What is the difference between IPv4 and IPv6?

Julie Cole
Julie Cole | Contributing Writer
Last updated: June 11, 2021
difference between IPv4 and IPv6
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IPv4 and IPv6 are two commonly used terms when it comes to working with VPNs. But, this then might leave you wondering just what exactly are these rather technical sounding terms and what do they mean? Well, it just so happens that the following article will answer each of these questions and more.

However, as there is so much information available across the web, you might just be struggling to find the answers you are looking for when you are hoping to find out the difference between IPv4 and IPv6. Luckily, we are here to help you by providing this comprehensive guide that delves deeper into the variances between these two protocols.

So, if you’d like to discover why IPv4 and IPv6 are so important and why IPv6 could be an important factor for VPN users, simply continue reading as we provide all of the essential information that you need to know.

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What is IPv4 and how does it work?

IPv4 can be described as the fourth version of the Internet Protocol. Having been introduced back in 1983, it’s safe to say that it has been around for some time now. Ever since its inception, IPv4 has remained the most common identifier on the internet. They essentially consist of 4 numbers which are separated by dots, with the number 255 often included. Here’s an example of a standard IPv4 address –

Without IPv4 addresses, computers would not have the ability to communicate with one another, which in turn would result in the chaotic circulation of data. Therefore, it can be said that this particular concept is responsible for generating most IP addresses on the web.

However, there are a few problems when it comes to IPv4 addresses as this particular protocol has been around for so long. At this current moment in time, there happen to be far too many IPv4 addresses in existence, which means that it will only be a matter of time before exhaustion occurs. For that reason, there have been calls for IPv6 to be fast-tracked to become the new standard as soon as possible.

Other issues include no network access messages becoming a regular occurrence. This is being seen more and more in the current day and age, with freezing up of internet services and consistent ISP outages becoming something that happens all too often.

With that in mind, it would be appropriate to suggest that IPv4 is coming to the end of its life, and needs to be replaced sooner rather than later. But, the question remains – is IPv6 the answer to all these problems? Let’s take a closer look at this newer protocol.

What is IPv6?

Put simply, IPv6 is an upgrade to the Internet Protocol that was brought in to eventually replace the older version – the aforementioned IPv4. But, it is highly likely that IPv4 and IPv6 will continue to coexist for many years until issues encountered with each of the protocols can be ironed out.

IPv6 was introduced in the mid-1990s in order to combat the potential problem of demand outstripping the supply of IP addresses. In the next few years, it will totally replace the IPv4 protocol, which is quickly becoming obsolete due to being heavily exhausted which is caused by the huge number of addresses which use the IPv4 protocol. Designed to help the internet gradually grow, IPv6 ensures that the total amount of data traffic transmitted and a number of connected hosts will be able to increase at a steady pace.

When compared to IPv4, it’s safe to say that IPv6 address types are vast, which is all down to the length of the IPv6 addresses. This includes an upgraded 128 bits whereas previously this was 32 bit with IPv4. In turn, this ensures that the issues of exhaustion will no longer be an issue, which is great news considering that complete exhaustion is fast approaching when it comes to IPv4.

However, IPv6 doesn’t come without its problems. Like IPv4, no network access notifications can potentially occur, which is particularly frustrating for people who like to play online games or stream TV shows and movies online. What’s more, you’ll also find that security issues have arisen from the IPv6 protocol in that IP address leaks could potentially occur. This is one of the biggest reasons for many VPN providers holding off support for IPv6 – instead choosing to opt to stick with IPv4 support for now.

What is the difference between IPv4 and IPv6?

Earlier in the guide, we took a closer look at each protocol individually. But, here’s a table which fully explains the differences between IPv6 and its predecessor:

Uses a 32-bit numeric addressUses a 128-bit IP address
Addresses are written in decimal as four numbers separated by periods e.g. in hexadecimal and separated by colons e.g. 5ffu:1890:4545:3:200:f8ff:gt34:46re
The current standard for IP addressesIncorporates end to end encryption as standard
Developed from 1983 onwardsIntroduced in the mid-1990s

The relationship between IPv4, IPv6, and VPNs

At this moment in time, there aren’t many VPNs which support IPv6, as it is a protocol which hasn’t yet fully taken off in terms of its popularity. This is hardly surprising considering the current-generation IPv4 is still widely used, and so remains the protocol of choice for many VPN providers. This is in spite of the fact it has been around since 1983.

So, it would, therefore, be appropriate to suggest that a VPN which uses IPv4 is probably the better option at the time of writing. Although, as IPv6 becomes more popular, it is always worth keeping up to date with your chosen VPN provider as IPv6 is was developed with enhanced security in mind. Hugely popular VPN provider NordVPN implemented IPv6 support back in 2017, with leak protection included with all platforms. This is great news for those who have concerns over their privacy.

ExpressVPN is another great VPN service which has touched upon IPv6 support. But, as things stand, they are yet to implement full support for the protocol on their platform. In spite of this, they haven’t ruled out supporting IPv6 in the future. Therefore, it’s well worth keeping an eye out on their official website if you have an ExpressVPN subscription and would like to make use of the IPv6 protocol at some point.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it! That concludes our complete guide to the difference between IPv4 and IPv6. It’s clear to see that there is a dire need for IPv6 to be fast-tracked, as IPv4 is a version of the Internet Protocol that has been around for several decades.

For now, the two versions continue to exist side by side. But, in time it certainly won’t be surprising for IPv6 to become the new standard. After all, it allows for a far greater range of IP addresses – something that is absolutely crucial in an age where the demand for IP addresses is probably the highest that it has ever been.

Eventually, IPv4 will be phased out due to the fact it has been around for so long, and is becoming ever-more obsolete as the years go by. However, until the aforementioned issues which IPv6 suffers from are ironed out, IPv4 will continue to be widely used around the world. This especially goes for many VPNs which still use that particular protocol.

In spite of this, providers such as ExpressVPN have stated that as the popularity of IPv6 increases, they will consider adding compatibility with the upgraded protocol if they deem it to be appropriate at some point in the near future.

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  1. atheist

    Gradually, IPv6 would replace the older version and I think everyone would have to adapt to the technology. It’s amazing how complex technology can be.

  2. Zachary R

    Indeed Ipv6 is an important factor for VPN users. This protocol is designed for the growth of the internet and it is achieved by ensuring that the total amount of data traffic transmitted and the number of connected hosts will be able to increase at a steady pace

  3. Hans R

    That was really instructive ! I kind knew what both were but without really knowing what was different between them. Thanks a lot for the article now I get it 🙂

  4. trogdortheburninator

    There is so much to keep track of with these things. It’s insane to think if you miss one little detail – like IPv4 or 6 – that you could be putting your data at risk. Frankly I’m a little exhausted by it all – how does anyone ever keep up? I never would have even known to check for that before now. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. pinkandgreen

      I know! it’s all so much and as much as I try to learn I just end up more paranoid that I’ve missed something else. There are so many tiny details to remember and so many people out there ready to exploit you for your data. I can get super depressed if I think about it too much for a second lol.

  5. Berichin

    It’s quite interesting to think that back when the Internet was being invented, they didn’t know it was going to be as revolutionary as it is today. It was just a bunch of universities and government places. They designed IP addresses with the ability to have 4 billion unique addresses, thinking they would never need that many. How wrong they were.

  6. jsmithspe

    IPv4 was the first stable version of Internet Protocol, and it still is widely used. IPv6 is the most recent version and is intended to replace IPv4, but I think there is still a long way to go before IPv4 is replaced by IPv6.

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