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30 Years of TCP -- and IP on everything!

IP Transition PhotoJanuary 1, 1983, was an official 'flag day' for the ARPANET, which became what we know as the Internet. On that day, the collaborative operators of the existing networking hardware turned off the old networking protocol, NCP (network control protocol), and the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol)-based Internet became the norm.
This had been several years in the making -- TCP/IP were initially specified in 1974, and formally published as standards in 1981 (RFC 791 and RFC 793). Archived email messages show it took a lot of work to convince network operators that this could and should be done. The flag day was preceded by two test efforts:
"Not all sites were preparing to convert over their protocols, so [Vint] Cerf, Jon Postel, and the TCP/IP team turned off the NCP network channel numbers on the ARPANET IMP's for a full day in mid 1982, so that only sites using TCP/IP could still operate. To emphasize the point, they disabled NCP again for two days later that fall. The full switchover to TCP/IP was performed on January 1, 1983, without too many problems, although a few recalcitrant sites were down as long as three months while they retrofitted their systems."
Clearly, things were very different in that era – it was possible to change all equipment within a relatively brief period (12-18 months to get prepared for the flag day). In the 30 years that have followed, networking equipment has found its way into the oddest corners, embedded in the most arcane of devices, and much of the edge equipment is owned and operated by people whose livelihood is not network operations – it’s just plain folk, who have devices they expect to keep working day in and day out.
The IP version that was deployed 30 years ago was version 4 – IPv4. For over a decade, it has been very clear that the sort of growth and dependence mentioned above meant that there were not enough addresses available to suit the growing networks’ needs. And, for about that long, we've had IPv4's official successor (IPv6) defined and ready for production.
But the world had changed, and the task of changing out impacted equipment was a few orders of magnitude more complex. It wasn't possible to declare a flag day: the idea of some laggard site being knocked off the network for "a few months" is inconceivable. It would cause lawsuits, and possibly international incidents!
For the last five years, the Internet Society has had a "Global Addressing" programme outlined as part of its technical activities. Our aim within that programme was always to ensure that the Internet remained completely connected -- end-to-end, globally -- as a fundamental property of the Internet that underlies its ability to be the open platform for innovation that it has become. We didn't call it the "IPv6 programme" because, at the time, we shared some of the industry uncertainty about whether or not IPv6 would ever be able to take off.
As part of that programme, we hosted a couple of events where industry titans did their bit to step up to IPv6. In 2011, we hosted "World IPv6 Day," wherein Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! agreed to turn on IPv6 on their main website for 24 hours. Their goal was to test whether it was supportable in production in a way that would keep their end users well connected and happy. They could. In the process, thousands of other websites took the opportunity to jump on the test flight bandwagon and proved, importantly, to themselves that they could do it, too.
In 2012, we hosted the World IPv6 Launch, wherein content providers (such as Google, Bing, Facebook, and Yahoo!) committed to turning IPv6 on for good, and challenged access providers to enable enough customers to get real IPv6 traffic hitting those v6-enabled websites. Operators stepped up. You can see the (updated) traffic numbers at
Today, January 1, 2013, marks the 30th anniversary of the TCP/IP Internet! In the photo, you can see Ron Broersma with his copy of the 1983 NCP Transition Manual that was the guiding document for deploying TCP/IP and readying for the flag day.
We've now shed any uncertainty about IPv6's viability. In the past couple of years we have seen huge deployments of IPv6 technology all the way to the edge of broadband Internet services. But in 2013, we're not talking about transition to IPv6 -- IPv4 will continue to function for years to come, and the challenge the Internet technical community will continue working on will be to ensure that IPv6-only (and, eventually, IPv4-only) networks do not feel like "second class citizens."
And where we couldn't write a single transition manual for IPv4 to IPv6, there are many, many resources to help you deploy IPv6. Richard Jimmerson, captured in the photo along with Ron (and with Richard's recent hire, Jan Zorz), is responsible for the Internet Society's contribution to the 2013 version of support for new network deployment: the Deploy360 Programme. Check it out!
Happy birthday, TCP/IP network! And Happy 2013 -- where IPv6 is the new normal! /internetsociety/

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