IPv6, short for Internet Protocol version 6, is the next generation protocol for the Internet and replaces the current IPv4. It controls how packets of data are transferred from one device to another over the Internet. It does this by assigning a unique IP address (a long sequence of hexadecimal digits) to every device connected to the Internet. Each packet is then marked with the source IP address and the destination IP address and together they enable the packets to be sent correctly to and from their destination anywhere on the Internet.
In simple terms IP (both v4 and v6) can be viewed in much the same way as a postal service. Envelopes containing information (data packets) are marked with their destination on the front and their sender's address on the back (destination and source IP addresses). These then help the post office (routers around the Internet) send the envelope to the correct place and, if necessary, return it to its sender.
Whilst IPv6 is only just gaining prominence, it has actually been in circulation for over 10 years and so it is well tested and known to be reliable.
IPv4 is running out of IP addresses to assign and so a new protocol with more addresses is needed. Whilst it is difficult to predict exactly when IPv4 will run out, there are indications it could be a matter of a few months. Happily, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has been planning for this for years and has been slowly introducing IPv6 since 1999.
IPv6 will last far longer than IPv4 because it has 128 bit addresses as opposed to IPv4's 32 bit addresses. This means that IPv6 is able to provide us with 2128 individual addresses (or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456), more than enough to last us for the foreseeable future!
As well as more addresses, IPv6 has several other advantages over IPv4 such as being more efficient and secure (with data packet encryption) as well as being better able to support mobile devices.
Internet users – There is nothing you need to do and you shouldn't notice any changes to how you use and access the Internet.
Businesses – You need to check that your ISP is ready to provide you with IPv6 connectivity. You should also make sure that your hardware, software and network equipment are IPv6 compatible. This shouldn't be as arduous as it sounds as, in practice, most of it already will be.
Memset customers – If you would like to join the beta program then email firstname.lastname@example.org. You will then see a button on your control panel which will allow you to allocate IPv6 addresses to your servers.
Last updated 11 June 2015, 09:14 GMT