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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NPI projects join the IPv6 Internet

We're pleased to announce this evening that two of NPI's most important projects have joined the IPv6 Internet, which means that they can now be accessed using the longer hexadecimal addresses that will eventually be used to locate pretty much everything on the Information Superhighway.

(If reading that first paragraph made you go, "Huh?", don't fret — bear with me. I'm going to try to explain what this means and why it's important).

A few decades ago, when the Internet was initially conceived, the people who were drawing up the blueprints for one of its most important protocols figured that an addressing system with four billion plus possibilities would be more than adequate to take care of future needs. They were wrong.

But they can be forgiven for their mistake. At the time, nobody foresaw that the U.S. military's DARPA project would turn into the most revolutionary means of communication in human history, and would take on the great importance that it has in politics, commerce, and culture.

IPv4, which stands for Internet Protocol Version 4, has served us well since it was invented in the 1970s. But its heyday is over. The time has come for the adoption of its successor, Internet Protocol Version 6, or IPv6.

In contrast to IPv4, which is limited to a theoretical namespace of 4.3 billion or so addresses, IPv6 has room for a theoretical 340 undecillion addresses. Exactly how many is that, you ask? This many:

340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456

An undecillion, written out, is an incredibly long number, which is why in discussions about IPv6, you may see an exponent used instead.

IPv6 was designed in the 1990s, when it became evident that we were going to outgrow IPv4 at some point. Unfortunately, the world has done a lousy job of transitioning over the new protocol (which was finalized in 1998), partly due to dithering on the part of corporations, governments, and other large institutions, and partly because IPv6 deployment is technically complex. Manufacturers of networking equipment, Internet service providers, and web hosts are now being spurred into action by the official exhaustion of IPv4.

Chances are that most of you reading this post don't have the ability to access the IPv6 Internet yet. There's no need to feel bad... most of us are in the same boat! It's going to be some time before the likes of Comcast, Verizon, Frontier, etc. roll out IPv6 support for their customers. One challenge is that networking equipment (particularly routers) will need to be replaced or upgraded. All modern operating systems are IPv6 ready, however, so you don't need to worry about buying a new computer unless you've got something really ancient.

If you're IPv6 ready all the way, try visiting Permanent Defense and the Olympia Newsriver at their new addresses, and let us know if it works!

PD is at: 2607:F298:0001:0103:0000:0000:030D:0C00

ON is at: 2607:F298:0001:0103:0000:0000:0D3A:1D1A

If you're curious as to how IPv6-ready you really are, you can visit this test site to find out. It will likely report, "No IPv6 address detected", once the test has run. Don't be disappointed if that's the case.

Permanent Defense (NPI's oldest project) and the Olympia Newsriver (NPI's newest project) are the only sites in our network to have IPv6 addresses... for now. Eventually, our core network will also resolve to an IPv6 address.

For now, PD and ON are the test pilots.

And don't worry... PD and ON will still come up for any user who is not IPv6 ready. All we've done is turn on IPv6 support. We did not turn IPv4 support off. If you type in the domain name for either project, the sites will still load and come up just fine over IPv4. Incidentally, the domain name system (DNS) has the ability to point to both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. It was designed to be flexible. For the time being, PD's and ON's domain names will only resolve via IPv4, however.

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