Nowadays many people know of IP addresses. Those 4 numbers (technically known as octets) separated by dots (e.g. 220.127.116.11) which connect all of our devices to the Internet and allow them to find each other. Of course many don't understand the underlying technologies that make the whole thing work and they don't really need to understand it.
That IP address that most people know is IPv4 and is almost 40 years old. Its address space was depleted back in 2011, as in there were no more addresses for the overseeing organization, ICANN, to hand out.
Back in 1999 realizing the dire situation of IPv4, Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) developed a new IP scheme known as IPv6. While IPv4 is 32 bits allowing for about 4.3 billion addresses, IPv6 is 128 bits allowing for 3.4×1038 addresses. It’s a big number, so big that it’s doubtful we’ll run out of addresses even in a billion years. For now only a fraction of those addresses have been given out to public and even that’s a gigantic pool. Instead of octets IPv6 addressing uses 8 hextets separated by colons, for example, 2603:3005:6009:b400:0:0:0:61, also represented as 2603:3005:6009:b400::61.
The idea was that given enough time IPv6 will supplant IPv4 and while in 20 years there has been adoption, it has not been at the anticipated rate. Here’s a Google chart on the IPv6 adoption rate. IPv4 continues to dominate the Internet with technologies devised to extend its life, the main one being NAT.
Possibly the biggest hindrance to IPv6 adoption is that it does not interoperate with IPv4. Yes, they can co-exists in what’s known as dual stacking and they can communicate using translation technologies such as tunnels but they are separate technologies. Organizations have spent many years and resources to architect their IPv4 networks and they are understandably hesitant to spend the time and expense to repeat the process, especially considering the continued vast prevalence of IPv4.
Thankfully this site is not an organization with large investment in its IPv4 network so when I accidentally discovered that my Comcast Business modem was handing out IPv6 I was happy to start experimenting.
I have written before about the challenges of running this site on an old FC14 OS, but thankfully FC14 is IPv6 ready, no kernel patching or module loading necessary. With a bit of online learning I was able to spin up a public static IPv6 on the NIC and my server was now dual-stacked. As I progressed with the configuration I noticed that IPv6 has a bit of a learning curve even for the simplest operations. The ping command is ping6, traceroute is traceroute6, iptables rules no longer apply and one must use ip6tables, and there is no ARP table among other differences.
Spinning up an Apache website on IPv6 was done with a bit of trial and error but as I attempted to make the site public, I hit a road bump, a small indication of why IPv6 has been slow in growth. For years I had been using the free DNS service provided by my domain registrar, Network Solutions. But as I proceeded to add an IPv6 host name I noticed that Network Solutions provided no such mechanism. IPv6 records are added as AAAA rather than A records which are for IPv4 hosts. Reaching out to the Network Solutions tech support confirmed that they do not support AAAA records.
The only option was to move my DNS hosting to another provider that supported AAAA records, and that search led me to Hurricane Electric. I can’t compliment this company enough. Migrating DNS was easy and while their interface seems a bit dated and a bit cumbersome (there is no zone import facility) everything worked perfectly save a tiny glitch. Even more impressive, their tech support replied to my email within minutes with helpful answers to quickly overcome the glitch. I was impressed, and no, I am not getting paid to endorse Hurricane Electric, just a satisfied user of their free DNS hosting.
You can now browse to the IPv6 site and see for yourself, but you can only access it if your device is IPv6 capable. If your provider doesn’t provide IPv6 and you want to experiment with it, Hurricane Electric has a free service for that called Tunnel Broker for IPv4 to IPv6 translation. I tested that out on a Windows 10 host and it worked flawlessly.
Finally, if you want to see more details on your Internet connection, the whoami page will show you quite a bit of information about your online presence, IPv4 and IPv6 included.