectivity to IPv6 is usually operated via brokers such as Hurricane Electric or SixXS. Having consumer-end routers which can speak IPv6 to the upstream ISP (whilst providing 6-to-4 connectivity at the ISP itself) will enable users to go on-line with IPv6 whilst also allowing IPv4 to be used as a fall-back for sites which aren't dual-connected.

Out with the old, in with the new?

The announcement of the IPv6 launch day comes just before Wikipedia and others black themselves out in opposition to SOPA and PIPA, which are two controversial bills that have recently been put forward to the US Congress. These would have the ability to arbitrarily break DNS, which is the protocol used to translate domain names (such as www.infoq.com) to IP addresses (such as IPv4 addresses like 63.246.7.184 or IPv6 addresses like 2a00:1098:0:86:1000::11). These remote disablements could happen without any due process and would fundamentally restrict what could be said on-line without the threat of sites going out at any time. As well as Wikipedia, many other sites have put up banners or humourous takes, such as The Daily WTF, The Oatmeal, XKCD and Ars Technica.

There are also concerns that this may affect the next evolution of DNS, called DNSSec, which combines cryptographic hashes of the domain name records to ensure that entries cannot be changed without the private key. This is exactly what DNSSec does and would prevent SOPA/PIPA from performing man-in-the-middle hijacking of DNS requests.

Whatever happens to the SOPA/PIPA bills, which have now generated widespread news coverage in the mainstream media and general derision, the world is running out of the actual IP addresses that are needed to allow devices to connect. Without an operational DNS, it would become very difficult to talk to websites; but with them, whether one is using IPv4 or IPv6 is a transparent issue which does not affect the end user.

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