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IPv6 tested by Google and Facebook as we run out of IP addresses

Today is World IPv6 Day. Don't worry, you don't need to send a card -- it's just a 24-hour test by Google, Facebook and many other websites of a new way of connecting to the Web.

Today is World IPv6 Day. Don't worry, you don't need to send a card -- it's just a 24-hour test by Google, Facebook and many other websites of a new way of connecting to the Web. We're running out of IP addresses, y'see, so we'll soon have to switch from today's IPv4 format to IPv6. Read on to find out how the change will affect you.

What's the problem?

We're running short of Internet Protocol addresses, the unique number given to your computer, phone, tablet, printer or lightbulb -- anything, in fact, that connects to the Internet. The massive explosion in Web-connected devices means the IPv4 system of numbering is running out of possible combinations.

What is IPv6?

IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses rather than IPv4's 32-bit addresses. Basically, IPv6 addresses are much longer -- for example, 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1 instead of 172.16.254.1 -- so there are far more possible number combinations: 340 trillion, trillion, trillion IP addresses, instead of IPv4's 4.3 billion.

What's happening today?

Internet giants including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook are testing out IPv6 versions of their websites. You won't notice any difference, as the testing is happening behind the scenes. The graph above, courtesy of Akamai, shows how many people are connecting with IPv6 during the course of the day.

If you're one of the small number of Web users who can already connect via IPv6, it'll happen in the background just as normal. If your network can't cope with IPv6, it'll simply fall back to IPv4. The vast majority of us aren't set up for IPv6 yet. A very small percentage of users may encounter problems today, in which case certain sites will be slow or unresponsive.

What do I have to do?

You don't have to do anything yet -- a complete switchover is still at least ten years away. The only change you'll need to make in the long run is updating the firmware on your router. Eventually, any new routers sent out by Internet service providers will be ready for IPv6.

Even if we do use the last of the 80 million IPv4 addresses left, the Internet won't fall over. The big players will have switched over long before then anyway. Business folks will have to update their network equipment, which is likely to cost a pretty penny but, as our old mammy used to say: never put off until next decade what you can upgrade today.

Will IPv6 change my life?

IPv6 will create tonnes of new IP addresses, so almost anything can connect to the Internet, like your microwave, for example. It's called the 'Internet of Things' and it'll transform your home -- if, that is, anyone can actually think of a reason why you need your washing machine to connect to the Web.

The situation reminds us of the time we Brits ran out of phone numbers, or the Millennium Bug. In both instances, olden-times people adopted a system that didn't anticipate changes years down the line, forcing us lot to switch over. Curse you, olden-times IT people!

Like the Millennium Bug, the IPv6 switchover is an issue on a massive scale but basically just IT admin. It's not going to mean the end of the world.

Still, fearing the worst back in 1999 was fun, so we're going to come up with a cool name and start scaremongering. Look out everybody, it's the IPocalypse! IPv4mageddon! Run away!