IP and IPv6
 


Browsers and servers use TCP/IP to connect to the Internet. A browser uses TCP/IP to access a server. A server uses TCP/IP to send HTML back to a browser.

The Internet protocol suite is the set of communications protocols used for the Internet and similar networks, and generally the most popular protocol stack for wide area networks. It is commonly known as TCP/IP, because of its most important protocols: Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), which were the first networking protocols defined in this standard. It is occasionally known as the DoD model due to the foundational influence of the ARPANET in the 1970s (operated by DARPA, an agency of the United States Department of Defense).

TCP/IP provides end-to-end connectivity specifying how data should be formatted, addressed, transmitted, routed and received at the destination. It has four abstraction layers, each with its own protocols. From lowest to highest, the layers are:

    The link layer (commonly Ethernet) contains communication technologies for a local network.
    The internet layer (IP) connects local networks, thus establishing internetworking.
    The transport layer (TCP) handles host-to-host communication.
    The application layer (for example HTTP) contains all protocols for specific data communications services on a process-to-process level (for example how a web browser communicates with a web server).

The TCP/IP model and related protocols are maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
 

Hosts and networks

IP addressing is based on the concept of hosts and networks. A host is essentially anything on the network that is capable of receiving and transmitting IP packets on the network, such as a workstation or a router. It is not to be confused with a server: servers and client workstations are all IP hosts.

The hosts are connected together by one or more networks. The IP address of any host consists of its network address plus its own host address on the network. IP addressing, unlike, say, IPX addressing, uses one address containing both network and host address.

How much of the address is used for the network portion and how much for the host portion varies from network to network.

IP addressing

An IP address is 32 bits wide, and as discussed, it is composed of two parts: the network number, and the host number [1, 2, 3]. By convention, it is expressed as four decimal numbers separated by periods, such as "200.1.2.3" representing the decimal value of each of the four bytes. Valid addresses thus range from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255, a total of about 4.3 billion addresses. The first few bits of the address indicate the Class that the address belongs to:

Class    Prefix    Network Number Host Number
  A  0  Bits 1-7 Bits 8-31
  B  10  Bits 2-15 Bits 16-31
  C  110  Bits 3-23 Bits 24-31
  D  1110    N/A  
  E  1111    N/A  

The bits are labeled in network order, so that the first bit is bit 0 and the last is bit 31, reading from left to right. Class D addresses are multicast, and Class E are reserved. The range of network numbers and host numbers may then be derived:

Class    Range of Net Numbers    Range of Host Numbers
  A  0 to 126  0.0.1 to 255.255.254
  B  128.0 to 191.255  0.1 to 255.254
  C  192.0.0 to 233.255.255  1 to 254

Any address starting with 127 is a loopback address and should never be used for addressing outside the host. A host number of all binary 1's indicates a directed broadcast over the specific network. For example, 200.1.2.255 would indicate a broadcast over the 200.1.2 network. If the host number is 0, it indicates "this host". If the network number is 0, it indicates "this network" .

All the reserved bits and reserved addresses severely reduce the available IP addresses from the 4.3 billion theoretical maximum. Most users connected to the Internet will be assigned addresses within Class C, as space is becoming very limited. This is the primary reason for the development of IPv6, which will have 128 bits of address space.

 

The Internet protocol suite uses encapsulation to provide abstraction of protocols and services. Encapsulation is usually aligned with the division of the protocol suite into layers of general functionality. In general, an application (the highest level of the model) uses a set of protocols to send its data down the layers, being further encapsulated at each level.

The "layers" of the protocol suite near the top are logically closer to the user application, while those near the bottom are logically closer to the physical transmission of the data. Viewing layers as providing or consuming a service is a method of abstraction to isolate upper layer protocols from the nitty-gritty detail of transmitting bits over, for example, Ethernet and collision detection, while the lower layers avoid having to know the details of each and every application and its protocol.

