The functionality of the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery protocol corresponds to a combination of the IPv4 protocols: Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) Router Discovery, and ICMP Redirect. IPv4 does not have a generally agreed on protocol or mechanism for neighbor unreachability detection. However, host requirements do specify some possible algorithms for dead gateway detection. Dead gateway detection is a subset of the problems that neighbor unreachability detection solves.
The following list compares the Neighbor Discovery protocol to the related set of IPv4 protocols.
Router discovery is part of the base IPv6 protocol set. IPv6 hosts do not need to snoop the routing protocols to find a router. IPv4 uses ARP, ICMP router discovery, and ICMP redirect for router discovery.
Router advertisements enable address autoconfiguration. Autoconfiguration is not implemented in IPv4.
Neighbor Discovery enables IPv6 routers to advertise an MTU for hosts to use on the link. Consequently, all nodes use the same MTU value on links that lack a well-defined MTU. IPv4 hosts on the same network might have different MTUs.
Unlike IPv4 broadcast addresses, IPv6 address resolution multicasts are spread over 4 billion (2^32) multicast addresses, greatly reducing address resolution-related interrupts on nodes other than the target. Moreover, non-IPv6 machines should not be interrupted at all.
Multiple site prefixes can be associated with the same IPv6 network. By default, hosts learn all local site prefixes from router advertisements. However, routers can be configured to omit some or all prefixes from router advertisements. In such instances, hosts assume that destinations are on remote networks. Consequently, hosts send the traffic to routers. A router can then issue redirects, as appropriate.
Unlike IPv4, the recipient of an IPv6 redirect message assumes that the new next-hop is on the local network. In IPv4, a host ignores redirect messages that specify a next-hop that is not on the local network, according to the network mask. The IPv6 redirect mechanism is analogous to the XRedirect facility in IPv4. The redirect mechanism is useful on non-broadcast and shared media links. On these networks, nodes should not check for all prefixes for local link destinations.
IPv6 neighbor unreachability detection improves packet delivery in the presence of failing routers. This capability improves packet delivery over partially failing or partitioned links. This capability also improves packet delivery over nodes that change their link-local addresses. For example, mobile nodes can move off the local network without losing any connectivity because of stale ARP caches. IPv4 has no corresponding method for neighbor unreachability detection.
Unlike ARP, Neighbor Discovery detects half-link failures by using neighbor unreachability detection. Neighbor Discovery avoids sending traffic to neighbors when two-way connectivity is absent.
By using link-local addresses to uniquely identify routers, IPv6 hosts can maintain the router associations. The ability to identify routers is required for router advertisements and for redirect messages. Hosts need to maintain router associations if the site uses new global prefixes. IPv4 does not have a comparable method for identifying routers.
Because Neighbor Discovery messages have a hop limit of 255 upon receipt, the protocol is immune to spoofing attacks originating from off-link nodes. In contrast, IPv4 off-link nodes can send ICMP redirect messages. IPv4 off-link nodes can also send router advertisement messages.
By placing address resolution at the ICMP layer, Neighbor Discovery becomes more media independent than ARP. Consequently, standard IP authentication and security mechanisms can be used.