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IPv4 & IPv6: What They Are and What's The Difference Between The Two?

Rinus Reuvekamp

Most of us are making use of the internet since the beginning of the internet revolution but not many of us are aware of what IPv6 or IPv4 is despite the fact that each one has its own utility. But before that we must have a clear understanding of what IP address or Internet Protocol address is. An Internet protocol address is nothing but a numeric label or unique identifier which is assigned to each computer over a particular network. It denotes the technical format of the internet addressing system. When this IP combines with a TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), a virtual connection can be established between two hosts or a destination and the source.     

So now, what is IPv6 or IPv4? 

IPv6 or IP version 6 is identified as the latest generation of IP as defined by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) whereas IPv4 was the first version. As of now, the software experts make use of both IPv6 and IPv4 but in the long run, IPv6 which is an evolutionary upgrade over IPv4 is expected to replace the latter. 
Let’s study both of these in detail.

IPv4: What is it? 

A fourth revision of IP, IPv4 is used commonly to identify devices over the network by making use of a 32-bit address system, thus allowing for storage of 2^32 addresses and equivalent of over 4 billion addresses. Now that there’s plenty of mobile devices including but not limited to laptops, notebooks or gaming consoles along with desktop computers and with all of these to be connected through the internet, the IPv4 addresses are soon going to be exhausted with the current usage not less than 95%.  

IPv6: What Is It? 

The latest version of IP as initiated by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) was mainly deployed to get rid of the address problems associated with IPv4.  Also known as IPng (Internet Protocol next generation) and designed mainly to increase the amount of data traffic and make two hosts make connections easily, IPv6 allows for 128-bit address system, thus allowing for far greater unique addresses than what IPv4 could provide. 

Though each of the two IP addresses -- IPv4 and IPv6 -- present unique benefits, studying major differences between the two makes things clearer and understandable.  

IPv4 and IPv6: The Major Differences Between The Two

  • With the knowledge that IPv4 is a 32-bit and  IPv6 128-bit IP address system, the former provides for numeric addresses where the binary bits are separated by a dot, whereas the latter provides for alphanumeric address and the binary bits separated by a colon and hexadecimal. 
  • If IPv4 allows for storing of 5 different classes -- class A to E, IPv6 allows for an unlimited number of IP addresses. 
  • With a dot to decimaL kind of numeric addresses in IPv4, its use is limited whereas IPv6 can be used for mobile networks as well. 
  • IPv4 does not provide for IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) whereas IPv6 was designed with the purpose to provide security.    


Though there are many other differences that exist between the two, the most important ones were highlighted here. And, despite the several advantages that IPv4 can provide, IPv6 has come to be known as the most ideal protocol for hierarchical addressing system and routing infrastructure.