via the interwebs 😉
As happened during last year’s World IPv6 Day, the Internet Society is taking the lead in organizing World IPv6 Launch on June 6, 2012. (Yes, right on the heels of the Venus transit across the disk of the sun.) But unlike last year, after turning on the new version of the Internet Protocol on some of the largest Web properties—and many smaller ones—this year, IPv6 will not be turned off again 24 hours later. So “this time it’s for real,” and the new protocol will be here to stay at Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook, and Cisco, as well as many Akamai and Limelight customers.
Also new this year is that several Internet service providers will be participating by enabling IPv6 for at least one percent of their customers—with more to follow. These ISPs include not only those that have already put a toe in the IPv6 waters before, such as Comcast, Free Telecom in France, and XS4ALL in the Netherlands; but also Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Last but not least, Cisco/Linksys and D-Link will be enabling IPv6 support in the default configurations of their home routers.
Regular readers of Ars already know everything they need to know about IPv6, but the highlights are simple enough: the currently used IPv4 can only handle 3.7 billion addresses, and we’re running out of address space: first in Asia, with Europe to follow soon. The new IPv6 has, for all practical purposes, an unlimited number of addresses.
Although there is no plan B for the IPv4 well running dry, IPv6 deployment has been lackluster at best. The Internet Society tried to get some momentum going and flush out unnoticed broken IPv6 setups with last year’s World IPv6 Day. The effort was mostly successful, with only a few surprises here and there.
With the exception of the 24 hours during WIPv6D, Google has been using a DNS whitelisting system so only users with known IPv6-friendly ISPs get to see Google’s IPv6 addresses, in an effort to avoid issues with those broken IPv6 setups. As of World IPv6 Launch, this will no longer be the case. “Our participation in World IPv6 Launch means that the whitelist will be removed and AAAA records will be generally available,” said Google’s Lorenzo Colitti. “We may still choose not to return AAAA records to specific networks if our measurements indicate that returning them would cause significant user impact. However, this will be the exception rather than the rule.”
Also, the number of home users with IPv6 connectivity will increase as ISPs start rolling out IPv6 to their customers. XS4ALL in the Netherlands has been a pioneer in this area. (Full disclosure: I got started in the Internet business as an intern with XS4ALL in 1995.) “We’re going to supply an IPv6 prefix to all newly enabled connections” System administrator Timo Hilbrink told Ars. “This means that as of that moment, every new XS4ALL customer will have a working dual stack (both IPv4 and IPv6) Internet connection out of the box, without having to change any further settings on the CPE (home router) or in the customer portal.
“There used to be issues with the lawful interception capabilities required in the Netherlands regarding the mail servers, but those have been eliminated,” Hilbrink added. “Another obstacle for both mail and Web hosting was the lack of high end load balancer platforms that handle IPv6 properly. Late last year we’ve finally been able to acquire a system that conforms to our requirements, so that hurdle is gone, too.”
Until now, XS4ALL had to rely on a partnership with German electronics company AVM to supply so-called FRITZ!box home gateways with an IPv6 configuration profile that works with XS4ALL’s service. But with last year’s IETF specification and the IPv6 forum’s IPv6 Ready CPE (customer premises equipment) test specification, it’s now possible to build home routers that will automatically get an IPv6 address block from an ISP that they will then further distribute to computers in the home. “DHCP Prefix delegation, as well as other mechanisms such as 6RD will be supported and activated out of the box,” said Cisco director Alain Fiocco. “IPv6 service will be plug and play.”
When Apple introduced IPv6 support in their Airport Extreme base stations in 2007, the protocol was enabled by default, which surprised some. We asked whether Apple will be enabling IPv6 on their Airport Extreme base stations and/or on the the main Apple website (www.ipv6.apple.com has been operational since WIPv6D), but we didn’t receive any comment by press time.
So what does all of this mean?
One big problem with IPv6 so far has been the “set and forget” issue, where someone sets up IPv6, has a look at the dancing KAME and clicks on an IPv6-only URL or two, and then completely forgets about IPv6. The inevitable result is that, at some point that IPv6 setup breaks and subsequent visits to IPv6-enabled locations incur delays or worse. With the likes of Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, and Google having IPv6 addresses in the DNS, broken IPv6 setups are going to be much more visible, and will be repaired much quicker than they have been until now.
However, even with 5, 25, or as much as 75 percent of the Web being reachable over IPv6, it’s still not possible to turn off IPv4 and stop all the workarounds necessary to keep the address-starved protocol running. And one of last year’s lessons was that even Web destinations that have their main domain name reachable over IPv6 typically load page elements such as images and scripts from secondary (sub-) domains that are IPv4-only, making the experience for users who only have IPv6 and no IPv4 pretty miserable.
And the Web is actually one of the applications that needs IPv6 the least: the HTTP protocol can withstand NAT as well as translation from IPv4 to IPv6 and proxying without much trouble. The opposite is true of applications like Skype, which have to work very hard to function even in today’s firewalled and NATed IPv4 Internet, because in principle, every Skype user must be able to communicate with every other Skype user. So having some of them on IPv4 and some on IPv6 is a challenge, to say the least. And it’s a challenge that Skype hasn’t taken up so far, despite being on top of the list of applications that users would like to see support IPv6. We asked Skype, now owned by all-around IPv6-friendly (and World IPv6 Launch participant) Microsoft, about its World IPv6 Launch participation, but we didn’t get a response by press time.
But despite all the work that still remains to be done, World IPv6 Launch will probably be the biggest step in the right direction so far. The days that “you’re the only one asking for it” or “it has no priority” are acceptable answers when asked about IPv6 support are drawing to an end. And hopefully “World IPv4 Decommission” will come around while we’re still young enough to enjoy it.