The clock is ticking: Give IPv6 a test drive

The Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. Prepare for World IPv6 Day, a big test for the Internet routing technology

Major Websites are to test Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) by participating in World IPv6 Day, scheduled for June 8. Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, among others, have agreed to ensure that IPv6 entrances to their sites will be available, along with any network infrastructure needed to receive IPv6 traffic.

[ See also: IPv6 basics: Getting started with IPv6 ]

The Internet Society is organizing the day and its intention is to both test the Internet for IPv6 readiness, and to encourage those behind all aspects of Internet hardware and software to either upgrade to IPv6 or to start making plans to do so.

This includes humble end users like you and I, who can lobby our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to begin IPv6 rollout.

Internet Protocol version 6 is the low-level technology used to ensure that data gets from place to place on the Internet. It's designed to replace the older but established IPv4 system that, due to technical limitations, failed to grow with the Internet as it became a worldwide phenomenon.

At present the main users of IPv6 are academic institutions and the research departments of some tech firms, but for the future there's little doubt everybody in the world will be using it. In fact, the switch to IPv6 is massively overdue and the world has very nearly run out of Internet addresses provided by IPv4. Full depletion of addresses is likely to take place either this year or next, potentially forcing a crisis if rapid uptake of IPv6 is not achieved.

The hope is that World IPv6 Day will lead to a small but significant spike in IPv6 traffic, which will help iron out any bugs and provide a much-needed perspective on the technology. The previous biggest test of IPv6 was during the 2008 Olympic Games in China, during which IPv6 underpinned all internal network operations.

To convert your Website to IPv6, you'll need to ensure the operating system running the Web server software has dual-stack technology. This allows it to support both IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time. Additionally, you'll need to add an IPv6 entry to the DNS record. Of course, all this assumes that the hosting service you use has IPv6 infrastructure in place, such as IPv6-compatible Internet routers.

Sadly, converting to IPv6 is taking some time. For example, one of the largest Web hosting companies--Dreamhost--claims IPv6 is arriving real soon now, but stops short of giving actual dates.

To play along on World IPv6 Day on your desktop or laptop computer, even if your ISP doesn't yet offer IPv6, you can use Hurricane Electric's IPv6 tunnelling service. This free service will fetch IPv6 Websites and deliver them to your standard IPv4 address.

Start by visiting http://ipv6.he.net and registering. If you're behind a NAT router--that is, a home or small business router--you'll have to configure port 41 forwarding to your computer's address on the local area network. You'll also need to ensure that the router's firewall doesn't block pings (that is, ICMP data). (Hint: You can use the Custom Port Test at http://www.whatsmyip.org/ports/ to ensure that port 41 is open and also use the Ping function to check your router can be receive ICMP.)

An easier solution, if yours is the only computer behind the router, might be to configure the demilitarized zone (DMZ) feature of the router to forward traffic directly to your computer. However, you'll then need to configure your computer's built-in firewall to allow through ping (ICMP) data. Using DMZ in this way is not entirely secure, however, so this should only be a temporary measure.

Once this is done, visit http://tunnelbroker.net, login if necessary, and click the Create Regular Tunnel link on the left. On the screen that appears, enter into the IPv4 Endpoint text field your public IP address (that is, your router's IP address). This will probably be listed directly beneath the text box on the Web page, so you can just copy and paste, or you can visit http://www.whatsmyip.org to view it. Then click the Submit button at the bottom of the page.

Assuming everything has worked correctly, you'll see a confirmation message. If things don't work, check your port forwarding and ensure your router or computer isn't blocking pings. If everything is OK, click the Tunnel Details button. Once the page that appears, scroll down to the heading that reads Example OS Configurations. Select your OS from the list and then follow the instructions to configure your computer to work with IPv6.

Once all that's been done, test your connection by visiting a handful of IPv6 sites, such as http://ipv6.google.com, or http://www.v6.facebook.com, and enjoy a small glimpse of the future.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.

This story, "The clock is ticking: Give IPv6 a test drive" was originally published by PCWorld.

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