Even when the layers are examined, the assorted architectural documents—there is no single architectural model such as ISO 7498, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model—have fewer and less rigidly defined layers than the OSI model, and thus provide an easier fit for real-world protocols. In point of fact, one frequently referenced document, RFC 1958, does not contain a stack of layers. The lack of emphasis on layering is a strong difference between the IETF and OSI approaches. It only refers to the existence of the "internetworking layer" and generally to "upper layers"; this document was intended as a 1996 "snapshot" of the architecture: "The Internet and its architecture have grown in evolutionary fashion from modest beginnings, rather than from a Grand Plan. While this process of evolution is one of the main reasons for the technology's success, it nevertheless seems useful to record a snapshot of the current principles of the Internet architecture."

RFC 1122, entitled Host Requirements, is structured in paragraphs referring to layers, but the document refers to many other architectural principles not emphasizing layering. It loosely defines a four-layer model, with the layers having names, not numbers, as follows:

Application layer (process-to-process): This is the scope within which applications create user data and communicate this data to other processes or applications on another or the same host. The communications partners are often called peers. This is where the "higher level" protocols such as SMTP, FTP, SSH, HTTP, etc. operate.
Transport layer (host-to-host): The transport layer constitutes the networking regime between two network hosts, either on the local network or on remote networks separated by routers. The transport layer provides a uniform networking interface that hides the actual topology (layout) of the underlying network connections. This is where flow-control, error-correction, and connection protocols exist, such as TCP. This layer deals with opening and maintaining connections between Internet hosts.
Internet layer (internetworking): The internet layer has the task of exchanging datagrams across network boundaries. It is therefore also referred to as the layer that establishes internetworking, indeed, it defines and establishes the Internet. This layer defines the addressing and routing structures used for the TCP/IP protocol suite. The primary protocol in this scope is the Internet Protocol, which defines IP addresses. Its function in routing is to transport datagrams to the next IP router that has the connectivity to a network closer to the final data destination.
Link layer: This layer defines the networking methods within the scope of the local network link on which hosts communicate without intervening routers. This layer describes the protocols used to describe the local network topology and the interfaces needed to effect transmission of Internet layer datagrams to next-neighbor hosts. (cf. the OSI data link layer).

UDP encapsulation

 

IP Stack

IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is the latest revision of the Internet Protocol (IP), the primary communications protocol upon which the entire Internet is built. It is intended to replace the older IPv4, which is still employed for the vast majority of Internet traffic as of 2012. IPv6 was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to deal with the long-anticipated problem of IPv4 running out of addresses.

Each device on the Internet, such as a computer or mobile telephone, must be assigned an IP address, a number with a certain number of binary digits (each presented by one bit), in order to communicate with other devices. With the ever-increasing number of new devices being connected to the Internet, there is a need for more addresses than IPv4 can accommodate. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, allowing for 2128, or approximately 3.4×1038 addresses — more than 7.9×1028 times as many as IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses. IPv4 allows for only 4,294,967,296 unique addresses worldwide (or fewer than one address per person alive in 2012), but IPv6 allows for around 4.8×1028 addresses per person — a number unlikely to ever run out. However, this means the two protocols are not compatible, complicating the transition to IPv6. IPv6 addresses, as commonly displayed to users, consist of eight groups of four hexadecimal digits separated by colons, for example 2001:0db8:85a3:0042:1000:8a2e:0370:7334.

IPv6, like the most commonly used IPv4 (as of 2012), is an Internet-layer protocol for packet-switched internetworking and provides end-to-end datagram transmission across multiple IP networks. It is described in Internet standard document RFC 2460, published in December 1998. In addition to offering more addresses, IPv6 also implements features not present in IPv4. It simplifies aspects of address assignment (stateless address autoconfiguration), network renumbering and router announcements when changing network connectivity providers. The IPv6 subnet size has been standardized by fixing the size of the host identifier portion of an address to 64 bits to facilitate an automatic mechanism for forming the host identifier from link-layer media addressing information (MAC address). Network security is also integrated into the design of the IPv6 architecture, including the option of IPsec.

