Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dual Stack, the good, bad, and the ugly

by Craig Miller

Dual Stack: a foot in the past and the future
There have been several transitional methods developed to help us through the transitional phase of migrating from IPv4 to IPv6. Remember that although IPv6 has the letters I and P in it, it really is a different networking protocol, and therefore requires additional expertise to really know the new Internet Protocol.

Fortunately, the common operating systems, Windows, MacOS X, Linux, and BSD have excellent support for IPv6. And can run both IPv6 and IPv4 at the same time. This is called Dual Stack.

The Good

Because OSs are bilingual (think Canada:  English and French) there is little to be done on end stations or hosts, to start communicating via IPv6. Assuming the network is correctly configured with RAs (Router Advertisements), the host will pick up and address either via SLAAC (Stateless Address Auto Config) or DHCPv6 (yet another different protocol) and off you go.

Dual Stack has been suggested as the easiest transitional mechanism, since it is already built into almost every machine out there. Of course some applications may have to be rewritten to take advantage of the IPv6 stack.

The Bad

Because hosts are now dual stack does not mean that all applications which run on the hosts are instantly dual stack. There are a lot of applications which were either written a while ago, or by someone who didn't give thought to IPv6.

For example, sshd has supported IPv6 for more than a decade. But recently when I went looking for a sftp client for my Chromebook, I was disappointed to discover that 'SFTP File System' was IPv4 only.

Dual Stack also means double the work for Network Support people. Because although the end station or host, automagically configures itself for IPv6, the routers and firewalls do not. Routers need to be configured for two protocols, which may not have a direct mapping between IPv4 and IPv6. Firewalls, must have two sets of ACLs (Access Control List) and because IPv6 is a different protocol, one can not just copy and paste the IPv4 ACL entries into the IPv6 ACL.

For this reason large service providers such as T-Mobile are dumping dual stack in favour of going IPv6 only, and using technologies like 464XLAT ( RFC 6877) to accommodate those IPv4 only applications (such as Skype and Twitter).

The Ugly

Although I said that end stations or hosts automagically get addresses, and they do, there are apparently different interpretations on how the end station receives DNS (Domain Name Service) server information. You will remember that I mentioned in a previous post, Quad Eh? that DNS was going to be even more useful with IPv6.

There are two ways for a host to receive DNS server information:
  1. RA via the RDNSS field (Recursive DNS Server RFC 6106)
  2. DHCPv6 via option 23 (IANA option numbers)

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on which method to use*. Google (read: all android phones) is using the first  method and Microsoft (read: all windows machines) is using the second method. Which means that network operators must run a DHCPv6 server even if they don't want to manage addresses (think: the O-bit in the RA). Although larger networks will probably already be using (or plan to use) DHCPv6, for smaller networks, this is just additional overhead.

A Path to the Future

As you can see Dual Stack solves many problems in transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6, but it is not a panacea. As I mentioned in an earlier post Not your Grandmothers IP, there is no time like the present to start learning the new Internet Protocol, and putting a foot towards the future.

* more good info on Dual Stack

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