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Cisco Self-Study: Implementing Cisco IPv6 Networks (IPV6)

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Discover the ins and outs of the new IPv6 header format. You will also learn different configuration processes of IPv6 in relation to Cisco.
This chapter is from the book

"This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is of no value to us."
Western Union internal memo, 1876

After reading this chapter, you will be able to describe the new IPv6 header format and the impact of IPv6 on User Datagram Protocol (UDP), Transport Control Protocol (TCP) datagrams, and the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU). You will understand the addressing architecture of IPv6 with all kinds of IPv6 addresses scoped in the protocol. These addresses include link-local, site-local, aggregatable global unicast, loopback, unspecified, IPv4-compatible, multicast assigned, solicited-node multicast, and anycast. This chapter also presents IPv6 over Ethernet, multicast mapping over Ethernet, and EUI-64 format.

Throughout this chapter, you will see sample configurations using the Cisco IOS Software technology to acquire basic knowledge to configure and operate routers in an IPv6 environment. Examples show you how to enable IPv6 and IPv6 forwarding on a router. Examples also show you how to configure IPv6 addresses on network interfaces under Cisco IOS Software technology.

Finally, with the configuration exercise in the case study, you can practice commands learned in this chapter by configuring, analyzing, and displaying IPv6 using the Cisco IOS Software technology.

IP Header

This section reviews the IPv4 header. It describes the fields and compares them to the fields in the IPv6 header.

IPv4 Header Format

IP packets are carried over link-layer technologies such as Ethernet (10 Mbps), Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps), Frame Relay, and many others. Each link-layer technology family has its own link-layer frame that carries IP packets. As shown in Figure 2-1, an IP packet is carried between the frame header and frame trailer of a link-layer frame. An IP packet has two fundamental components:

Figure 2-1Figure 2-1 IP Packet Carried by a Link-Layer Frame Contains a Header and a Payload

IP header—The IP header contains many fields that are used by routers to forward the packet from network to network to a final destination. Fields within the IP header identify the sender, receiver, and transport protocol and define many other parameters.

Payload—Represents the information (data) to be delivered to the receiver by the sender.

As shown in Figure 2-2, the basic IPv4 header contains 12 fields. As defined in RFC 791, Internet Protocol DARPA Internet Program Specification, each field of the IPv4 header has a specific use. This section summarizes the contents of the IPv4 header to help you understand the main differences between the IPv4 header and the new IPv6 header.

Figure 2-2Figure 2-2 Fields in the IPv4 Header

Following are the IPv4 header fields:

Version (4-bit)—The version of the IP (Internet Protocol) header. The current IP version used on the Internet is 4 (IPv4). This field contains the value 4.

Header Length (4-bit)—The length in octets of the header size up to the Payload field.

Type of Service (TOS) (8-bit)—Specifies the treatment of the datagram during its transmission through the routers. This field can also be interpreted as Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP).

Total Length (16-bit)—The size of the IP packet in octets, including the header and the payload. This field is 16-bit, which means that the maximum size of an IPv4 packet is 65,535 octets.

Identification (16-bit), Flags (3-bit), and Fragment Offset (13-bit)—Fields related to packet fragmentation by routers when the MTU along a path is smaller than the sender's MTU. The MTU is the maximum size in octets of an IP packet that can be transmitted on a specific communication medium, such as Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, and so on. For Ethernet, the MTU is 1500 octets.

Time to Live (8-bit)—This field is decremented each time the packet passes through an intermediary router. When this field contains the value 0, the packet is destroyed, and an Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv4 (ICMPv4) Type 11 error message (Time Exceeded) is sent to the source node.

Protocol Number (8-bit)—Specifies the upper-layer protocol used in a packet's payload, such as Transport Control Protocol (TCP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), or any others. Protocols supported are defined by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

Header Checksum (16-bit)—Represents the checksum of the IP header and is used for error checking. This field is verified and recomputed by each intermediary router along a path.

Source IPv4 Address (32-bit)—The sender's IPv4 address.

Destination IPv4 Address (32-bit)—The receiver's IPv4 address.

