Friday, February 4, 2011

Putting IPv6 to the test

It's been a while since I configured my Airport Express with an IPv6 tunnel to Hurricane Electric's tunnelbroker.net. While this allows me to be IPv6 enabled, I've been wondering what my Internet experience would be like in a world where I can't get IPv4 addresses anymore, now that IPv4 address exhaustion will happen any minute now. Since today I'm sick at home, it's a perfect time to play in between sleep and orange juice.

I turned off IPv4 on my computer. The first surprise is that DNS didn't work. The reason is because, even though I configured the Airport to use Hurricane Electric's IPv6 DNS server 2001:470:20::2, the IPv6 stateless auto-configuration used by Airport Express does not propagate that information, and Airport Express does not in fact provide DHCPv6.

After configuring the DNS manually, it's time to hit Google. All of Google's services work fine as far as I can tell. I can watch YouTube videos. My blog is working, since it's hosted by Google. The bad news is that I could no longer reach most of the search result, which is not a surprise. The search experience is disappointing because I don't know which sites are IPv4 only. For example, when searching for IPv6 stateless auto-configuration, the RFC mirror faqs.org does not work, but ietf.org works. The good news is that the "cache" link allows me to look at the page despite the site being unreachable over IPv6.

Most of the big websites aren't reachable over IPv6: facebook.com, yahoo.com, live.com / bing.com / microsoft.com, wikipedia.org, amazon.com, linkedin.com, ... cnn.com, newegg.com, apple.com, etc. Also, w3.org isn't IPv6 ready, neither is mit.edu (it's not my alma mater, but you'd think they're at the forefront of technology).

To be fair, what is probably going to happen when an ISP runs out of public IPv4 addresses for its subscribers is that they will run a large scale NAT router, and assign private IPv4 addresses instead. You will be getting an address like 10.xx.yy.zz, which is not reachable from the Internet, but you will still be able to reach out thanks to NAT, which stands for network address translation. This situation is already like most home Internet router where your broadband only gives you one public IP address that has to be shared among several devices at home. You home computers already get private IP addresses like 192.168.aa.bb. The problem with large-scale NAT router is that it's probably going to be slower and less reliable—since it has to know how to translate thousands of connections concurrently, and it is a single point of failure—giving you crappy Internet experience.

Another solution is that, when an ISP runs out of IPv4 addresses and starts putting subscribers on IPv6 only, it could simultaneously provide an HTTP proxy server reachable from its own IPv6 network that will allow IPv4 websites to be visited through this proxy. At least the HTTP proxy can be load balanced, so it would not be a single point of failure.

Since the burden of IPv4 interoperability seems to lie on the shoulder of ISPs, I can see why the big websites have been slow to adopt IPv6. But the truth is, you can't count on an end-user's ISP to bring IPv6 users to your IPv4 website reliably, and the IPv6 native sites are going to give a better end-user experience for native IPv6 users.

My own experiment tells me that I'm not ready to retire IPv4 yet (I'm not even using a native IPv6 stack), though I could if I'm only interested in writing blogs and watch YouTube videos.
Post a Comment