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If you already know that when a computer goes online, it has an IP address—whatever that may be—then you are halfway to decoding the mysterious acronym IPv6. The other half is easy: V6 is “version 6.”
You may even have more familiarity with IP than you had realised if you are vaguely aware of TCP/IP—which is the way computers communicate, through “Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol.” So, yes, IP is “internet protocol”—not to be confused with IP as in “intellectual property,” the main difference being that the latter provides far more work for lawyers than the computer kind.
I was lucky enough to have an explanation of IPv6 on this week’s CoinGeek Conversations from Alessio Pagani, a senior researcher at nChain, the London blockchain development company. Dr. Pagani also has a PhD in Information Technology and is an IMI (Institute of Mathematical Innovation) Industrial Fellow at the University of Bath.
Alessio explained that although IPv6 has been around for decades, most networks still use IPv4—version four. (The other versions—1, 2, 3 and 5—which nobody has ever heard of, were test versions and never extensively used.)
IPv4 has worked well ever since it was developed in the 1970s. But Alessio says that a problem is emerging that was not foreseen back then: the IP address format relies on a 32-bit address—in other words, 2 multiplied by 2 32 times, which produces 4.3 billion possible addresses. And that’s just not enough for today’s connected world:
“We are 7 billion on this planet. We have a lot of IoT devices. I read recently a report saying that by 2025 we will have more than 30 billion devices connected to the internet. If you think about smart watches, you think about TVs, everything is now connected to the internet. The problem is that we don’t have enough space for that. So we need a larger address space.”
And that’s where IPv6 comes in, with a vastly increased capacity:
“This could be done with IPv6. Now we have 128 bits, which means 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses.”
Unfortunately, changing to IPv6 isn’t just a question of flipping a switch, since new network hardware is required, which is expensive to buy and to install.
Whilst there are good reasons for networks and businesses to switch to IPv6, nChain is interested because of the additional features it can offer for Bitcoin SV businesses—allowing direct micropayments between users in a way that was not completely secure on IPv4:
“In the first node software implementation, there was actually a feature called IP to IP payments. Then this was removed because it was not safe. There were some techniques to steal payments and now we are trying to re-enable it, thanks to IPv6. There are some tricks to send payments using IPv4… the problem is that this is not efficient. This could pose some security issues, so it’s not easy to do it on IPv4. That’s why we are focusing on IPv6.”
In that sense, IPv6 allows Bitcoin to fulfil its original vision, as headlined in the White Paper, which was headlined: Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system.
Hear the whole of Dr Alessio Pagani’s interview in this week’s CoinGeek Conversations podcast or catch up with other recent episodes:
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