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Mapping the Internet, one node at a time

3 May 2007
By Kim DaviesKim Davies

In the foyer of the ICANN head office, we have hung on the walls a number of interesting maps of the Internet. There are various takes on displaying the Internet on charts and in diagrams. They range from the mind-bogglingly complex to the almost comically simple:

The Internet in 1969

Then again, this was the Internet back in 1969.

One map of the Internet we do not have hung on the wall, but derived amusement when passed around in email, was one person’s interpretation of IANA’s IPv4 address space registry. In this registry, IANA coordinates the IP address space – primarily by assigning large blocks to Regional Internet Registries for further allocation.

A Map of the Internet: Comic Style

It is definitely interesting, but is only a simple guide – because IANA only manages the largest of IP address allocations. The job of assigning the much smaller IP address blocks that network operators use belongs to the Regional Internet Registries.Given this, I got to thinking – what if we took the same algorithm used in the hand-drawn map, but plugged in the true allocation data and graphed it to a much more detailed level?

After a little time spent fussing around, here is what I came up with:

Map of the Internet: Allocations as at 1 May 2007

If it doesn’t look like much, you are not the only one. The original file that graphs every single IP address to a particular element results in an image file that is a staggering 65536×65536 in size, or 4294 megapixels – much larger than your web browser can comfortably swallow. So this version is shrunk to a mere 450×450 in size.

But in its full glory, this map is a great way to visualise the IP address space. I have colour coded the regional allocations – Blue is ARIN (North America), Yellow is RIPE NCC (Europe), Purple is APNIC (Asia-Pacific), Green is LACNIC (Latin America/Caribbean), and Orange is AfriNIC (Africa). Dark grey is space that, for protocol reasons, IANA can never assign regularly; and the big black spot at the top is the space for a special kind of assignment called Multicast, which are not used like regular IP addresses.

Perhaps it would be more instructive to mimic the hand-drawn illustration, and just show the available IP space as green:

Map of the Internet: Space left for IANA to allocate as at 1 May 2007

Note that pale green signifies blocks assigned from IANA to RIRs, but the RIRs have not yet assigned to end users; and the very faint green spaces are legacy spaces that are not well tracked and may or may not be in use.

Now, if you think that there doesn’t seem to be much left, you’d be right. IPv4 address space is running out rapidly, and based upon analysis of current trends, may completely run out in a few short years.

It is a good thing, then, that there is a successor addressing system called IPv6. This system has orders of magnitude more address space, and should alleviate the type of overcrowding seen in the current IP address space.

Despite the fact modern operating systems and network devices have IPv6 support, take up so far has been quite modest with most usage limited to the most hard-core technical circles. However many watch with bated breath to see if the increasing depletion of IPv4 will be the catalyst needed for the world to shift to IPv6 en masse.


Kim Davies

Kim Davies

VP, IANA Services and President, PTI
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