Everyone who has been on the Internet has heard of IPv4 and maybe IPv6. After all, without either IPv4 or IPv6, they won’t be able to communicate with other people online or visit any websites. Below, we’ll go into more details on what is an IP address and the differences between IPv4 vs. IPv6.
What is an IP address?
This part is going to be a bit technical but we’ll try to explain in a more layman’s terms. Hopefully, you’ll get an understanding of what is an IP address. Firstly, let’s address what IP stands for. It stands for Internet Protocol, the reason being it’s a networking standard for communication between machines on a network or Internet.
An IP address is a unique identifier for every machine on a particular network. It is akin to a mobile phone number where someone calling that number will reach a particular person. The data route through the network via routers or switches till it reaches the IP address of the machine that you want to connect with.
A good example of how an IP address works is if you imagine browsing to your favorite website on your browser. When you key in the URL, the website domain (e.g., facebook.com) is converted via DNS lookup into its corresponding IP address. Then, your computer can request or send data to the web server with this IP address. All of this happens via IP data packets which are chunks of data being encoded and transmitted through the Internet. How to encode these packets are specified as part of the Internet Protocol specifications.
Versions of IP addresses: IPv4, IPv5 and IPv6
There are different versions of Internet Protocols as the “v” in the name suggests.
Most people will be familiar with an IPv4 address as this is what’s used on their home network (either LAN or WiFi). For example, 192.168.1.1 is a very common address found on almost all home networks. This form of IP address is used globally on the Internet for many years now. Everyday, people check their emails, surf the Internet and video call their loved ones, most of them done through an IPv4 address. However, IPv4 address is a 32-bit addressing scheme. What this means is that the maximum number of IP addresses available using IPv4 is 232 or 4,294,967,296 (approximately 4.3 billion addresses). Some IP blocks are reserved for special uses. Therefore, there is a common belief that IPv4 is insufficient to serve all the computers worldwide.
For IPv4 technical specification: https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc791.html
The Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the next generation of IP addresses which is more advanced and has better features compared to IPv4. More and more ISPs are migrating to IPv6 in order to resolve the IP address exhaustion issue. This newer Internet Protocol standard which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme makes it capable of providing 2128 or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 IP addresses. With this huge range of addresses, the IP address exhaustion issue has been mitigated. An IPv6 address looks something like 2404:6800:4001:802::200e which is pretty dissimilar to IPv4.
For IPv6 technical specification: https://www.iana.org/go/rfc8200
Hey, you mentioned IPv5 above so what about that? Glad you were paying attention. Most people will NOT have heard of IPv5 due to the fact that it was experimental. Experimental protocols are sometimes created for various reasons, this one was meant for streaming purposes. However, it was never released into mainstream use because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme just like the IPv4 with the same address exhaustion issue.
For IPv5 technical specification: https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1819.html
Differences between IPv4 and IPv6
Let’s go over most of the differences between the 2 common Internet Protocol standards.
|Address space||Over 4 billion addresses.||Over 340 undecillion addresses.|
|Address format||4 decimal numbers (from 0 to 255) separated by periods. E.g., 192.168.1.1||8 hexadecimal numbers (from 0 to FFFF) separated by colons. E.g., 2404:6800:4001:802::200e (NOTE: A double colon represents one or more blocks of zeros in between.)|
|Address configuration||IP address can be manually configured or assigned by DHCP server.||Same as IPv4 with the addition of auto-configuration and renumbering.|
|Network spoofing||Possible to spoof network packet origin.||Much harder to spoof due to additional security measures.|
|Security feature||No built-in security; depends on the apps to provide the security.||IPSec is available.|
|Transmission scheme||Supports broadcast, multicast and unicast.||Supports multicast and unicast.|
|Encryption / authentication||Not supported.||Supported.|
For the average user at home, they won’t notice the difference between IPv4 and IPv6 as long as they can keep using the Internet for their daily tasks. That said, they will need to thank their ISPs for migrating to IPv6 as it will allow more people to be online at the same time. The growth of data centers will likely result in an increased demand for IP addresses, as more devices and systems require unique identifiers to connect to the internet and each other.
IP address geolocation is the process of determining the geographic location of an internet-connected device based on its IP address. IP address geolocation can be used for a variety of purposes, such as targeted advertising, fraud prevention, and content localization. It’s a good idea to see what your IP address geolocation looks like through IP2Location IP Address lookup demo if you want to.
Below is the example of IP address lookup for 220.127.116.11.