System Administration Guide: IP Services

Chapter 17 Transitioning From IPv4 to IPv6 (Reference)

As hosts and routers are upgraded to support IPv6, the hosts and routers must be able to interoperate over the network with the hosts and router that support only IPv4. This chapter provides an overview of the standardized solutions to transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6. RFC 1933 also provides detailed solutions to the transition problem.

This chapter contains the following information:

Transition Requirements

The transition does not require any global coordination. Your sites and Internet service provider (ISP) can transition at their own pace. Furthermore, an effort has been made to minimize the number of dependencies during the transition. For instance, the transition does not require that routers be upgraded to IPv6 prior to upgrading hosts.

Different sites have different constraints when transitioning. Also, early adopters of IPv6 are likely to have different concerns than production users of IPv6. RFC 1933 defines the transition tools currently available. The rationale for transition is either the lack of IPv4 address space or the required use of new features in IPv6, or both. The IPv6 specification requires 100 per cent compatibility for the existing protocols and existing applications during the transition.

To understand the transition approaches, the following terms have been defined.

Standardized Transition Tools

RFC 1933 defines the following transition mechanisms:

Implementing Dual-Stack

The term dual-stack normally refers to a complete duplication of all levels in the protocol stack from applications to the network layer. An example of complete duplication is the OSI and TCP/IP protocols that run on the same system. However, in the context of IPv6 transition, dual-stack means a protocol stack that contains both IPv4 and IPv6. The remainder of the stack is identical. Consequently, the same transport protocols (TCP, UDP, and so on) can run over both IPv4 and IPv6. Also, the same applications can run over both IPv4 and IPv6.

The following figure illustrates dual-stack protocols through the OSI layers.

Figure 17–1 Dual-Stack Protocols

Illustrates IPv4 and IPv6 protocols work as a dual-stack through the various OSI layers.

In the dual-stack method, subsets of both hosts and routers are upgraded to support IPv6, in addition to IPv4. The dual-stack approach ensures that the upgraded nodes can always interoperate with IPv4-only nodes by using IPv4.

Configuring Name Services

A dual node must determine if the peer can support IPv6 or IPv4 in order to check which IP version to use when transmitting. The control of the information that goes in the name service enables a dual node to determine which IP version to use. You define an IPv4 node's IP address and the IPv6 node's IP address in the name service. Thus, a dual node has both addresses in the name service.

The presence of an IPv6 address in the name service also signifies that the node is reachable by using IPv6. However, the node is only reachable by nodes that obtain information from that name service. For example, placing an IPv6 address in NIS implies that the IPv6 host is reachable by using IPv6. However, the IPv6 host is only reachable by IPv6 and dual nodes that belong to that NIS domain. The placement of an IPv6 address in global DNS requires that the node is reachable from the Internet IPv6 backbone. This situation is no different than in IPv4. For example, the mail delivery operation requires that IPv4 addresses exist for nodes that can be reached by using IPv4. The same situation is true for the HTTP proxy operation. When no reachability exists in IPv4, for instance, because of firewalls, the name service must be partitioned into an inside firewall and outside firewall database. Consequently, the IPv4 addresses are visible only where the IPv4 addresses are reachable.

The protocol that is used to access the name service is independent of the type of address that can be retrieved from the name service. This name service support, coupled with dual-stacks, allows a dual node to use IPv4 when communicating with IPv4-only nodes. Also, this name service support allows a dual node to use IPv6 when communicating with IPv6 nodes. However, the destination must be reachable through an IPv6 route.

Using IPv4-Compatible Address Formats

In many instances, you can represent a 32-bit IPv4 address as a 128-bit IPv6 address. The transition mechanism defines the following two formats.

The compatible format is used to represent an IPv6 node. This format enables you to configure an IPv6 node to use IPv6 without having a real IPv6 address. This address format enables you to experiment with different IPv6 deployments because you can use automatic tunneling to cross IPv4–only routers. However, you cannot configure these addresses by using the IPv6 stateless address autoconfiguration mechanism. This mechanism requires existing IPv4 mechanisms such as DHCPv4 or static configuration files.

The mapped address format is used to represent an IPv4 node. The only currently defined use of this address format is part of the socket API. An application can have a common address format for both IPv6 addresses and IPv4 addresses. The common address format can represent an IPv4 address as a 128-bit mapped address. However, IPv4–to-IPv6 protocol translators also allow these addresses to be used.

Tunneling Mechanism

To minimize any dependencies during the transition, all the routers in the path between two IPv6 nodes do not need to support IPv6. This mechanism is called tunneling. Basically, IPv6 packets are placed inside IPv4 packets, which are routed through the IPv4 routers. The following figure illustrates the tunneling mechanism through routers (R) that use IPv4.

Figure 17–2 Tunneling Mechanism

Illustrates how IPv6 packets that are placed inside IPv4 packets are tunneled through routers that use IPv4.

The different uses of tunneling in the transition follow:

A configured tunnel is currently used in the Internet for other purposes, for example, the MBONE (the IPv4 multicast backbone). Operationally, the tunnel consists of two routers that are configured to have a virtual point-to-point link between the two routers over the IPv4 network. This kind of tunnel is likely to be used on some parts of the Internet for the foreseeable future.

