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Internet running out of addresses?

It's been reported recently that the internet is running out of addresses. So what does this exactly mean and what will happen? To answer this requires a little explanation as to what internet addresses are.

When going to a website, you typically type in http://www.whateversite.com and up comes the website. This is known as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and is used to make it easier for people to remember how to get to a website. For computers however, they need numbers to work with. So the URL of http://www.whateversite.com is translated into numbers that a computer understands. These numbers are called an IP address.

An IP address comes in the form of 4 numbers with a range of between 0 and 255 for each number. So an IP address for say ISOCNET's website is 67.96.0.250. If you think of nearly every combination that could be used for an IP address, there are billions of IP addresses available. Sounds like a huge number right? It is, however with billions of devices now using IP addresses around the world, there are now a dwindling number of available IP addresses available to use.

Everything from your computer, your laptop, your cell phone, your Xbox 360 and now many TVs, and other devices that access the internet are using IP addresses. Not to mention all of the computer networks and servers that are used by businesses around the world.

So now it is being reported that these IP addresses will run out within the next couple of years. With the increasing reliance on devices accessing the internet, that will become a problem. There are ways to help reduce the number of IP addresses being used, such as NAT (Network Address Translation) that are being implemented now, but this won't stop all of the IP addresses from being used up over time. The long term solution is a newer system of IP addresses. The existing system is known as IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4). The newer system is known as IPv6 (version 6).

IPv6 addresses have eight groups of numbers instead of the current 4. They also use hexadecimal quartets of numbers. That means each of the groups of numbers have 4 numbers and each of those numbers can be anything from 0-9 and a-f. So an example of an IPv6 number might be 2010:2345:7840:849a:bac3:ef34:3901:785f.

The number of combinations that can be used here is almost limitless. The problem is going to be getting everyone to implement it. Most new equipment and operating systems (such as Windows 7) already have support for IPv6. However there are older systems and equipment that are still in use that don't support for IPv6 and there is a general reluctance to have to spend the time and money to upgrade everything to use the new protocol, at least until it's absolutely necessary.

However this all turns out, I think it's safe to say that we'll be hearing quite a bit more about IPv6 in the future.

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