Options (variable)—This optional field might appear in an IPv4 packet. The Options field is variable in size and increases the length of the header when used.

Padding (variable)—Padding is used to ensure that the packet ends on a 32-bit boundary. It also increases the header's size.

Payload (variable)—The payload is not a field of the basic IPv4 header. Rather, it represents the data to be delivered to a destination address. The payload includes an upper-layer header.


Protocol numbers are assigned by IANA. A complete list of all protocol numbers assigned by IANA can be found at http://www.iana.org/assignments/protocol-numbers.

In IPv6, several fields of the IPv4 header are removed. In Figure 2-2, these fields are gray or black. The main reasons for these removals are as follows:

Header Length—The basic IPv4 header is only 20 bytes long. However, the basic IPv6 header has a fixed length of 40 octets. The IPv4 header length indicates the packet's total length, including the Options field. When present, the Options field increases the length of the IPv4 header. Instead of the Options field, IPv6 uses the Extension field. The Extension field is handled differently from how IPv4 handles the Options field.

Identification, Flags, and Fragment Offset—Fragmentation is handled differently in IPv6. It is no longer done by intermediate routers in the networks, but by the source node that originates the packet. Removing the Fragmentation field removes costly CPU processing at intermediate routers. The path MTU discovery (PMTUD) mechanism, discussed later in this chapter, is recommended for every IPv6 node to avoid fragmentation.

Header Checksum—Link-layer technologies (Layer 2) perform their own checksum and error control. The reliability of link-layer is now good and upper-layer protocols such TCP and UDP (Layer 4) have their own checksums. UDP checksum, which was optional in IPv4, is mandatory in IPv6. Therefore, the checksum at Layer 3 is redundant, so the Header Checksum field is unnecessary in IPv6 and suppresses the recomputation process each time a packet passes through a router.

Options and Padding—The Options field is radically changed in IPv6. The options are now handled by extension headers (as discussed later in this chapter). The Padding field is also removed. The removal of Options and Padding headers simplifies the IP header. Thus, the basic IPv6 header has a fixed length of 40 octets, allowing less processing by routers along the delivery path compared to IPv4. The other fields in the IPv4 header—Version, Type of Service, Total Length, Time to Live, Protocol Number, Source IPv4 Address, and Destination IPv4 Address—either were not changed or were modified only slightly (as described in the next section).

Basic IPv6 Header Format

As defined in RFC 2460, Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) Specification, the basic IPv6 header contains eight fields, in comparison with 12 fields in IPv4 (without the Options and Padding fields), for a total length of 40 octets. Moreover, the basic IPv6 header might have one too many extension headers daisy-chained following the 40 octets. This section summarizes the fields of the basic IPv6 header.

The IPv6 protocol represents an upgrade of the IPv4 protocol. As shown in Figure 2-3, the Flow Label field and the extension headers with their variable length are new in IPv6. Here are the descriptions of the fields in the basic IPv6 header:

Figure 2-3Figure 2-3 Fields Within the Basic IPv6 Header

Version (4-bit)—The IP version. This field contains the value 6 rather than the value 4 contained in an IPv4 packet.

Traffic Class (8-bit)—This field and its functions are similar to the Type of Service field in IPv4. This field tags an IPv6 packet with a Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) that specifies how the packet should be handled.

Flow Label (20-bit)—This field is used to tag a flow for IPv6 packets. This is new in the IPv6 protocol. The current IETF standard does not specify the details about how to manage and process the Flow Label.


Refer to the IETF draft "IPv6 Flow Label Specification" (http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-ietf-ipv6-flow-label-06.txt) for detailed information on the specification and the possible usage of the Flow Label field with IPv6.

Payload Length (16-bit)—This field represents the payload's length. The payload is the remaining part of the packet following the IPv6 header.

Next Header (8-bit)—As shown in Figure 2-4, this field defines the type of information following the basic IPv6 header. The type of information can be an upper-layer protocol such as TCP or UDP, or it can be one of the new optional extension headers. The Next Header field is similar to the Protocol Number field in IPv4. Supported protocols are defined by the IANA.

