June 8, 2011: The Day Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Others Will Road Test Next-Gen IP Code

IPv6 stats

Due to a tiny but historic oversight, the Internet is running out of IP addresses as more and more people and devices hook up to the web. New IP tech, the IPv6 protocol, is being adopted slowly, but to speed it up Google, Facebook and others are "practicing" on June 8th.

As Google explains in its blog post on the matter, this tech news (which should probably be getting more mainstream news attention than it so far has) originates in a decision made in 1977. Vint Cerf, program manager for ARPAnet—the system that would evolve into the full, modern Internet—settled on a 32-bit code system to label every address on the system, also known as the IP address. This resulted in many billions of potential addresses for his system, far more than he needed for the research project, so it was a pretty insightful decision. That system has remained at the core of Net tech until now, but the list of available addresses is very quickly being eaten up, and will probably run out this year.

The "only long term solution," Google points out, is the adoption of IPv6 technology, which is based on 64-bit addresses, and which will enable trillions more people and automated devices to successfully hook up to the Net using new IP addresses. Google's supported the system in Search for years, YouTube more recently, and has been helping ISPs transition to the new system for some time. But widespread adoption hasn't happened.

To underscore the significance of the matter, for 24 hours on June 8 of this year Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and other big-name operators will be switch on full IPv6 support on their main websites. It's being dubbed "World IPv6 Day," and it's the first full-scale test of the system, designed to see if the Net's infrastructure can successfully support it without toppling over. Google's calling it a "crucial phase" for IPv6.

As Net users you don't need to do anything special—your ISP and other mysterious Net infrastructure devices should manage the matter for you completely transparently. Google's "current measurements suggest that the vast majority (99.5%) of users will be unaffected" which is good news. But in "rare cases" some folks may experience connectivity problems "often due to misconfigured or misbehaving home network devices." In other words, June 8th may not be a day to rely absolutely on Net technology to try something important. You know, like tweeting about what you had for breakfast.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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