Internet Protocol is how computers talk to one another. Domain names that you may understand are unreadable to computers. Instead, they identify each other using an underlying address called the IP address.
There are two current versions of the Internet Protocol in use, IPv4 and IPv6. Most computers are still identified with IPv4 addresses in the following format ##.##.##.##, four numbers separated by a period. The numbers represent a hierarchy similar to what a domain name does, with the left-most number identifying a broad network, then zeroing in to the specific computer in the final number set.
There are several types of IP addresses broken into two broad categories, public and internal. In order for a computer to be accessible through the Internet or some other protocol, the IP must be public. Internal IP addresses allow computers in a private network to communicate with each other. Computers in a block of IPs may have their IP addresses assigned dynamically through DHCP; if the connection changes, a new IP may be assigned to a particular computer. It is also possible to assign an IP to a particular computer so that it does not change; this is known as a static IP.
Since IPv4 addresses only have four blocks of characters, or 32 bits, the world is running out of IP addresses. The maximum number of IPs using IPv4 is limited. With the rise of mobile devices and other applications using IPs, a new version of the protocol was introduced, IPv6 which are 128 bits. This allows for an exponential increase in available addresses. The full migration to IPv6 is underway, but may take several years to complete.
Unless you are a network administrator, you will probably not even be aware of the change. Many new systems, including internal IP addresses on Windows Vista are using IPv6 addresses. The domain names that we see will not change significantly.
With the adoption of IPv6, the world can rest easy as it adds more and more networkable addresses to the system. Technology we cannot fathom may put a strain on the next version of IP in the future, but the new 128 bit addresses should buy us enough time to develop a new version once that becomes necessary.
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