Automatic Tunnels

The automatic tunnels have a more limited use during early experimental deployment. Automatic tunnels require IPv4–compatible addresses and can be used to connect IPv6 nodes when IPv6 routers are not available. These tunnels can originate either on a dual host or on a dual router by configuring an automatic tunneling network interface. The tunnels always terminate on the dual host. These tunnels work by dynamically determining the destination IPv4 address (the endpoint of the tunnel) by extracting the address from the IPv4–compatible destination address.

Interaction With Applications

Even on a node that has been upgraded to IPv6, the use of IPv6 is dependent on the applications. An application might not use a networking API that asks the name service for IPv6 addresses. The application might use an API (such as sockets) that requires changes in the application. Also, the provider of the API, such as an implementation of the class might not support IPv6 addresses. In either situation, the node only sends and receives IPv4 packets like an IPv4 node would.

The following names have become standard terminology within the Internet community:

IPv4 and IPv6 Interoperability

During the gradual transition phase from IPv4 to IPv6, existing IPv4 applications must continue to work with newer IPv6–enabled applications. Initially, vendors provide host and router platforms that are running a dual-stack, that is, both an IPv4 protocol stack and an IPv6 protocol stack. IPv4 applications continue to run on a dual– stack that is also IPv6 enabled with at least one IPv6 interface. No changes need to be made to these applications (no porting required).

IPv6 applications that run on a dual-stack can also use the IPv4 protocol. IPv6 applications use an IPv4-mapped IPv6 address. Because of the design of IPv6, separate applications (IPv4 and IPv6) are not needed. For example, you do not need an IPv4 client on a dual host to “talk” with a server on an IPv4-only host. Also, you do not need a separate IPv6 client to talk with an IPv6 server. Implementors need only to port their IPv4 client application to the new IPv6 API. The client can communicate with IPv4–only servers. The client can also communicate with IPv6 servers that run on either a dual host or an IPv6–only host.

The address that the client receives from the name server determines if IPv6 or IPv4 is used. For example, if the name server has an IPv6 address for a server, then the server runs IPv6.

The following table summarizes the interoperability between IPv4 and IPv6 clients and servers. The table assumes that the dual-stack host has both an IPv4 and IPv6 address in the respective name service database.

Table 17–1 Client-Server Applications: IPv4 and IPv6 Interoperability

Type of Application (Type of Node)

IPv6-Unaware Server (IPv4-Only Node) 

IPv6-Unaware Server (IPv6-Enabled Node) 

IPv6-Aware Server (IPv6-Only Node) 

IPv6-Aware Server (IPv6-Enabled Node) 

IPv6-unaware client (IPv4-only node) 




IPv6-unaware client (IPv6-enabled node) 




IPv6-aware client (IPv6-only node) 



IPv6-aware client (IPv6-enabled node) 





X means that the server cannot communicate with the client.

(IPv4) denotes that the interoperability depends on the address that is chosen by the client. If the client chooses an IPv6 address, the client fails. However, an IPv4 address that is returned to the client as an IPv4–mapped IPv6 address causes an IPv4 datagram to be sent successfully.

In the first phase of IPv6 deployment, most implementations of IPv6 are on dual-stack nodes. Initially, most vendors do not release IPv6–only implementations.

Site Transition Scenarios

Each site and each ISP requires different steps during the transition phase. This section provides some examples of site transition scenarios.

The first step to transition a site to IPv6 is to upgrade the name services to support IPv6 addresses. For DNS, upgrade to a DNS server that supports the new AAAA (quad-A), such as BIND 4.9.4 and later. Two new NIS maps and a new NIS+ table have been introduced for storing IPv6 addresses. The new NIS maps and NIS+ table can be created and administered on any Solaris system. See IPv6 Extensions to Solaris Name Services for details on the new databases.

After the name service is able to distribute IPv6 addresses, you can start transitioning hosts. You can transition hosts in the following ways:

Other Transition Mechanisms

The mechanisms that were specified previously handle interoperability between dual nodes and IPv4 nodes, if the dual nodes have an IPv4 address. The mechanisms do not handle interoperability between IPv6-only nodes and IPv4-only nodes. Also, the mechanisms do not handle interoperability between dual nodes that have no IPv4 address and IPv4-only nodes. Most implementations can be made dual. However, a dual implementation requires enough IPv4 address space to assign one address for every node that needs to interoperate with IPv4-only nodes.

Several possibilities enable you to accomplish this interoperability without requiring any new transition mechanisms.

Unfortunately, both ALG and NAT solutions create single points of failure. By using these solutions, the Internet becomes less effective. The IETF is working on a better solution for IPv6-only interoperability with IPv4-only nodes. One proposal is to use header translators with a way to allocate IPv4–compatible addresses on demand. Another proposal is to allocate IPv4–compatible addresses on demand and use IPv4 in IPv6 tunneling to bridge the IPv6-only routers.

The stateless header translator translates between IPv4 and IPv6 header formats if the IPv6 addresses in use can be represented as IPv4 addresses. The addresses must be IPv4-compatible or IPv4-mapped addresses. The support for these translators has been built into the IPv6 protocol. The translation can occur without any information loss, except for encrypted packets. Rarely used features such as source routing can produce information loss.