On February 2 around 4 a.m., the Internet will run out of its current version of IP addresses. At least that’s what one Internet Service Provider is predicting based on a rate of about one million addresses every four hours. Hurricane Electric has launched Twitter and Facebook accounts that count down to what it has termed the “IPcalypse.”
Every device that is connected to the Internet gets a unique code called an IP address (it looks like this). The current system, IPv4, only supports about 4 billion individual IPv4 addresses.
As PC World‘s Chris Head explained in a blog post yesterday, some of these addresses are reusable. The problem, however, is that their one-time use counterparts will eventually lead to the complete depletion of IP addresses.
Fortunately, some smart folks foresaw this problem long before we did and invented IPv6, a system that invokes both letters and digits to handle 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses (shall we just call it “a zillion?”).
Hurricane Electric’s doomsday campaign encourages other Internet service providers to transition to that system. Fortunately, the Internet Society‘s Wiki assures us that IPv4 and IPv6 can coexist during the transition despite being largely incompatible. Software and hardware developers are working on transition mechanisms, and most operating systems install support for IPv6 by default.
Since many of us still have some canned food and bottled water stacked up in our basement from the Y2K era, we should be OK either way.