Every time you buy a domain name like io9.com, it's given a unique numerical IP address on the internet. But what happens when the well of numbers runs dry? We're about to find out.
Ars Technica has created a great chart showing the rate at which countries are snapping up IP addresses, which are used to identify not just domain names but individual computers and networks. These addresses, assigned under the IP version 4 system (IPv4) are not very long, and thus their numbers are limited and are running out.
Ars Technica's Iljitsch van Beijnum writes:
There are 3,706,650,624 usable IPv4 addresses. On January 1, 2000, approximately 1,615 million (44 percent) were in use and 2,092 million were still available. Today, ten years later, 2,985 million addresses (81 percent) are in use, and 722 million are still free. In that time, the number of addresses used per year increased from 79 million in 2000 to 203 million in 2009. So it's a near certainty that before Barack Obama vacates the White House, we'll be out of IPv4 address. (Even if he doesn't get re-elected.)
Luckily there's a solution to this dilemma, which is that the groups who hand out IP addresses are switching to a new standard, IPv6, whose addresses are longer. That means many hundreds of thousands more addresses. Essentially, it's like adding area codes to phone numbers in order to create more.
Van Beijnum continues:
The good news is that although a hundred thousand times more IPv6 than IPv4 space has been given out, 99.974 percent of it is still available. So after taking the IPv4-to-IPv6 transition hurdle somewhere between the next Olympics and the next presidential elections, the Internet has ample room to continue growing.
Here's the hidden catch, though. Because there are so many addresses under IPv6, it will be a lot easier to identify people online by looking at their IP address. Right now, your address is often obscured because your computer is on a network of some kind that supplies its own IP instead of your unique one - but after IPv6, your computer's address will be visible to the world wide interblags. Oh so convenient!
via Ars Technica, with thanks to Mason