When you connect to the Internet, your computer or mobile device is assigned an IP address. The vast majority of IP addresses in use today conform to Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and this is the standard that has been widely used on the Internet as most of us know it.
The problem is, because these addresses (which look like 192.0.2.235) are limited to a length of 32 bits, the maximum number of addresses that can be assigned is roughly 4.3 billion. The total number of IPv4 addresses available has already been exhausted as of February 2011, which means that there will come a point where new devices can no longer receive an IPv4 address when connecting to the Internet.
As mobile device adoption continues to expand rapidly, surpassing that of desktop usage by the end of 2013, it’s easy to see why this is a problem. New devices, at some point, will no longer be able to connect to internet services that require an IPv4 address. There are temporary solutions such as CGN NAT, but these have their own headaches associated with scalability and geo-location personalization.
The real solution is a new addressing scheme, which has been defined as a standard since the 1990s, but is only now starting to see wider commercial adoption: Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). IPv6 solves this numerical limitation by using addresses that are 128 bits long, providing for over 3.4 x 1038 addresses, meaning we are not likely to run out of address space anytime soon.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
IPv6 rollout has been a long time coming but that is going to change in a big way, at least for many of the top internet companies, as they switch on permanent support for the new protocol today as part of World IPv6 Launch. Among the sites participating in the launch are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, Facebook, and many others. (You can test to see if a URL supports IPv6 by using the IPv6 Proxy.)
Google maintains a page that provides statistics about IPv6 adoption and its ongoing adoption, along with the countries where it is most adopted. As of May 22, 2012, global adoption was only at about 0.68 percent of the total Internet population but, according to Jason Fesler, Distinguished Architect at Yahoo, that number is likely to increase to between 30 and 40 percent of total usage over the next 3-4 years.
Google has been working on supporting IPv6 for a long time and currently (before the launch) has a sub-domain (ipv6.google.com) dedicated to providing a preview of this support. Google is going fully live with both IPv4 and IPv6 support on the main domain for almost all properties, according to Jason Freidenfelds, Manager, Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google. He said there may be a few properties where an immediate upgrade would degrade the user experience so there may be a delay on those sites but, otherwise, everything else will go live.
Freidenfelds noted that their goal is for the user experience and behavior of the various web properties to perform identically regardless of whether they connect via IPv4 or IPv6. He also notes that the percentage of Google users with IPv6 has grown by 140 percent (2.4x) over the last year.
“If the growth continues on a similar curve over the next few years, we should see really significant adoption,” Freidenfelds said.
He doesn’t see any additional risks from spammers as a result of the IPv6 launch, given that they have supported it on their IPv6 subdomain since early 2009, so not much will be changing.
The overall impact for webmasters and content owners is primarily that they will be seeing a lot more IPv6 traffic over the next few years.
Bing’s IPv6 rollout will also be global and geographic targeting precision will increase as adoption by users grows, according to Kevin Boske, IPv6 Program Manager for Bing. Even though IPv6 for BIng is less than 1 percent of traffic, Boske also expects rapid acceleration in adoption as IPv4 address are all essentially used up.
Does IPv6 adoption pose any additional risks from spammers?
“IPv6 contains no more or less risk from spammers than IPv4,” Boske said. “That said, the growth of any new technology presents a challenge to the security community as they adapt the new space and possible attack vectors. However, much of the maturation that has occurred in the areas of spam and bot prevention is highly adaptable to IPv6. There isn’t anything endemically risky about IPv6, just a continued need for vigilance from both the private and public sector to keep the information highways safe as we transition.”
Yahoo will be rolling out dual stack IPv4 / IPv6 support for its CDN and will also be adding support across many of its web properties on launch day, according to Fesler. These properties include the Yahoo Front Page, News, OMG, and Shine.
Regarding geotargeting over IPv6, the feature set is essentially the same so no major difference are expected but some differences in detected location may occur. Fesler also sees no additional risk from spammers due to IPv6 adoption as it is “always a cat and mouse game, and the rules are always changing.”
Russian search engine leader Yandex will support IPv6 on Yandex.com, which is visited mostly by users outside of Russia and the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), according to Vladimir Ivanov, Deputy Head of System Administration, Yandex.
Yandex.ru, however, along with the rest of the sites targeted at audiences in the CIS, won’t be supporting IPv6 initially. This isn't because of system readiness – the Yandex infrastructure would support it now – but rather because support for IPv6 among local ISP and telecoms isn’t quite ready yet.
IPv4 addresses in Europe and Middle Asia, according to the IPv4 Exhaustion Center page, will be exhausted by August of this year. As a result, Ivanov expects that Russian and CIS ISPs will accelerate support for IPv6 relatively quickly. Once that happens, Yandex.ru and the other CIS-targeted versions of the search engine will add support. Once that happens, geo-targeting and search personalization will work the same as it does on IPv4.
A query using the dig command line tool that looks for the AAAA DNS record (used to assign hosts to IPv6 addresses) at ipv6.baidu.com reveals the following data:
> dig ipv6.baidu.com AAAA
[response header removed for brevity]
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;ipv6.baidu.com. IN AAAA
;; ANSWER SECTION:
ipv6.baidu.com. 7200 IN AAAA 2400:da00::dbf:0:100
The IPv6 address that is set for the AAAA record doesn’t respond to requests from the U.S., but this is the same subdomain pattern that Google has been using (ipv6.google.com) for testing and to allow devices to connect on a dedicated URL before the official launch next week.
Liu Tao, System Architect at Baidu, confirmed that Baidu already supports IPv6 traffic on the ipv6.baidu.com domain. This address isn’t accessible outside of China due to a ISP network filter (not government related), which is in the process of being removed. In the meantime, for people interested in testing this connection from outside China, he recommended using the IPv6 proxy software that can be found at 6fei.com.cn.
Liu said that the user behavior on both connections should be similar although there are likely to be slight differences in the search results, based on geo-targeting. On IPv4 connections, Baidu keeps logs user’s IP address and geographic information but they are not yet doing this for IPv6 connections.
Adoption of IPv6 overall is likely to increase dramatically over the next 2-3 years, Liu said, however he believes that the percentage of v6 users in China will still be relatively low.
No additional risks from spammers are currently being seen although Baidu has built a separate load balancer, called ZBAY, specifically to deal with IPv6 traffic
As a content owner or webmaster, what things should you be focusing on?
Fesler offered the following recommendations:
- If you have a large audience for your site, you should consider prioritizing support for IPv6 users. If you don’t support connections over IPv6, you will be dropping traffic without even knowing it as it won’t make it to your web server logs.
- When you configure your DNS to indicate that your site supports IPv6 connections (via AAAA records) be sure to test that your web server is actually listening to IPv6 port 80. (You can use the IPv6 Proxy mentioned above to test this.)
- Make sure that your content is virtually identical to your IPv4 content (no cloaking, for obvious SEO reasons).