IPv4 and IPv6: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

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May <00pam5>25</00pam5>, <00pam5>2022</00pam5>
Over the last 20 years, the internet has been switching from IPv4 to IPv6.  Most people are unaware of this transition, but it actually has a big impact on internet users.  So, why is this change being made and why should you care?
We’ve outlined everything you need to know about IPv4 and IPv6 below.
What is the Internet Protocol?
The Internet Protocol (IP) is the principal communications protocol used by the internet, sending messages and data from one device to another.  Simply speaking, the Internet Protocol is what makes the internet work.
Every device that uses the Internet Protocol for communication is given an IP address.  You can think of your IP address as your computer’s address, and the Internet Protocol as the technological equivalent of the postal service.  Your IP address lets the Internet Protocol know where to send your emails, website requests and various other data that’s transferred over the internet.
What is IPv4?
IPv4 is the fourth version of the internet protocol and is what the majority of the internet still uses.  You might think this is a relatively recent development, but IPv4 was actually initially implemented in 1983.
Despite its age, IPv4 still works great.  So, if this technology still does what we need it to do, why do we need to change it?
Well, there’s one critical issue with IPv4.  We don’t have any more IP addresses.
IPv4 uses 32-bit numbers for IP addresses, meaning there are 4.3 billion possible IP addresses.  That may seem like a massive number, but when you realize that the world’s population is around 7.6 billion you can see why there are just simply not enough addresses.
Every device needs its own IP address and most internet users have more than one device.  With more and more people accessing the internet every day, it was only a matter of time until we needed to find a replacement for IPv4.
Luckily, we’ve already done that.  In fact, we’ve had a replacement for the last 20 years.
What is IPv6?
Back in 1995, IPv6 was created to solve the IP address problem.  It was finalized in 1998 and ever since then, the internet has been slowly transitioning to this new protocol.
The biggest difference between IPv4 and IPv6 is that IPv6 uses 128-bit IP addresses.  That means that there are 340 undecillion IP addresses.  That’s an unfathomably large number, so we won’t have to worry about running out of IP addresses for many, many years.
Not only will we not run out of IP addresses, but with such a large number of addresses available, every device can actually have its own address.  At the moment, since IPv4 addresses are in such short supply, most devices share an IP address.  This means that most of the time,  data isn’t sent directly to a device.  Instead, it’s sent to a router, which then forwards it on to the correct device. 
IPv6 has a number of other benefits as compared to IPv4.  It’s overall more efficient, has better routing functionality and provides better support for peer-to-peer networking.
So, why is the transition taking so long? It’s mostly due to cost.  In order to use IPv6, new hardware and software are required.  In addition, IPv6 isn’t compatible with IPv4, so if you want your website to work on IPv6 then you need a separate version that works with that protocol.
At the moment, IPv6 accounts for only around 10% of internet traffic.  It’s steadily growing, but it’s going to take some time for the internet to fully transition to the new technology.
How Can You Use IPv6?
You may actually already be using IPv6.  In order to see if you are, go to www.test-ipv6.com.  When you visit the site, the test will automatically be initiated.  If you see the message “No IPv6 addresses detected” then you are currently using IPv4.
If you’re interested in making the switch to IPv6, you’ll need to use an ISP that offers this service.  You’ll also need a router that can support this kind of connection.  Do some research to see to if your current provider and hardware are compatible with IPv6.  If not, explore other options.  The actual connection process will differ depending on your provider and router.
How IPv6 Affects Your VPN
Just like the internet is slowly transitioning to IPv6, so are VPNs.  Most VPN providers haven’t caught up with the new technology yet.  This can often result in an IPv6 leak, where your traffic is routed through your ISP, rather than the VPN.  Because of this, many VPN providers recommend you to turn off IPv6 traffic to avoid any leaks.
If you want to see if your VPN is leaking your IP address, go to IPleak.net.  Disconnect from your VPN first and then go to the site.  The IP address shown there will be your ISP’s address.  Write this number down and then connect to your VPN and perform the test again.  If you see the same IP address as before, then your VPN is leaking your address.
VPNs that Don’t Leak IPv6 Information
As mentioned before, if your VPN hasn’t updated their technology to accommodate IPv6, you can simply turn off this kind of traffic on your device.  You won’t be able to take advantage of the new technology, but you’ll be sure that your IP address won’t be leaked.
You may also want to consider a VPN that supports IPv6 traffic.  At this time, there are only three VPNs that support IPv6 traffic.  They are:
• Mullvad
• FrootVPN
You can also choose a VPN that has IPv6 leak protection.  Although these VPNs don’t actually support IPv6 traffic, they have security measures in place in order to ensure that IPv6 information is never leaked.
Below are ten VPNs we recommend that have been tested and proven not to leak IPv6 information:
• NordVPN
• ProtonVPN
• Hide.me
Unfortunately, unless you plan to use one of the three VPNs listed above that support IPv6 traffic, you’ll be unable to take advantage of the new technology with your VPN.  Change is slowly occurring though and hopefully soon, we’ll have more VPNs that are IPv6 compatible.