IPv4 vs IPv6 from a Consumer’s Point of View

IPv4 vs IPv6 Title Image

IP addresses are numbers that let computers find each other over the internet. Not only does every website have one or more IP addresses, but every device does as well. When you compare IPv4 vs IPv6, what are the practical differences? IPv4 addresses are 32-bit, while IPv6 addresses are 128 bit. What does this really mean for a web designer or business owner, though? Keep reading while we compare the two types of IP addresses.

IPv4 and the Origins of IP Addresses

IP addresses as we know them were invented in the early 1980s as part of the famous ARPANET research experiments that would lead to the modern World Wide Web. IPv4 addresses use four sets of eight-bit numbers. So, InMotion Hosting’s IP address 11000111.11111010.11001101.101001 converts to the more standard 199.250.205.41. Neat! From there, the Domain Name Service (DNS) links our domain to that IP address, so we don’t have to remember a bunch of IP addresses to get to our favorite websites.

If you want to learn all the details a Systems Administrator needs to know, you can review the official Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF) documentation on IPv4. The short version is that every aspect of transferring data from one device to another is designed with a specific protocol in mind that standardizes interaction between devices. IPv4’s protocols work well but aren’t perfect. For example, many network security features are not enabled by default.

At the time, IPv4 was invented, the roughly four billion possible IP addresses seemed like more than we would ever need. Few people at the time predicted just how quickly personal computers, mobile devices, and the Internet of Things would cause those numbers to run out.

Why IPv6 Was Invented

The IETF saw where things where heading back in the 1990s and invented IPv6. Rather than 32-bit binary, IPv6 uses 128-bit hexadecimal (0-9 and A-F). IPv6 has completely updated methods of transferring data with built in security features. Most importantly, there are so many possible IPv6 addresses that until we invent some truly sci-fi level technology like self-replicating atom sized computers, we’re unlikely to ever run out of addresses.

IPv4 vs IPv6: Features and Benefits of Each

FeatureIPv4IPv6
CompatabilityThe established standard, most of what you need is probably already compatibleMay require custom software or configuration
SecurityNeeds to be added and enabledBuilt in security features
SupplyLimited supply, running out has led to solutions like Network Address Translation (NAT)Trillions of Trillions of Trillions
MemorabilityRelatively easy to remember and typeMuch more difficult to remember and type
AdoptionStill used all over the worldStill only a fraction of the internet, gradually changing

Features and Benefits of IPv4

If you want to view everything an IP address is designed to do by default as a ‘feature’, then IPv4 addresses’ primary feature is that they are IP addresses. Aside from being a bit easier to type and requiring no special effort to configure them on commonly available hardware, IPv4 addresses are as standard as they come. They are still a great choice when you can get one for most applications.

Features and Benefits of IPv6

Most of the benefits of IPv6 are at the network level — what this means is that systems engineers, administrators at data centers, device manufacturers, and hosting companies receive the clearest benefit from using IPv6 if they are able to adapt their systems to do so. The benefit is largely peace of mind — the knowledge that once the world truly runs out of IPv4 addresses, you are already future-proof. Once you do the work of moving your entire network to IPv6, there are some configuration and security issues taken care of for you.

The Big Picture for Small Business

For major networks, data centers, and hosting companies, IPv6 is a looming project that will have to be completed eventually as the supply of IPv4 addresses runs out. Most web based businesses aren’t planning to sell millions of Bluetooth enabled smart-devices, though. If you just want to sell funny t-shirts and show off your vacation photos, do you need a reconfigured network ASAP?

In the short term, IPv6 matters less than you may expect for most websites. As long as you can still get and use an IPv4 address — and remember to set up and use a security certificate on your site, which type of IP address you are using isn’t a major concern. Until you’re working directly with systems administration problems or serving millions of customers at once, this sort of issue is a tertiary concern. If you absolutely need to add IPv6 addresses to your account for a specific reason, cPanel has the functionality to do so.

Some Common Questions about IP Addresses

Are IPv6 Addresses More Secure?

As a consumer, not significantly so. Don’t worry about an IPv4 address you’re using being somehow insecure just because it is an IPv4. If you’re running on a reputable, well maintained network, most of the security features IPv6 was built to include by default are already implemented as standard practices.

Why Would I Continue to Use IPv4?

Certain networking systems, firewalls, and other important software are not automatically IPv6 compatible by default. Popular software like cPanel, as of July 2021, still requires an IPv4 address even if you add IPv6 addresses to your system.

If you try to set up IPv6 networks on a system built and configured for IPv4, you’re in for a headache.
If you are just running one or two websites and have no specific need to switch to IPv6, you can still get by just fine with IPv4.

In Summary: Not All That Different for Consumers

A worldwide shortage of IPv4 addresses is already underway, but we’re still years away from this hurting the average consumer or business in a way that is tangible. In our current technological environment, most businesses are going to get more immediate speed and security benefits from using a dedicated IP address, even if it’s IPv4, on a Managed Dedicated Server. Until then, adopting IPv6 as a replacement for IPv4 is largely a problem for administrators and device manufacturers.

RH
Ronnie H Content Writer I

Ronnie is a technical writer and content specialist at InMotion Hosting.

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