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Analysis of the 64-bit Boundary in IPv6 Addressing

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 7421.
Authors Brian E. Carpenter , Tim Chown , Fernando Gont , Sheng Jiang , Alexandre Petrescu , Andrew Yourtchenko
Last updated 2021-12-19 (Latest revision 2014-10-31)
Replaces draft-carpenter-6man-why64
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state Submitted to IESG for Publication
Document shepherd Bob Hinden
Shepherd write-up Show Last changed 2014-09-10
IESG IESG state RFC 7421 (Informational)
Consensus boilerplate Yes
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Brian Haberman
Send notices to (None)
IANA IANA review state IANA OK - No Actions Needed
IANA action state No IANA Actions
6MAN                                                   B. Carpenter, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                         Univ. of Auckland
Intended status: Informational                                  T. Chown
Expires: May 4, 2015                                Univ. of Southampton
                                                                 F. Gont
                                                  SI6 Networks / UTN-FRH
                                                                S. Jiang
                                            Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd
                                                             A. Petrescu
                                                               CEA, LIST
                                                          A. Yourtchenko
                                                        October 31, 2014

           Analysis of the 64-bit Boundary in IPv6 Addressing


   The IPv6 unicast addressing format includes a separation between the
   prefix used to route packets to a subnet and the interface identifier
   used to specify a given interface connected to that subnet.
   Currently the interface identifier is defined as 64 bits long for
   almost every case, leaving 64 bits for the subnet prefix.  This
   document describes the advantages of this fixed boundary and analyses
   the issues that would be involved in treating it as a variable

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on May 4, 2015.

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2014 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Advantages of a fixed identifier length . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   3.  Arguments for shorter identifier lengths  . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.1.  Insufficient address space delegated  . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.2.  Hierarchical addressing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.3.  Audit requirement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.4.  Concerns over ND cache exhaustion . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   4.  Effects of varying the interface identifier length  . . . . .   7
     4.1.  Interaction with IPv6 specifications  . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.2.  Possible failure modes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     4.3.  Experimental observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
       4.3.1.  Survey of the processing of Neighbor Discovery
               options with prefixes other than /64  . . . . . . . .  11
       4.3.2.  Other Observations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
     4.4.  Implementation and deployment issues  . . . . . . . . . .  14
     4.5.  Privacy issues  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
   5.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
   6.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17
   7.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17
   8.  Change log [RFC Editor: Please remove]  . . . . . . . . . . .  17
   9.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18
     9.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18
     9.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  21
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  23

1.  Introduction

   Rather than simply overcoming the IPv4 address shortage by doubling
   the address size to 64 bits, IPv6 addresses were originally chosen to
   be 128 bits long to provide flexibility and new possibilities.  In
   particular, the notion of a well-defined interface identifier was

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   added to the IP addressing model.  The IPv6 addressing architecture
   [RFC4291] specifies that a unicast address is divided into n bits of
   subnet prefix followed by (128-n) bits of interface identifier (IID).
   The bits in the IID may have significance only in the process of
   deriving the IID and once it is derived the entire identifier should
   be treated as an opaque value [RFC7136].  Also, since IPv6 routing is
   entirely based on variable length prefixes (also known as variable
   length subnet masks), there is no basic architectural assumption that
   n has any particular fixed value.  All IPv6 routing protocols support
   prefixes of any length up to /128.

   The IID is of basic importance in the IPv6 stateless address
   autoconfiguration (SLAAC) process [RFC4862].  However, it is
   important to understand that its length is a parameter in the SLAAC
   process, and it is determined in a separate link-type specific
   document (see the definition of "interface identifier" in Section 2
   of RFC 4862).  The SLAAC protocol does not define its length or
   assume any particular length.  Similarly, DHCPv6 [RFC3315] does not
   include a prefix length in its address assignment.

   The notion of a /64 boundary in the address was introduced after the
   initial design of IPv6, following a period when it was expected to be
   at /80.  There were two motivations for setting it at /64.  One was
   the original "8+8" proposal [DRAFT-odell] that eventually led to ILNP
   [RFC6741], which required a fixed point for the split between local
   and wide-area parts of the address.  The other was the expectation
   that EUI-64 MAC addresses would become widespread in place of 48-bit
   addresses, coupled with the plan at that time that auto-configured
   addresses would normally be based on interface identifiers derived
   from MAC addresses.