IPv6 does not implement interoperability features with IPv4, but essentially creates a parallel, independent network. Exchanging traffic between the two networks requires special translator gateways, but this is not generally required, since most computer operating systems and software implement both protocols for transparent access to both networks, either natively or using a tunneling protocol like 6to4, 6in4, or Teredo.

Comparison to IPv4

On the Internet, data is transmitted in the form of network packets. IPv6 specifies a new packet format, designed to minimize packet header processing by routers. Because the headers of IPv4 packets and IPv6 packets are significantly different, the two protocols are not interoperable. However, in most respects, IPv6 is a conservative extension of IPv4. Most transport and application-layer protocols need little or no change to operate over IPv6; exceptions are application protocols that embed internet-layer addresses, such as FTP and NTPv3, where the new address format may cause conflicts with existing protocol syntax.

Larger address space

The main advantage of IPv6 over IPv4 is its larger address space. The length of an IPv6 address is 128 bits, compared to 32 bits in IPv4. The address space therefore has 2128 or approximately 3.4×1038 addresses. By comparison, this amounts to approximately 4.8×1028 addresses for each of the seven billion people alive in 2011. In addition, the IPv4 address space is poorly allocated, with approximately 14% of all available addresses utilized. While these numbers are large, it wasn't the intent of the designers of the IPv6 address space to assure geographical saturation with usable addresses. Rather, the longer addresses simplify allocation of addresses, enable efficient route aggregation, and allow implementation of special addressing features. In IPv4, complex Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) methods were developed to make the best use of the small address space. The standard size of a subnet in IPv6 is 264 addresses, the square of the size of the entire IPv4 address space. Thus, actual address space utilization rates will be small in IPv6, but network management and routing efficiency is improved by the large subnet space and hierarchical route aggregation.

Renumbering an existing network for a new connectivity provider with different routing prefixes is a major effort with IPv4. With IPv6, however, changing the prefix announced by a few routers can in principle renumber an entire network, since the host identifiers (the least-significant 64 bits of an address) can be independently self-configured by a host.

Multicasting

Multicasting, the transmission of a packet to multiple destinations in a single send operation, is part of the base specification in IPv6. In IPv4 this is an optional although commonly implemented feature. IPv6 multicast addressing shares common features and protocols with IPv4 multicast, but also provides changes and improvements by eliminating the need for certain protocols. IPv6 does not implement traditional IP broadcast, i.e. the transmission of a packet to all hosts on the attached link using a special broadcast address, and therefore does not define broadcast addresses. In IPv6, the same result can be achieved by sending a packet to the link-local all nodes multicast group at address ff02::1, which is analogous to IPv4 multicast to address 224.0.0.1. IPv6 also provides for new multicast implementations, including embedding rendezvous point addresses in an IPv6 multicast group address, which simplifies the deployment of inter-domain solutions.

In IPv4 it is very difficult for an organization to get even one globally routable multicast group assignment, and the implementation of inter-domain solutions is very arcane. Unicast address assignments by a local Internet registry for IPv6 have at least a 64-bit routing prefix, yielding the smallest subnet size available in IPv6 (also 64 bits). With such an assignment it is possible to embed the unicast address prefix into the IPv6 multicast address format, while still providing a 32-bit block, the least significant bits of the address, or approximately 4.2 billion multicast group identifiers. Thus each user of an IPv6 subnet automatically has available a set of globally routable source-specific multicast groups for multicast applications.

Stateless address autoconfiguration (SLAAC)

IPv6 hosts can configure themselves automatically when connected to a routed IPv6 network using the Neighbor Discovery Protocol via Internet Control Message Protocol version 6 (ICMPv6) router discovery messages. When first connected to a network, a host sends a link-local router solicitation multicast request for its configuration parameters; if configured suitably, routers respond to such a request with a router advertisement packet that contains network-layer configuration parameters.

If IPv6 stateless address autoconfiguration is unsuitable for an application, a network may use stateful configuration with the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol version 6 (DHCPv6) or hosts may be configured statically.

