I heard on TV that the Internet is running out of addresses, or something like that, and that it’s all going to collapse and we’ll be disconnected. Isn’t this a huge problem? Do I need to do anything about it?
Remember this: TV news makes its money with sensationalism. The world is not ending; it’s not a conspiracy to end democracy as we know it. The fact is this: the Internet uses an addressing system that provides your network, and devices on your network, each with a unique address. And yes, the set of unique addresses using the current system of addressing is running out of new addresses. The current system, called IPv4, uses a set of four values between 0 and 255 (like 192.168.10.1, or 255.255.255.0) to represent the address of a particular computer or device. Your phone has a unique IPv4 address, as does the main Web server at Google.com. (To see what Web address Google uses, open a command prompt in Windows or a Terminal window in OS X, and type “ping Google.com”. Your domain name server will resolve the name Google.com to its corresponding IPv4 address and will display it for you.) “IPv4” refers to “Internet Protocol version 4” addresses, as you might guess.
There are a limited number of IPv4 addresses available, around 4.3 billion of them, and because you needed to have a connected thermostat (not to point fingers), almost all 4.3 billion of them have been assigned. Before you start wearing a tin-foil hat, let us point out that this IPv4 exhaustion (as it’s called) was planned, and isn’t a surprise to anyone involved in the assignment of IP addresses. The numbers of available IPv4 addresses have been near depletion since 2008, and now it’s finally getting to be time to deal with it.
Luckily, you don’t have to do anything, unless you run the IT department at a major Internet provider or vendor. The “plumbing” for IPv6 has been built into all operating systems for a few years, and any transition should be transparent to you.
The successor to IPv4 addressing, IPv6, allows for far more addresses; the addresses use many more digits, and although not every combination of digits is possible because of reservations in the IPv6 system, there are certainly upwards of 2 to the 125th power IPv6 addresses. That’s a lot. We found an article that suggests that if you could scan one million IPv6 addresses per second, it would take 69,000 years to scan them all. None of us will be around to finish that scan, clearly, so here’s the takeaway: No matter what you hear, don’t worry about this. It makes a far more compelling news story than it deserves.