IPv4, or Internal Protocol version 4, is the fourth iteration of the Internet Protocol suite. It is a standard that exists to identify devices on networks and route data packets between those devices. IPv4 has been in use since the early-1980s and is presently the most commonly used version of the protocol.
What is an IPv4 address?
When using the Internet Protocol for communication, every device that connects to a network is assigned a unique numerical sequence called an IP address. There is a wide range of potential IP addresses, and IPv4 addresses are a specific subcategory that refers to those which use version 4 of the protocol.
IPv4 utilizes a 32-address space, and IPv4 addresses are comprised of four eight-bit numbers, with a decimal point separating each of them. The use of a 32-bit address space allows for close to different 4.3 billion different permutations, each of which constitutes a unique IP address.
IPv4 is the most widely used Internet Protocol for good reason. It offers ease of use, as well as widespread compatibility with current hardware and software applications. Additionally, IPv4 is well-established and supported by industry experts, which makes it a reliable option.
Despite the advantages of IPv4, the Internet has grown substantially since it started seeing widespread use. Consequently, there is an increasing need to transition to an infrastructure that can allow a greater number of unique IP addresses to exist. This is prompting a large-scale switch to IPv6.
What is IPv6 and why are we switching to it?
As one might guess, IPv6 refers to the sixth iteration of the Internet Protocol.
Unlike IPv4, which uses a 32-bit address space, IPv6 uses a 128-bit address space. As such, IPv6 allows for a far more expansive, virtually limitless range of unique sequences that can be assigned as IP addresses. As the number of internet users and internet-enabled devices on networks continues to rise, IPv6 will be instrumental in fulfilling the need for more IP addresses.
While its expanded address space is the primary benefit of IPv6, it also boasts a variety of other advantages over IPv4. IPv6 comes with increased security through built-in IPSec, which can protect against attacks on networks. Additionally, IPv6 offers better support for mobile devices, which is becoming increasingly important, and autoconfiguration, which can save network admins considerable time and effort.
Given the scale of the transition to IPv6, the process is a slow one, and the majority of networks still depend on IPv4. As a consequence, IPv4 has seen its lifespan extended using Network Address Translation (NAT), which enables multiple addresses to use one IP address. That has come at the cost of extra network complexity and reduced performance, however, so it is merely a temporary solution.
In summation, Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4, is a standard that makes it possible to recognize devices and route data between them across networks. It has proved extremely useful since its development, and as a result, it has become the most widely utilized protocol worldwide. Nonetheless, IPv4 is limited by its 32-bit address space, and it will be phased out in favor of IPv6 over the coming years.