Internet addresses have officially run out — but we've got some more

Experts warned earlier this year that space on the IPv4 protocol was running low, but a solution is already in place

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 02 July 2015 12:54
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Or maybe just too much internet in general?
Or maybe just too much internet in general?

The internet has run out of space — but, thankfully, we’ve already made some more.

The infrastructure powering the internet was made with space for 4.3 billion addresses. That seemed like a lot at the time, but we’ve now got too many devices and the IPv4 protocol has run out of space.

Experts have already urged those who run websites that they should instead be using the very spacious IPv6 specification. But moving is expensive and time-consuming — and while most big websites have already done so, many smaller ones could be left without the space to keep working.

IP addresses, one version of which we have now run out of, are used by computers to identify themselves to each other so that they can connect.

The old IP addresses were four numbers were dots between them, like 194.66.82.11. But being limited to those four numbers meant that only 4.3 billion addresses were available — and there’s many more devices that want to connect to the internet.

By using a more complex address, IPv6 increases the minimum amount. It has space for 340 undecillion addresses, or 340 followed by 36 zeroes — enough for each atom on Earth to be given one.

Businesses that haven’t made the switch already must now move towards IPv6, the new specification. But that could be expensive — companies have to move towards hardware that’s compatible with IPv6, and if they refuse to move over they might end up having to buy the limited and likely expensive IPv4 addresses that are left.

The rest of the world moved over to IPv6 long ago — IPv4 ran out in Asia Pacific in 2011, Europe, the Middle East and parts ofcentral Asia in 2012, and Latin America last year. But North America — which hosts many of the world’s biggest websites — has finally run out of space.

Earlier this year, experts warned that there were only 3.4 million addresses left in North America, and that they would run out in summer.

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