I've always been at odds with the recommendation in RFC 3177 towards allocating /48 IPv6 prefixes to end-sites. To me this seemed rather short-sighted, akin to saying that 640K of memory should be enough for anybody. It's essentially equivalent to giving out /12s in the IPv4 world which in this day and age might seem completely ridiculous, but let us not forget that in the early days of IPv4 it wasn't uncommon to get a /16 or even a /8 in some cases.
Granted, I know there are quite a few more usable bits in IPv6 than there are in IPv4, but allocating huge swaths of address space simply because it's there and we haven't thought of all the myriad ways it could be used in the future just seems outright wasteful.
So you can imagine my surprise and also my elation last week when the IETF published RFC 6177 entitled 'IPv6 Address Assignment to End Sites'. In it, the general recommendation of allocating /48s to end-sites that has long been the defacto standard since the original publication of RFC 3177 in 2001 has finally been reversed.
It seems that sanity has finally prevailed and the IAB/IESG have decided to take a more pragmatic approach towards address allocation in IPv6. The recommendations in RFC 6177 attempt to balance the conservation of IPv6 addresses while at the same time continuing to make it easy for IPv6 adopters to get the address space that they require without requiring complex renumbering and dealing with other scaling inefficiencies in the long term. It is clear that acting too conservatively and allocating very small address spaces could act as a disincentive and possibly stifle widespread adoption of IPv6.
The new current recommendations for address allocations are as follows:
- /48 in the general case, except for very large subscribers
- /64 when it is known that one and only one subnet is needed by design
- /128 when it is absolutely known that one and only one device is connecting
It goes on to state other recommendations and offers guidance to operators with regards to when to allocate certain prefix lengths. But essentially, what this means is that now individual network operators have more options regarding which prefix size to allocate, and allows them to move away from strict general guidelines. In essence, operators make the decision as to what prefix size to allocate based on an analysis of the needs of particular customers.
Perhaps this practical conservation may never be needed given the trillions of address space available in IPv6, but maybe, just maybe, in the very distant future if IPv6 is still in widespread use, it could very well be due to some of these recommendations being put in place today. After all, 640K did turn out to be a rather small number didn't it?