The average person might not know exactly what IP is, even if they’ve had a decent amount of interaction with computers throughout the span of their life.
IP for The Layman
The term IP stands for Internet Protocol. An Internet Protocol is a set of rules and laws that apply to and control every single packet of data being transmitted over a network. To make things easier for computers and to allow for the internet to exist, there has to be a universal Internet Protocol that every single computer connected to a network uses. Over the years, there have been a number of different versions of this universal Internet Protocol, the most recently implemented one being IPv6 or Internet Protocol version 6.
IPv5: An Origin Story
Anyone who has taken a look at the specifications of the network their computer is connected to will know that computers today either use IPv4 (version 4 of the universal Internet Protocol) or IPv6 (version 6 of the universal Internet Protocol). IPv6 is the most recently designed and universally implemented Internet Protocol version, whereas IPv4 is its predecessor. See anything missing? Precisely, IPv5. Did the gods of the World Wide Web simply skip an entire number when developing Internet Protocol versions? Did they pull a Microsoft or Apple on us? We’re still waiting for Windows 9 and the iPhone 9, guys. The short answer is no – version 5 of the Internet Protocol, aptly known as IPv5, definitely existed. IPv5 was developed, implemented and tested on a small scale, but it was never universally adapted and was later abandoned entirely when IPv6 came out.
IPv5, way back when it was first unveiled to the world, went by the name of the Internet Stream Protocol (or ST). IPv5 was the fruit of the combined efforts of Apple, NeXT and Sun Microsystems and was primarily designed as a medium for video and voice streaming. During experimentation, ST was found to be remarkably effective at transferring data packets at certain frequencies while at the same time maintaining open channels of communication. IPv5 was developed on a lot of the same principles as IPv4, and that, ultimately proved to be its undoing. The development of IPv5 didn’t have much ingenuity involved – the people behind it simply took version four of the Internet Protocol, specialized it towards communication purposes and re-branded it as a new iteration of the Internet Protocol, with a few other changes of course.
The Downfall of IPv5
IPv6 was under development while IPv5 was being experimented with, and where IPv5 brought with it an Internet Protocol that was quite apt at handling video and audio communications over the internet, its still-being-developed competition offered nearly unlimited IP addresses and a breath of new life for the World Wide Web. As was the case with the version of the Internet Protocol it was based on in the first place, IPv5 suffered from a severe case of 32-bit addressing.
IPv5 had the same address formatting as IPv4 – IP addresses that looked like XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX and had four numerical octets (a unit of information in the world of computing that contains eight bits), each of which could have any number between 0 and 255 inclusive. The main issue with this kind of addressing format is the fact that it only allows for a total of 4.3 billion IP addresses, and this became even more of a problem as the internet grew and more and more computers became a part of it. Sometime around 2011, every last remaining unique IPv4 address had been assigned to computers across the entire globe. The same thing that rendered IPv4 obsolete would have also meant the demise of IPv5, hence there was no point in taking IPv5 public and crowning it the new standard for how computers on the internet communicate with each other.
The world accepted IPv6 as the new standard Internet Protocol. IPv5, on the other hand, played a major part in the development of a number of different technologies that are extremely common in this day and age – voice-over-IP (or VoIP), which is used for voice communications over the internet all over the world, being the most noteworthy one.
IPv6 to the Rescue
IPv6 was being developed as early as the 1990s, but large-scale deployment of the latest and greatest Internet Protocol did not begin until 2006. As compared to its predecessors which were 32-bit protocols, IPv6 is a 128-bit protocol that has trillions upon trillions of IP addresses to offer (3.4×1038 addresses, to be precise) compared to the measly 4.3 billion addresses of its predecessors. There is basically no way the human race runs out of IP addresses while using IPv6 anytime soon. IPv6 uses an addressing format where each address consists of eight sets of hexadecimal numbers, with each unit consisting of 4 characters and equaling 16 bits for a total of 128 bits per address. IPv6 addresses are alphanumeric, with numbers from 0 to 9 and alphabets from A to F being used in them. Here’s what a typical IPv6 address looks like:
Excruciatingly long, isn’t it? There’s a solution to that, too! Did you think IPv6 was some half-baked, wannabe Internet Protocol? IPv6 addresses can be really long and often contain a significantly large number of zeros in them. Leading zeros (the zero(s) at the beginning of each set of characters) can be “suppressed” (simply disregarded while typing the address), and any set of characters that consists entirely of zeros can be replaced with the :: symbol (the :: symbol may only be used once per address, however) in order to shorten IPv6 addresses. The IPv6 address listed above, for example, once all leading zeros have been suppressed and any and all sets of characters made up entirely of zeros are replaced with the :: symbol, would like something like:
IPv6 has accounted for every single shortcoming that its predecessors had – from address limitations to ease of use, which is why it is not going anywhere anytime soon. IPv6, unlike the negligible speck on the fabric of the World Wide Web that was its predecessor, IPv5, is here to stay.