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Internet running out of “IP” addresses, the phone numbers of the web

May 14th, 2015


When the internet was created, it had space for 4.3 billion addresses. That might seem a lot, but we could be running out soon — and techies aren’t agreed on what to do about it.

There are only 3.4 million addresses left in North America, and those are likely to run out in summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. Now businesses have to make the expensive move towards a new specification — IPv6, rather than the old IPv4 — which will never run out.

An IP address is a short series of numbers with three dots between it, like They’re used by computers and servers to identify themselves to each other, allowing for connections to be made and websites and other information to be sent.

But those four sets of numbers limit the amount of different addresses that can be used. The maximum 4.3 billion possibilities is a result of the relatively small amount of different combinations.

The new specification has space for 340 undecillion addresses, or 340 followed by 36 zeroes. That’s enough to give every atom on Earth its own IP address.

It was made in response to the reducing capacity. By using longer and more complex addresses, the Internet Engineering Task Force that invented it were able to make a lot more space.

Many countries have already moved over to IPv6. But North America, which still accounts for many of the biggest websites, has been slow to do so.

When the space runs out, normal internet users aren’t likely to see much of a difference — especially since all of the biggest websites and companies will probably have already migrated to the new standard.

But to make the change, companies have to invest in often expensive new hardware that’s compatible with IPv6. Firms that don’t want to upgrade will have to buy one of the old existing sites, which is likely to get more expensive as they become more and more prized.

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