I never cease to be amazed by the Internet and how easily I can digitally communicate with someone, anyone really, in the entire world. It must take a great deal of cooperation to keep the addresses of millions of people who use the Internet straight. You may ask what this has to do with IPv6, and that’s a good question.

While researching IPv6, I realized I didn’t fully understand the management system that oversees Internet naming and, more importantly, Internet addressing. Once I did, I gained a healthy respect for the process as well as a deeper understanding of how everything else pertaining to the Internet works. With that in mind, I’d like to pass on my newfound information and appreciation.

One comment that I always hear is how well the Internet scales. I believe that hierarchical modeling is the reason why the Internet scales and is able to meet new demands. What I find fascinating is that the management system behind the Internet is also based on hierarchical modeling, starting with ICANN.

ICANN is the ultimate authority

At the top is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international nonprofit corporation set up by the world’s communities to help coordinate Internet-related tasks. ICANN also replaced the U.S. government as the responsible party that oversees Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

IANA is all about numbers

The IANA is the most visible body of ICANN as it’s in charge of addressing systems and protocols that are used to manage the Internet. The three main categories are

  • Domain Names: IANA manages the entire DNS root.
  • Address and Number Assignment: IANA manages the worldwide pool of IP and AS numbers and provides these resources to the Regional Internet Registries.
  • Protocol Management: IANA is responsible for maintaining pertinent protocols and the Request for Comment (RFC) identification system that tracks the protocols and any revisions.

Since we are interested in IPv6, the important bullet point would be Address and Number Assignment. The above link aptly points out IANA’s role of allocating IP addresses to the Regional Internet Registries (RIR). I think you can start to see the intricate hierarchy now; yet ironically this is also where I got a bit confused. I didn’t know about the existence of the Number Resource Organization (NRO) or that it acts as an umbrella for the RIRs.

The purpose of NRO

Unifying the RIRs under the NRO in 2003 made a great deal of sense, because it allows the consolidation of common projects and keeps all the RIRs on the same page so to speak. The NRO’s mandate is further explained by its three main responsibilities (courtesy of NRO):

  • To protect the unallocated Number Resource pool.
  • To promote and protect the bottom-up policy development process.
  • To act as a focal point for Internet community input into the RIR system.

RIRs are the important players

There are 5 RIRs currently distributed throughout the world. Each RIR is responsible for registration and distribution of Internet resources, which include IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses as well as BGP AS numbers. I have listed the five RIRs below with links to their Web sites:

The following diagram (courtesy of NOR) shows the RIRs and the general areas of responsibility:

We have finally reached the last link in the chain and that would be ISPs and end-user organizations, as they receive address resources from the RIRs.

A view of the inner workings

ARIN is responsible for resource allocation in North America. I only mention this because I’m located in their region and it seemed to make sense for me to ask them any specific questions I might have. They have patiently enlightened me on several points and are even working diligently on the list of questions you, the members, have submitted to me.

I also wanted to point out that Megan Kruse, public relations officer for ARIN, made mention of ARIN’s policy meeting this October 15-17. It’s a great chance to see (in person or via the Web) how RIR takes care of business. Megan further explains:

“The ARIN Public Policy and Members Meeting is next week, 15-17 October in Los Angeles. The main meeting page is at ARIN.net/ARIN-XXII. In addition to the Public Policy and Members Meeting, there will be several events, including an introduction to the ARIN policy development process and Open Policy Hour. The meeting will open on Wednesday with a special panel discussion, co-hosted with NANOG, titled “What Would Jon have done about the Addressing Challenges Currently Facing Us?” We’ve got seven policy proposals up for discussion at this meeting, including several related to IPv6 adoption and IPv4 depletion.

Of particular importance is the webcast and remote participation section at ARIN.net/ARIN-XXII/remote.”

Final thoughts

I hope everyone will find my interlude from the real technical aspects of IPv6 acceptable. With all the problems facing humanity, I felt compelled to provide a positive example of what we can do. Specifically how a very diverse group of people from all over the world can come together and make a very complicated technology work and work well.

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