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Tutorial: IP Version 6 (IPv6)

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Tutorial: IP Version 6 (IPv6)
IPv6 emerged from a pack of contenders to be the eventual replacement for IPv4 (the version of IP we are currently using). The main improvement is expansion of the address field from 32 bits to 128 bits, which means a possible 2**128 or 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IP addresses.
Teracom Instructor Richard Olsen, P.Eng., part of Teracom's team of highly-experienced professionals, with over 30 years' experience at Southwestern Bell, did some calculations to help us understand how many addresses this is.

My favorite is the number of IP addresses per grain of sand in the earth's crust:
  • Volume of Earth's crust (assume crust to be 1 mile deep) in cubic miles: 200,973,748
  • Volume of Earth's crust in cubic inches: 51,119,292,912,253,500,000,000
  • Assume 10,000 grains of sand in a cubic inch.
  • Grains of sand in Earth's crust: 511,192,929,122,535,000,000,000,000
  • Number of IP addresses per grain of sand in Earth's crust: 665,663,289,798
666 trillion IP addresses per grain of sand, to a depth of one mile.  Every light switch, every plug, your fridge, your dog, your car, every Coke machine, every streetlight will be addressable and controllable.

No more lost dogs!  You'll be able to track your dog on a street map over the Web by equipping your dog with a collar that has a miniaturized GPS receiver and digital packet cellular transmitter.  Really.

If you're interested in wireless Internet access, check out our Course 120, "Understanding Wireless".

IP Version 6 Packets
Continuing on with the technical discussion... The IPv6 header has been simplified compared to IPv4 to speed up processing, and capabilities for prioritization, flow labeling, authentication and encryption have been added. This figure illustrates the simplest IPv6 header:

The priority field is intended to be used to indicate the category of information in the packet, so that network equipment can handle it with appropriate priority. The field can have the following values:
0: Uncharacterized
1: Filler Traffic, e.g. net news
2: Unattended Data Transfer e.g. e-mail
4: Attended Bulk Transfer e.g. file transfer
6: Interactive Traffic e.g. web pages, terminal emulation
7: Internet Control Traffic
8: High Quality Video
15: Low Quality Audio

Flow labeling is an advanced concept associated with the idea of IP switching. When a flow of packets from the same source to the same destination is detected by network equipment, it may be possible to "short-circuit" this flow of packets directly to the destination using ATM Virtual Circuits, Multiprotocol Label Switching or Ethernet Layer 2 switching instead of continuing to route each packet in the flow individually. This, of course, would be to speed up end-to-end throughput.

We cover all of the basics of packets, and ATM in our core training Course 101, "Telecom, Datacom and Networking for Non-Engineers", and the more advanced topics in Course 110, "IP, VoIP and MPLS for the Non-Engineering Professional".

The next header field is a way of building variable-length headers, which can become as complicated or as simple as necessary. This field indicates what the next protocol header is following the IPv6 header, i.e. what control information is at the beginning of the payload being carried in the packet. A typical IPv6 packet would have TCP as the next header. Other possibilities are:
    o Another IPv6 header
    o Hop-by-hop option header
    o Destination options header [intermediate nodes]
    o Routing header
    o Fragment(ation) header
    o Authentication header
    o Encapsulating security payload header
    o Destination options header [final destination]
    o Upper-layer header [TCP, UDP]
The hop limit field is like the time-to-live field in IPv4, and is decremented by each router until it reaches zero, at which point the packet is discarded. The payload is the data being carried in the packet: the application layer message encapsulated in upper-layer protocol headers.

IPv6 Notation

IPv6 addresses are 128 bits long. Exchanging such numbers between people clearly will not work very well, and so the Domain Name System will be the way that users exchange addresses.

When it is necessary to discuss the numeric IPv6 address, this will be expressed as 8 groups of 16 bits represented using hexadecimal. For compatibility with IPv4, the last 32 bits could be expressed using the "old-fashioned" IPv4 dotted-decimal notation.
Allocation of Blocks of IPv6 Addresses: IPv6 Address Classes
There are several proposals for defining the allocation of the bits within the IPv6 address space, analogous to IPv4 address classes.

One possibility is to use the 48-bit LAN card address of the station as the lower bits. Since LAN card addresses are unique, this will ensure that the IP addresses are unique. It would also allow someone to uniquely identify and track a computer's activities over the Internet, and so would have some issues regarding privacy.

IPv6 is not currently used on the Internet, and it is likely that there will be a period of transition when both IPv4 and IPv6 are used.
For more information: Course 110 IP, VoIP and MPLS for the Non-Engineering Professional
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