Posted by on Jul 26, 2013 in IT Definitions | 1 comment

Understanding IP Addresses – IPv4 vs IPv6

Understanding IP Addresses – IPv4 vs IPv6

Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses are one of the fundamental components that enable computer networks (including the Internet) to operate effectively. They provide the means for a variety of devices (e.g. routers, laptops, computers, servers, hosts, smartphones, tablets, printers, gaming consoles etc.) to accurately find and communicate with each other across a given network.

What is an IP Address?

“An IP Address is a unique identifier for any device connected to a computer network such as the Internet.”

Currently there are two versions of IP addresses in use today:
    •    IP Version 4 (IPv4)
    •    IP Version 6 (IPv6)

IP Version 4 (IPv4)

IPv4 was first deployed on January 1, 1983 and is still the most common format currently in use today. IPv4 addresses are displayed in a dotted-decimal format that contains four octets with numbers ranging between 0 – 255 (e.g.

IPv4 - IP Address - ZeusDB

Based on this quad-dotted notation there are two simple methods to determine the total number of possible IPv4 addresses.

Method 1: – Simple combination with replacement
An IPv4 Address is made up of 4 numbers, each between 0 and 255. Including the 0 there are 256 possible combinations (0, 1, 2 … 254, 255) in each part. Thus, the total number of combinations is calculated as:
=> 256 x 256 x 256 x 256
=> 2564
= 4,294,967,296 (approx. 4.3 billion)

Method 2: – 32-bit integer
IPv4 addresses are comprised of 4 octets, each of which contains 8-bits. Thus an IPv4 address consists of 32-bits (4 octets x 8-bits each). Each octet contains 28 possible combinations. Thus, the total number of combinations is calculated as:
=> 28 x 28 x 28 x 28
=> 232
= 4,294,967,296 (approx. 4.3 billion)

In total, based on the quad-dotted notation there are approximately 4.3 billion possible IPv4 combinations. However, almost 600 million IPv4 addresses have been reserved for special purposes, allowing approximately 3.7 billion left for general usage.

IP Address shortage

There are currently billions of devices connected to the Internet making it the world’s largest integrated network. This number is set to grow substantially over the coming years with the increasing proliferation of internet capable smart devices and machines (e.g. televisions, air conditioners, washing machines, lights, cars etc.). All will have to connect and communicate through some form of IP Address.

While 3.7 billion unique combinations might sound like a lot, the huge growth in internet connected devices has already led to the virtual depletion of available IPv4 addresses. This prompted the introduction of the latest address standard – IPv6.

Connected Devices vs IPv4 - Google -ZeusDB
Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

IP Version 6 (IPv6)

IPv6 addresses are considerably different in their appearance as compared to IPv4. They can include up to 8 segments, with each containing a hexadecimal string of values between 0 and FFFF. Each of the segments is separated by a colon (e.g. 2001:0DB8:7AAB:0008:0000:0000:A573:2618).

IPv6 addresses can also be written in short form where segments are zero or contain leading zeros. For example:
=> 2001:0DB8:7AAB:0008:0000:0000:A573:2618 (full IPv6 Address)
=> 2001:0DB8:7AAB:0008::A573:2618 (after compressing zero value segments)
=> 2001:DB8:7AAB:8::A573:2618 (after further compressing leading zeros)

IPv6 - IP Address ZeusDB

Although there are many other differences between IPv4 and IPv6, one of the primary advantages is an exponentially larger number of available IP addresses. So how many IPv6 combinations are available?

Each hexadecimal segment in an IPv6 address contains 16-bits. Across 8 segments that translates to IPv6 addresses consisting of 128-bits. Thus, the total number of combinations is calculated as:
=> 216 x 216 x 216 x 216 x 216 x 216 x 216 x 216
=> (216 )8
=> 2128
= 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Thus there are approximately 3.4028 x 1038 (that’s a lot) of IPv6 Address combinations.

ZeusDB IPv6 hexadecimal to binary

IPv6 – The past, the present and the future

IPv6 was originally released in 1999 but its widespread deployment has been relatively slow. In the last 6 months the levels of IPv6 connectivity among Google users has risen from just 1.07% to 1.45% (see graph below).

IPv6 - Google - ZeusDB Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

One of the challenges in moving toward IPv6 is that it is not easily interchangeable with an existing IPv4 address. Consequently, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) cannot simply switch over to the new IPv6 address overnight. That process is likely to take many years.

In the meantime, with the virtual depletion of IPv4 combinations major ISP’s, device manufacturers and web companies around the world have been enabling their products to support both IPv4 and the more numerous IPv6 protocol.

Although total IPv6 traffic is still relatively low, over the last 6 months its usage has increased 35.51% (1.07 – 1.45%). This trend is likely to continue well into the future as IPv6 (very) slowly but surely becomes more dominant and (eventually) replaces IPv4.

In the meantime we must learn to live and work with them both!

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1 Comment

  1. thank u for giving me this idea….
    i wondered about ip cmbinations of ipv4 and ipv6..
    thank u..

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