Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Moving On To IPv6

_DSC3780For over the last 30 years, the Internet ran on a suite of protocols, the principal one known as the Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4. You’ve likely heard of it, and maybe also how IPv4 addresses are scarce, and that we’ll run out of them some day. Technically, that day has already come, on 31 Jan 2011, when the top-level assignment authority exhausted its IPv4 address allocation.

The successor to IPv4 is IPv6, the Internet Protocol version 6. IPv6 promises an address space that is over 1028 times more than IPv4. We probably won’t have to worry about running out of addresses any time in the foreseeable future.

Despite the vastly expanded address space and other benefits, IPv6 adoption was very slow initially, particularly prior to 2000. In 2008, Google reported in a study that IPv6 penetration remained less than one percent of Internet traffic. At that time, many products already support IPv6, but actual deployment in real-world networks were a completely different matter.

Today, most countries already have some IPv6 production deployment. Singapore has been quite active at the government and regulatory level in pushing IPv6 deployment. At least 95% of our government e-services are supposed to be already IPv6 accessible, and that local Internet service providers are mandated to provide IPv6 accessibility to their customers.

For people in Singapore, if you’ve not yet noticed, it’s likely that your home broadband connection already supports IPv6. I know that is the case for StarHub and SuperInternet. (I believe SingTel/SingNet should also support IPv6. However, I don’t see IPv6 on my SingTel mobile broadband.)

To know if you have IPv6, just point your browser to IPv6 Test, an online tool that checks your IPv6 connectivity. You can also test by trying to access ipv6.google.com, which is only available on IPv6.

Most modern operating systems and browsers already support IPv6. If you find that your IPv6 test fails, you should check your broadband router. The router StarHub provided to me has IPv6 support, but it’s disabled by default. It needs to be enabled. Nowadays, I use pfSense, and that has IPv6 support enabled by default.

Facebook and Google (and Google’s many services) are on IPv6. There was an interesting anomaly with my home network some time ago where I had a working IPv6 connection, but IPv4 was broken. At that time, I had no trouble accessing Facebook and Google, but pretty much the rest of the Internet was not accessible.

If you’re curious which websites you visit are on IPv6, you can install the IPvFoo Chrome extension. This is for the Chrome web browser, of course. A big green “6” is displayed in the URL bar for websites accessed over IPv6. Smaller “4” or “6” refer to resources that are pulled in by the webpage. There may be similar plugins for other browsers.

Many organisations roll out front-facing IPv6 services, but are still mostly IPv4 internally. For example, they may front their corporate web site with a IPv6 service. This is an easy way for an organisation to tick off the checkbox on “IPv6 readiness”, even though they’ve pretty much not done anything. Amazon Web Service’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), for example, is still IPv4, although they do have IPv6 on their Elastic Load Balancer.

I’ve just migrated this site, zitseng.com, to DreamHost, an IPv6 hosting provider. It’s now accessible on both IPv4 and IPv6.

DreamHost turns out to offer pretty good features, and it somehow escaped my consideration the several times I was evaluating web hosting providers. For what it’s worth, DreamHost is also green, through Renewable Energy Credits and Emission Reduction Credits. I’ll write a separate review about them another time.

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