On June 8th, 2012, the Internet made a major transition — and no one noticed.
This day marked the once-in-history “World IPv6 Day,” where major Internet Service Providers around the world made the change to permanently enable an Internet protocol called IPv6. A day after this change was made, CNN has reported that the Internet now has 340 trillion trillion trillion unique addresses or 340 undecillion (a number with 37 zeros).
IPv4 was the communications protocol being used to manage all Internet traffic. With the new protocol, the Internet is now able to support more devices through the increase of the number of possible addresses.
The way the Internet works is that it transfers data between hosts in packets that become routed through networks as determined by routing protocols. These packets of information require an addressing system to determine their source and destination. Each host, computer or other device on the Internet needs to have its own IP address in order to communicate and the exponential growth of the Internet demanded that more addresses be created. Under IPv4, 32 bits were allocated per IP address, while with IPv6, 128 bits are allocated.
The system was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force as the IPv4 addresses available neared exhaustion, creating an expanded base for addresses for devices and users online together with greater flexibility in address allocation and routing traffic efficiency. It also removed the need for network address translation systems as a stop-gap measure in the IPv4 address exhaustion conundrum.
To put this new number in context that is graspable, 340 trillion trillion trillion is more than the number of stars in the universe, more than the number of cells in the human body and more than the number of gallons of water on earth.
The Information Superhighway suddenly became the Information Autobahn.