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Huge Internet Address Test on Wednesday

World IPv6 Day a dry run to check for problems -- and there could be some.

World IPv6 Day is June 8. Be sure and send all your techno-geek friends a greeting card.

World Internet Protocol version 6 Day is going to be a test day where the titans of the Net try something new, messing with things to see what works and what doesn't.

If it works as planned, the changes should come and go without you noticing. If you are one of the estimated 0.05 percent of users who have problems connecting to your usual websites because of it, you aren't going to be happy.

If that percentage sounds insignificant to you, 0.05 percent of Internet users works out to something like 150,000 people in North America alone, and more than a million worldwide.

Here's what's going on: We're running out of unique addresses for each device hooked up to the Internet and a new system has been created to replace the old one. It's time to test it worldwide, which means everyone who uses the Internet this week will be a guinea pig.

Every device that connects to the Internet has an address assigned to it so that all the devices can find each other.

Even when you connect to a website by using a name like Patch.com, network computers translate that to a numerical IP address behind the scenes so that your web browser or smartphone or tablet can find it.

The basic system, or Internet Protocol, for how these addresses work, was created in the 1970s, for the forerunner of the modern Internet. Even back then the computer engineers who created IP addressing had the forethought to provide capacity for a lot of them, some 4.5 billion addresses. Still not enough. We're running out this year.

More than a decade ago computer engineers saw this shortage coming, and created a new version of Internet addressing, IPv6, to replace the current IPv4. Although the two versions can run at the same time, they otherwise are not compatible.

Here's a typical IPv4 address: 192.168.5.255.

Here's a new IPv6 address: 2001:db8:1f70:999:de8:7648:6e8.

The new format should allow for 50 thousand trillion trillion addresses per person, according to the chief technologist for Cisco Systems, which makes much of the networking equipment used on the Net.

Engineers are confident the technology behind IPv6 will work, and in fact some parts of the Internet already use it in a dual configuration along with IPv4. The difficulty is in getting everyone to switch.

It's as if the post office told you that we're running out of ZIP Codes, so it wants you to start using 977bd356ec instead of the usual 92101–but in the meantime 92101 still works.

At the beginning of this year the Internet Society, a nonprofit worldwide organization that helps organize Internet standards, set June 8 as a day to do a major 24-hour test of running IPv6 at the same time as IPv4. Because the test began at 0:00 UTC time, it took effect on the East Coast at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 7.

Net titans like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Bing have all signed on. Most of us do not have systems that will be able to use IPv6 immediately, so what should happen is that our computers will try to connect using the new protocol and then will “fail over” to the old protocol, finding success that way.

That's what should happen. A small percentage of computer users are expected to have difficulty because of misconfigured home networks.

You can check whether your computer likely will work by going to http://omgipv6day.com/. Keep your fingers crossed that it's not an "IPocalypse."

Brandy Nagel June 08, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Excellent explanation.

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