Routers present a special case of requirements for address configuration, as they often are sources for autoconfiguration information, such as router and prefix advertisements. Stateless configuration for routers can be achieved with a special router renumbering protocol.

Network-layer security

Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was originally developed for IPv6, but found widespread deployment first in IPv4, into which it was reverse-engineered. Earlier, IPsec was an integral part of the base IPv6 protocol suite, but has since been made optional.

Simplified processing by routers

In IPv6, the packet header and the process of packet forwarding have been simplified. Although IPv6 packet headers are at least twice the size of IPv4 packet headers, packet processing by routers is generally more efficient, thereby extending the end-to-end principle of Internet design. Specifically:

  • The packet header in IPv6 is simpler than that used in IPv4, with many rarely used fields moved to separate optional header extensions.
  • IPv6 routers do not perform fragmentation. IPv6 hosts are required to either perform path MTU discovery, perform end-to-end fragmentation, or to send packets no larger than the IPv6 default minimum MTU size of 1280 octets.
  • The IPv6 header is not protected by a checksum; integrity protection is assumed to be assured by both link-layer and higher-layer (TCP, UDP, etc.) error detection. UDP/IPv4 may actually have a checksum of 0, indicating no checksum; IPv6 requires UDP to have its own checksum. Therefore, IPv6 routers do not need to recompute a checksum when header fields (such as the time to live (TTL) or hop count) change. This improvement may have been made less necessary by the development of routers that perform checksum computation at link speed using dedicated hardware, but it is still relevant for software-based routers.
  • The TTL field of IPv4 has been renamed to Hop Limit, reflecting the fact that routers are no longer expected to compute the time a packet has spent in a queue.

Mobility

Unlike mobile IPv4, mobile IPv6 avoids triangular routing and is therefore as efficient as native IPv6. IPv6 routers may also allow entire subnets to move to a new router connection point without renumbering.

Options extensibility

The IPv6 packet header has a fixed size (40 octets). Options are implemented as additional extension headers after the IPv6 header, which limits their size only by the size of an entire packet. The extension header mechanism makes the protocol extensible in that it allows future services for quality of service, security, mobility, and others to be added without redesign of the basic protocol.

Jumbograms

IPv4 limits packets to 65535 (216−1) octets of payload. An IPv6 node can optionally handle packets over this limit, referred to as jumbograms, which can be as large as 4294967295 (232−1) octets. The use of jumbograms may improve performance over high-MTU links. The use of jumbograms is indicated by the Jumbo Payload Option header.

Privacy

Like IPv4, IPv6 supports globally unique static IP addresses, which can be used to track a single device's Internet activity. Most devices are used by a single user, so a device's activity is often assumed to be equivalent to a user's activity. This causes privacy concerns in the same way that cookies can also track a user's navigation through sites.

The privacy enhancements in IPv6 have been mostly developed in response to a misunderstanding. Interfaces can have addresses based on the MAC address of the machine (the EUI-64 format), but this is not a requirement. Even when an address is not based on the MAC address though, the interface's address is (contrary to IPv4) usually global instead of local, which makes it much easier to identify a single user through the IP address.

Privacy extensions for IPv6 have been defined to address these privacy concerns. When privacy extensions are enabled, the operating system generates ephemeral IP addresses by concatenating a randomly generated host identifier with the assigned network prefix. These ephemeral addresses, instead of trackable static IP addresses, are used to communicate with remote hosts. The use of ephemeral addresses makes it difficult to accurately track a user's Internet activity by scanning activity streams for a single IPv6 address.

Privacy extensions are enabled by default in Windows, Mac OS X (since 10.7), and iOS (since version 4.3). Some Linux distributions have enabled privacy extensions as well.

Privacy extensions do not protect the user from other forms of activity tracking, such as tracking cookies. Privacy extensions do little to protect the user from tracking if only one or two hosts are using a given network prefix, and the activity tracker is privy to this information. In this scenario, the network prefix is the unique identifier for tracking. Network prefix tracking is less of a concern if the user's ISP assigns a dynamic network prefix via DHCP.

IPv6 and IP

IPv4 Address