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Understanding IPv6 (part 1) - Understanding IPv6 Terminology , Understanding IPv6 Addressing

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The need for migrating enterprise networks from IPv4 to IPv6 is driven by a number of different technological, business, and social factors. The most important of these are:

  • The exponential growth of the Internet is rapidly exhausting the existing IPv4 public address space. A temporary solution to this problem has been found in Network Address Translation (NAT), a technology that maps multiple private (intranet) addresses to a single public (Internet) address. Unfortunately, using NAT-enabled routers can introduce additional problems such as breaking end-to-end connectivity and security for some network applications. In addition, the rapid proliferation of mobile IP devices is accelerating the depletion of the IPv4 public address space.

  • The growing use of real-time communications (RTC) on the Internet, such as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, Instant Messaging (IM), and audio/video conferencing exposes the limited support for Quality of Service (QoS) currently provided in IPv4. These new RTC technologies need improved QoS on IP networks to ensure reliable end-to-end communications. The design of IPv4 limits possible improvements.

  • The growing threats faced by hosts on IPv4 networks connected to the Internet can be mitigated considerably by deploying IPsec, both on private intranets and on tunneled connections across the public Internet. However, IPsec was designed as an afterthought to IPv4 and is complex and difficult to implement in many scenarios. IPsec traffic also cannot traverse a NAT if the data that needs translation is an encrypted portion of the packet.

IPv6, developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to solve these problems, includes the following improvements and additions:

  • IPv6 increases the theoretical address space of the Internet from 4.3 × 109 addresses (based on 32-bit IPv4 addresses) to 3.4 × 1038 possible addresses (based on 128-bit IPv6 addresses), which most experts agree should be more than sufficient for the foreseeable future.

  • The IPv6 address space was designed to be hierarchical rather than flat in structure, which means that routing tables for IPv6 routers are smaller and more efficient than for IPv4 routers.

  • IPv6 has enhanced support for QoS that includes a Traffic Class field in the header to specify how traffic should be handled, and a new Flow Label field in the header that enables routers to identify packets that belong to a traffic flow and handle them appropriately.

  • IPv6 now requires IPsec support for standards-based, end-to-end security across the Internet. The new QoS enhancements even work when IPv6 traffic is encrypted using IPsec.

Understanding how IPv6 works is essential if you plan to benefit from IPv6 by deploying it in your enterprise. The following sections provide an overview of key IPv6 concepts, features, and terminology.


1. Understanding IPv6 Terminology

The following terminology is used to define IPv6 concepts and describe IPv6 features:

  • Node An IPv6-enabled network device that includes both hosts and routers.

  • Host An IPv6-enabled network device, such as a single-homed computer, that cannot forward IPv6 packets that are not explicitly addressed to itself. A host is an endpoint for IPv6 communications (either the source or destination) and drops all traffic not explicitly addressed to it.

  • Router An IPv6-enabled network device that can forward IPv6 packets that are not explicitly addressed to itself. IPv6 routers also typically advertise their presence to IPv6 hosts on their attached links.

  • Link One or more LAN (such as Ethernet) or WAN (such as PPP) network segments bounded by routers.

  • Neighbors Nodes that are connected to the same physical or logical link.

  • Subnet One or more links having the same 64-bit IPv6 address prefix. If no intra-subnet routers are present on the subnet, a subnet is equivalent to a link.

  • Interface A representation of a node attached to a link. This can be a physical interface (such as a network adapter) or a logical interface (such as a tunnel interface).


2. Understanding IPv6 Addressing

IPv6 uses 128-bit (16 byte) addresses that are expressed in colon-hexadecimal form. For example, in the address 2001:DB8:3FA9:0000:0000:0000:00D3:9C5A, each block of 4-digit hexadecimal numbers represents a 16-bit digit binary number. The eight blocks of four-digital hexadecimal numbers thus equal 8 × 16 = 128 bits in total.

You can shorten hexadecimal-colon addresses by suppressing leading zeros for each block. Using this technique, the representation for the preceding address now becomes 2001:DB8:3FA9:0:0:0:D3:9C5A.

