An IP (Internet Protocol) address is used on the Internet to contact a computer in a similar
way that a telephone number is defined to a phone. Each IP address is unique and any data that you send to
that address will be routed through the Internet to arrive at the destination of that computer. Most
people will be more familiar with easy to remember hostnames such as www.thinkbroadband.com which
are looked up in a directory (similar to a yellow pages) and translated in to the IP address. You can
often use the IP address instead of the hostname (for example typing http://126.96.36.199/
(or http://[2a02:68:1::3]/ for IPv6 users) in you address bar will bring you to this website.
IPv6 is the successor to IPv4 which has been used for many years since the early days of the Internet.
Unfortunately, when the Internet was first founded, it was never thought that it would be so succesful
and people would be connecting everything from their mobile phone to their hi-fi and
fridge to the 'net. As such, it is estimated that we will run out of the existing IPv4 based addresses
by 2012, so a new protocol has been developed that will work around this problem, and also introduces
some new features to improve how the Internet works.
Most modern operating systems have support for IPv6, however not all Internet providers (the company
that provides your Internet connection) support it as yet. Infact, in the UK, there are still only
a handful of broadband providers who do. If your provider doesn't, you can still use IPv6 by using
a tunnel over IPv4. SixXS and Hurricane Electric are two free tunnel broker options.
If you use Windows Vista or Windows XP and are behind a NAT router, you may need to use a Teredo Tunnel
IPv6 is the next generation technology behind the Internet. Making sure you are ready and able to support
the latest technology for anything that you connect is a sensible idea and more and more devices should
be enabling IPv6 over the coming months.
IPv6 solves the address depletion crisis and also adds new security and mobility
functionality that should allow for new and more secure services to become available. If you don't have
support for IPv6 yet, don't worry as the existing IPv4 will still be around for a long time yet.