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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2270472,00.html

340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 new web addresses created by internet chiefs . . . so we won’t run out of space soon, then

By Jonathan Richards

TO THE lay observer it seems like an infinite network of computers, servers and cables stretching around the globe.

But the worldwide web is filling up. So quickly, it turns out, that programmers have had to devise a new one.

Of the internet addresses available, more than three quarters are already in use, and the remainder are expected to be assigned by 2009. So, what will happen as more people in developing countries come online? The answer is IPv6, a new internet protocol that has more spaces than the old one: 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 spaces, in fact. “Currently there’s four billion addresses available and there are six billion humans on Earth, so there’s obviously an issue there,” said David Kessens, chairman of the IPv6 working group at RIPE, one of five regional internet registries in charge of rolling it out.

Every device that is connected to the internet — websites, computers and mobile phones — needs an “internet address” to locate it on the network.

When the internet was developed in the 1980s, programmers had no idea how big it would become. They gave each address a “16-bit” number, which meant that the total number of available addresses worked out at about four billion (2 to the power of 32).

But as use grew, it became clear that the old protocol, IPv4, wasn’t big enough, so a new one was written based on “32-bit numbers”. That increased the number of available addresses to 340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion — enough for the foreseeable future, Mr Kessens said.

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