Figure 2-4Figure 2-4 Next Header Field Specifies the Type of Information Following the Basic IPv6 Header

Hop Limit (8-bit)—This field defines the maximum number of hops (intermediate routers) that the IP packet can pass through. Each hop decreases this value by 1. As in IPv4, when this field contains the value 0, the packet is destroyed and an Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv6 (ICMPv6) Type 3 message (Time Exceeded) is sent to the source node. See Chapter 3, "IPv6 in Depth," for information about ICMPv6.

Source Address (128-bit)—This field identifies the IPv6 source address of the sender.

Destination Address (128-bit)—This field identifies the packet's IPv6 destination address.

Table 2-1 compares IPv4 and IPv6 headers.

Table 2-1 Comparison of IPv4 and IPv6 Headers

Fields of the IPv4 Header

Fields of the IPv6 Header

Comparison of IPv4 and IPv6 Headers

Version (4-bit)

Version (4-bit)

Same function but the IPv6 header contains a new value.

Header length (4-bit)

Removed in IPv6. The basic IPv6 header always has 40 octets.

Type of service (8-bit)

Traffic class (8-bit)

Same function for both headers.

Flow label (20-bit)

New field added to tag a flow for IPv6 packets.

Total length (16-bit)

Payload length (16-bit)

Same function for both headers.

Identification (16-bit)

Removed in IPv6 because fragmentation is handled differently in IPv6.

Flags (3-bit)

Removed in IPv6 because fragmentation is handled differently in IPv6.

Fragment offset (13-bit)

Removed in IPv6 because fragmentation is handled differently in IPv6.

Time to live (8-bit)

Hop limit (8-bit)

Same function for both headers.

Protocol number (8-bit)

Next header (8-bit)

Same function for both headers.

Header checksum (16-bit)

Removed in IPv6. Link-layer technologies and upper-layer protocols handle checksum and error control.

Source address (32-bit)

Source address (128-bit)

Source address is expanded in IPv6.

Destination address (32-bit)

Destination address (128-bit)

Destination address is expanded in IPv6.

Options (variable)

Removed in IPv6. The way to handle this option is different in IPv4.

Padding (variable)

Removed in IPv6. The way to handle this option is different in IPv4.

Extension headers

New way in IPv6 to handle Options fields, fragmentation, security, mobility, Loose Source Routing, Record Route, and so on. The following section presents IPv6's extension headers.

IPv6 Extension Headers

IPv6 extension headers are optional headers that may follow the basic IPv6 header. Several types of extension headers are defined in RFC 2460, Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) Specification. One IPv6 packet may include zero, one, or multiple extension headers. As shown in Figure 2-5, when multiple extension headers are used in an IPv6 packet, they form a chained list of headers identified by the Next Header field of the previous header.

Figure 2-5Figure 2-5 Multiple Extension Headers May Form a Chained List of Headers All Linked to the Next Header Field

For typical IPv6 applications, the last header of a chain is the upper-layer protocol carrying the packet's payload. The upper-layer protocol may be TCP, UDP, or an ICMPv6 packet, for example.

Here are IPv6's defined extension headers:

Hop-by-Hop Options header (protocol 0)—This field is read and processed by every node and router along the delivery path. The Hop-by-Hop Options header is used for Jumbogram packets and the Router Alert. An example of applying the Hop-by-Hop Options header is Resource Reservation Protocol (RSVP) because each router needs to look at it.


Pv6 can send packets greater than 65,535 octets, especially on a network with a very large MTU value. As defined in RFC 2675, IPv6 Jumbograms, these packets are called Jumbograms. IPv4 cannot send packets greater than 65,535 octets because the Total Length field is a 16-bit value. Basically, the IPv6 header has the same limitation of 65,535 octets related to the field Payload Length. However, by using a 32-bit field within the Hop-by-Hop Options header, a Jumbogram packet may have a maximum length of 4,294,967,295 octets.

