Chapter 2. The Structure of the IPv6 Protocol

This chapter explains the structure of the IPv6 header and compares it to the IPv4 header. It also discusses Extension headers, which are new in IPv6.

The header structure of an IPv6 packet is specified in RFC 2460. The header has a fixed length of 40 bytes. The two fields for source and destination addresses each use 16 bytes (128 bits), so there are only 8 bytes for general header information.

General Header Structure

In IPv6, five fields from the IPv4 header have been removed:

  • Header Length

  • Identification

  • Flags

  • Fragment Offset

  • Header Checksum

The Header Length field was removed because it is not needed in a header with a fixed length. In IPv4 the minimum header length is 20 bytes, but if options are added, it can be extended in 4-byte increments up to 60 bytes. Therefore, with IPv4, the information about the total length of the header is important. In IPv6 options are defined by Extension headers (covered later in this chapter).

The Identification field, the Flags field, and the Fragment Offset field handle fragmentation of a packet in the IPv4 header. Fragmentation happens if a large packet has to be sent over a network that only supports smaller packet sizes. In that case, the IPv4 router splits the packet into smaller slices and forwards multiple packets. The destination host collects the packets and reassembles them. If only one packet is missing or has an error, the whole transmission has to be redone; this is very inefficient. ...

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