You can shorten hexadecimal-colon addresses even further by compressing contiguous 0 (hex) blocks as double colons (“::”). The address in our example thus shortens to 2001:DB8:3FA9::D3:9C5A. Note that only one double colon can be used per IPv6 address to ensure unambiguous representation.

Understanding IPv6 Prefixes

An IPv6 prefix indicates the portion of the address used for routing (a subnet or a set of subnets as a summarized route) or for identifying an address range. IPv6 prefixes are expressed in a similar fashion as the Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) notation used by IPv4. For example, 2001:DB8:3FA9::/48 might represent a route prefix in an IPv6 routing table.

In IPv4, CIDR notation can be used to represent individual unicast addresses in addition to routes and subnets. IPv6 prefixes, however, are used only to represent routes and address ranges, not unicast addresses. This is because unlike IPv4, IPv6 does not support variable length subnet identifiers, and the number of high-order bits used to identify a subnet in IPv6 is always 64. It is thus redundant to represent the address in our example as 2001:DB8:3FA9::D3:9C5A/64; the /64 portion of the representation is understood.

Understanding IPv6 Address Types

IPv6 supports three different address types:

  • Unicast Identifies a single interface within the scope of the address. (The scope of an IPv6 address is that portion of your network over which this address is unique.) IPv6 packets with unicast destination addresses are delivered to a single interface.

  • Multicast Identifies zero or more interfaces. IPv6 packets with multicast destination addresses are delivered to all interfaces listening on the address. (Generally speaking, multicasting works the same way in IPv6 as it does in IPv4.)

  • Anycast Identifies multiple interfaces. IPv6 packets with anycast destination addresses are delivered to the nearest interface (measured by routing distance) specified by the address. Currently, anycast addresses are assigned only to routers and can only represent destination addresses.

Note

IPv6 address types do not include broadcast addresses as used by IPv4. In IPv6, all broadcast communications are performed using multicast addresses. See Table 2 for more information on multicast addresses.


Understanding Unicast Addresses

Unicast addresses are addresses that identify a single interface. IPv6 has several types of unicast addresses:

  • Global Unicast Address An address that is globally routable over the IPv6-enabled portion of the Internet. Therefore, the scope of a global address is the entire Internet, and global addresses in IPv6 correspond to public (non-RFC 1918) addresses used in IPv4. The address prefix currently used for global addresses is 2000::/3 and the structure of a global address is:

    • The first 48 bits of the address are the global routing prefix specifying your organization’s site. (The first three bits of this prefix must be 001 in binary notation.) These 48 bits represent the public topology portion of the address, which represents the collection of large and small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on the IPv6 Internet and which is controlled by these ISPs through assignment by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

    • The next 16 bits are the subnet ID. Your organization can use this portion to specify up to 65,536 unique subnets for routing purposes inside your organization’s site. These 16 bits represent the site topology portion of the address, which your organization has control over.

    • The final 64 bits are the interface ID and specify a unique interface within each subnet.

  • Link-Local Unicast Address An address used by a node for communicating with neighboring nodes on the same link. Therefore, the scope of a link-local address is the local link on the network; link-local addresses are never forwarded beyond the local link by IPv6 routers. Since link-local addresses are assigned to interfaces using IPv6 address autoconfiguration, link-local addresses in IPv6 correspond to Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA) addresses used in IPv4 (which are assigned from the address range 169.254.0.0/16). The address prefix used for link-local addresses is FE80::/64 and the structure of a link-local address is:

    • The first 64 bits of the address are always FE80:0:0:0 (which will be shown as FE80::).

    • The last 64 bits are the interface ID and specify a unique interface on the local link.

    Link-local addresses can be reused—in other words, two interfaces on different links can have the same address. This makes link-local addresses ambiguous; an additional identifier called the zone ID (or scope ID) indicates to which link the address is either assigned or destined. In Windows Vista, the zone ID for a link-local address corresponds to the interface index for that interface. You can view a list of interface indexes on a computer by typing netsh interface ipv6 show interface at a command prompt. 

  • Site-Local Unicast Address An address that is used by a node for communicating with other nodes on a private network having multiple subnets or links. The scope of a site-local address is the entire network at the site, which is typically a single geographical area such as a building or campus. Since site-local addresses are not reachable except within an organization’s intranet, site-local addresses in IPv6 correspond to private (RFC 1918) addresses used in IPv4. The structure of a site-local address is:

    • The first 10 bits of the address are always FEC0::/10 or 1111 1110 11 (binary).