When a source node sends an IPv6 packet to a destination node using extension headers, intermediate routers along the delivery path must not scan and process extension headers. However, as defined in RFC 2711, IPv6 Router Alert Option, the Router Alert feature within the Hop-by-Hop Options header may be used when a packet that is sent to a particular destination requires special processing by intermediate routers along the delivery path.

Destination Options header (protocol 60)—This header carries optional information that is specifically targeted to a packet's destination address. The Mobile IPv6 protocol specification, which is a draft status at IETF, proposes to use the Destination Options header to exchange registration messages between mobile nodes and the home agent. Mobile IP is a protocol allowing mobile nodes to keep permanent IP addresses even if they change point of attachment.

Routing header (protocol 43)—This header can be used by an IPv6 source node to force a packet to pass through specific routers on the way to its destination. A list of intermediary routers may be specified within the Routing header when the Routing Type field is set to 0. This function is similar to the Loose Source Routing option in IPv4.

Routing Header in Detail

Compared to IPv4, the way of handling Loose Source Routing is different in IPv6. As soon as the list of intermediary IPv6 routers is done, before sending the IPv6 packet, the source node executes the following operations in this order:

Step 1

Makes the first router of the intermediary routers list the destination address in the basic IPv6 header rather than the original IPv6 destination.

Step 2

Makes the original IPv6 destination the final destination of the intermediary list of routers.

Step 3

Decrements by 1 the Segments Left field of the Routing header as the packet travels along each router. This field acts as a pointer to contain the remaining number of router segments to the original destination.

Then, at each intermediary router of the list, the following steps occur:

  1. The intermediary router changes the destination address of the basic IPv6 header to target the next router on the intermediary list.

  2. The router decrements by 1 the Segments Left field of the Routing header.

  3. The router puts its own address to the intermediary list of routers in the Routing header just before the next router (the way to record route).

  4. If the router is the last of the intermediary routers list, it changes the IPv6 destination address of the basic IPv6 header to the final destination node, which is in fact the packet's original destination.

The destination node, after having received the packet with the Routing header, can see the list of intermediary routers recorded in the Routing header. Then, the destination node can also send reply packets to the source node using a Routing header and can specify the same router list but in the inverse order.

As illustrated in Figure 2-6, source node A wants to deliver a packet to destination node B by forcing the packet to pass through a list of intermediary routers specified within a Routing header. Router R2 and then router R4 are identified in the list of intermediary routers to deliver the packet to destination node B. Node A first sends the packet to router R2. The packet uses router R2 as the destination address within the basic IPv6 header. The next address of the intermediary list of routers is router R4, and the last address of the list is destination node B. After receiving the packet, router R2 sends the packet to router R4. The packet uses router R4 as the destination address within the basic IPv6 header. The next address of the router's intermediary list is now destination node B, which is the packet's original destination node. Finally, after receiving the packet, router R4 sends its packet to destination node B through router R6 instead of router R7 (the shortest path to reach destination node B). Because router R6 is not on the list of intermediary routers, the packet is forwarded normally by router R4. The packet uses destination node B as the destination address, and the Routing header contains the list of intermediary routers (R2, R6) that belong to this path.

Figure 2-6Figure 2-6 Packet Passing Through the List of Intermediary Routers Along the Delivery Path

Only a few applications exist for using the Routing header in IPv6. Mobile IPv6 is an example of a protocol that uses the Routing header when a node is away from its home network. The Routing header provides efficiency to the protocol compared to Mobile IPv4. Chapter 3 presents an overview of the Mobile IPv6 protocol.

See RFC 2460, Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) Specification, for additional information about the Routing header specification and fields.

Now that you have read about the Routing header in detail, the following list presents other extension headers defined in the IPv6 protocol:

Fragment header (protocol 44)—In IPv6, the PMTUD mechanism is recommended to all IPv6 nodes. PMTUD is discussed in detail in Chapter 3. When an IPv6 node does not support PMTUD and it must send a packet larger than the greatest MTU along the delivery path, the Fragment header is used. When this happens, the node fragments the packets and sends each fragment using Fragment headers. Then the destination node reassembles the original packet by concatenating all the fragments.


In IPv6, fragmentation is undesirable. When necessary, fragmentation is performed by source nodes, not by routers along a packet's delivery path. In IPv4, fragmentation is done at the originating nodes as well as at the intermediate routers.

Authentication header (protocol 51)—This header is used in IPSec to provide authentication, data integrity, and replay protection. It also ensures protection of some fields of the basic IPv6 header. This header is identical in both IPv4 and IPv6. It is well-known as the IPSec authentication header (AH).

Encapsulating Security Payload header (protocol 50)—This header is also used in IPSec to provide authentication, data integrity, replay protection, and confidentiality of the IPv6 packet. Similar to the authentication header, this header is identical in both IPv4 and IPv6. It is well-known as IPSec Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP).

Multiple Extension Headers

When multiple extension headers are used in an IPv6 packet, their order must be as follows:

  1. Basic IPv6 header

  2. Hop-by-Hop Options

  3. Destination Options (if the Routing header is used)

  4. Routing

  5. Fragment

  6. Authentication

  7. Encapsulating Security Payload

  8. Destination Options

  9. Upper-layer (TCP, UDP, ICMPv6, ...)

Packets including several extension headers must be processed strictly by the destination nodes in the order they appear in the IPv6 packet. The node that receives packets must not, for example, scan through a packet looking for a particular kind of extension header and process that header before processing all the preceding ones.

User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and IPv6

UDP (protocol 17) is considered an upper-layer protocol by IPv4 and IPv6. UDP has not been changed for IPv6 and continues to run on top of both IPv6 and IPv4 headers. However, as shown in Figure 2-7, the Checksum field in the UDP packet is mandatory with IPv6. This field was optional in IPv4. Therefore, the UDP Checksum field must be computed by IPv6 source nodes before an IPv6 packet is sent.

Figure 2-7Figure 2-7 UDP Checksum Field in the UDP Packet Is Mandatory with IPv6

The UDP checksum is necessary because the Checksum field of the IPv4 header was removed. This field was used to verify the integrity of the inner packet.

Transport Control Protocol (TCP) and IPv6

TCP (protocol 6) is also considered an upper-layer protocol by IPv4 and IPv6. The Checksum field within the TCP header is mandatory in IPv4. Because TCP is a very complex protocol, no change was proposed to this protocol for IPv6. It was decided during the engineering of IPv6 to continue to run TCP and UDP protocols on top of IPv6 without structural modifications.

Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) for IPv6

In IPv4, a link's minimum MTU length is 68 octets. Every Internet module in IPv4 must be able to forward IPv4 packets of 68 bytes without further fragmentation. The maximum length of an IPv4 header is 60 octets. The minimum fragment size is eight octets.

As shown in Figure 2-8, an IPv6 link's minimum MTU length is 1280 octets, compared to 68 octets in IPv4.

Figure 2-8Figure 2-8 IPv6's Minimum MTU Size Is 1280 Octets

Moreover, in IPv6 every link in the Internet, including PPP links, tunnels, and so on, has an MTU size of 1280 octets or greater. However, in IPv6 the minimum supported datagram length is 1500 octets. The minimum supported datagram is the size of the datagram after the IP-layer reassembly (accept pieces and put them back together) by the IP implementation. In IPv4, the minimum supported datagram size is 576 octets.

Path MTU Discovery (PMTUD) for IPv6

To avoid packet fragmentation in IPv6, which is harmful and costly to the CPU cycle for nodes and intermediary routers, RFC 2460 strongly recommends that IPv6 nodes implement PMTUD for IPv6 (defined in RFC 1981). PMTUD is initiated by source nodes and allows them to find the smallest MTU value on the delivery path. PMTUD is covered in detail in Chapter 3.

Very Large MTU

The maximum packet size supported by the basic IPv6 header is 65,536 octets, which is limited by the 16-bit length of the Payload Length field. As covered earlier in the Hop-by-Hop extension header description, larger packets called Jumbograms are possible in IPv6. In comparison with the maximum size of a Jumbogram (4,294,967,295 octets), note that the MTU size of the 10-GB Ethernet technology is 9216 octets.

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