    • The next 54 bits are the subnet ID. Your organization can use this portion to specify additional subnets for routing purposes inside your organization’s site.

    • The last 64 bits are the interface ID and specify a unique interface within each subnet.

    Note that RFC 3879 now deprecates the use of site-local addresses. The replacement for site-local addresses are unique local addresses. Existing IPv6 deployments may continue to use site-local addresses .

  • Unique Local Unicast Address Because a site-local address prefix can represent multiple sites within an organization, it is ambiguous and not well-suited for intra-organizational routing purposes. Therefore, RFC 4193 currently proposes a new type of address called a unique local unicast address (or just local address). The scope of this address is global to all sites within the organization, and using this address type simplifies the configuration of an organization’s internal IPv6 routing infrastructure. The structure of a local address is:

    • The first 7 bits of the address are always 1111 110 (binary) and the eighth bit is set to 1, indicating a local address. This means that the address prefix is always FD00::/8 for this type of address.

    • The next 40 bits represent the global ID and is a randomly generated value that identifies a specific site within your organization.

    • The next 16 bits represent the subnet ID and can be used for further subdividing the internal network of your site for routing purposes.

    • The last 64 bits are the interface ID and specify a unique interface within each subnet.

Identifying IPv6 Address Types

As Table 1 shows, you can quickly determine which type of IPv6 address you are dealing with by looking at the beginning part of the address—that is, the high-order bits of the address. Tables 2 and 3 also show examples of common IPv6 addresses that you can recognize directly from their colon-hexadecimal representation.

Table 1. Identifying IPv6 Address Types Using High-Order Bits and Address Prefix
Address typeHigh-order bitsAddress prefix
Global unicast0012000::/3
Link-local unicast1111 1110 10FE80::/64
Site-local unicast1111 1110 11FEC0::/10
Multicast1111 1111FF00::/8

Table 2. Identifying Common IPv6 Multicast Addresses
FunctionScopeRepresentation
All-nodes multicastInterface-localFF01::1
All-nodes multicastLink-localFF02::1
All-routers multicastInterface-localFF01::2
All-routers multicastLink-localFF02::2
All-routers multicastSite-localFF05::2

Table 3. Identifying Special IPv6 Addresses
FunctionRepresentation
Unspecified address (no address)::
Loopback address::1

Understanding Interface Identifiers

For all the types of unicast IPv6 addresses described in the preceding sections, the last 64 bits of the address represent the interface ID and are used to specify a unique interface on a local link or subnet. In previous versions of Microsoft Windows, the interface ID is uniquely determined as follows:

  • For link-local addresses, such as a network adapter on an Ethernet segment, the interface ID is derived from either the unique 48-bit MAC-layer (Media Access Control) address of the interface or is equivalent to the unique EUI-64 (Extended Unique Identifier) addresses of the interface as defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

  • For global address prefixes, an EIU-64-based interface ID creates a public IPv6 address.

  • For global address prefixes, a temporary random interface ID creates a temporary address. This approach is described in RFC 3041; you can use it to help provide anonymity for client-based usage of the IPv6 Internet.

In Windows Vista, however, the interface ID is always randomly generated for all types of unicast IPv6 addresses assigned to any type of interface.

Comparing IPv6 with IPv4

Table 4 compares and contrasts the IPv4 and IPv6 addressing schemes.

Table 4. Comparison of IPv4 vs. IPv6 Addressing
FeatureIPv4IPv6
Number of bits (bytes)32 (4)128 (16)
Expressed formDotted-decimalColon-hexadecimal
Variable-length subnetsYesNo
Public addressesYesYes (global addresses)
Private addressesYes (RFC 1918 addresses)Yes (local and site-local addresses)
Autoconfigured addresses for the local linkYes (APIPA)Yes (link-local addresses)
Support for address classesYes, but deprecated by CIDRNo
Broadcast addressesYesMulticast used instead
Subnet maskRequiredImplicit /64 address prefix for addresses assigned to interfaces
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