   As a result, RFC 4291 describes a method of forming interface
   identifiers from IEEE EUI-64 hardware addresses [IEEE802] and this
   specifies that such interface identifiers are 64 bits long.  Various
   other methods of forming interface identifiers also specify a length
   of 64 bits.  The addressing architecture, as modified by [RFC7136],
   states that "For all unicast addresses, except those that start with
   the binary value 000, Interface IDs are required to be 64 bits long.
   If derived from an IEEE MAC-layer address, they must be constructed
   in Modified EUI-64 format."  The de facto length of almost all IPv6
   interface identifiers is therefore 64 bits.  The only documented
   exception is in [RFC6164], which standardises 127-bit prefixes for
   point-to-point links between routers, among other things to avoid a
   loop condition known as the ping-pong problem.

   With that exception, and despite the comments above about the routing
   architecture and the design of SLAAC, using an IID shorter than 64

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   bits and a subnet prefix longer than 64 bits is outside the current
   IPv6 specifications, so results may vary.

   The question is often asked why the subnet prefix boundary is set
   rigidly at /64.  The first purpose of this document is to explain the
   advantages of the fixed IID length.  Its second purpose is to analyse
   in some detail the effects of hypothetically varying the IID length.
   The fixed length limits the practical length of a routing prefix to
   64 bits, whereas architecturally, and from the point of view of
   routing protocols, it could be any value up to /128, as for host
   routes.  Whatever the length of the IID, the longest match is done on
   the concatenation of prefix and IID.  Here, we mainly discuss the
   question of a shorter IID, which would allow a longer subnet prefix.
   The document makes no proposal for a change to the IID length.

   The following three sections describe in turn the advantages of the
   fixed length IID, some arguments for shorter lengths, and the
   expected effects of varying the length.

2.  Advantages of a fixed identifier length

   As mentioned in Section 1, the existence of an IID of a given length
   is a necessary part of IPv6 stateless address autoconfiguration
   (SLAAC) [RFC4862].  This length is normally the same for all nodes on
   a given link that is running SLAAC.  Even though this length is a
   parameter for SLAAC, determined separately for the link layer media
   type of each interface, a globally fixed IID length for all link
   layer media is the simplest solution, and is consistent with the
   principles of Internet host configuration described in [RFC5505].

   An interface identifier of significant length, clearly separated from
   the subnet prefix, makes it possible to limit the traceability of a
   host computer by varying the identifier.  This is discussed further
   in Section 4.5.

   An interface identifier of significant length guarantees that there
   are always enough addresses in any subnet to add one or more real or
   virtual interfaces.  There might be other limits, but IP addressing
   will never get in the way.

   The addressing architecture [RFC4291] [RFC7136] sets the IID length
   at 64 bits for all unicast addresses, and therefore for all media
   supporting SLAAC.  An immediate effect of fixing the IID length at 64
   bits is, of course, that it fixes the subnet prefix length also at 64
   bits, regardless of the aggregate prefix assigned to the site
   concerned, which in accordance with [RFC6177] should be /56 or
   shorter.  This situation has various specific advantages:

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   o  Everything is the same.  Compared to IPv4, there is no more
      calculating leaf subnet sizes, no more juggling between subnets,
      and fewer consequent errors.  Network design is therefore simpler
      and much more straightforward.  This is of importance for all
      types of networks - enterprise, campus, small office, or home
      networks - and for all types of operator, from professional to

   o  Adding a subnet is easy - just take another /64 from the pool.  No
      estimates, calculations, consideration or judgement is needed.

   o  Router configurations are homogeneous and easier to understand.

   o  Documentation is easier to write and easier to read; training is

   The remainder of this document describes arguments that have been
   made against the current fixed IID length and analyses the effects of
   a possible change.  However, the consensus of the IETF is that the
   benefits of keeping the length fixed at 64 bits, and the practical
   difficulties of changing it, outweigh the arguments for change.

3.  Arguments for shorter identifier lengths

   In this section we describe arguments for scenarios where shorter
   IIDs, implying prefixes longer than /64, have been used or proposed.

3.1.  Insufficient address space delegated

   A site may not be delegated a sufficiently generous prefix from which
   to allocate a /64 prefix to all of its internal subnets.  In this
   case the site may either determine that it does not have enough
   address space to number all its network elements and thus, at the
   very best, be only partially operational, or it may choose to use
   internal prefixes longer than /64 to allow multiple subnets and the
   hosts within them to be configured with addresses.

   In this case, the site might choose, for example, to use a /80 per
   subnet, in combination with hosts using either manually configured
   addressing or DHCPv6 [RFC3315].

   Scenarios that have been suggested where an insufficient prefix might
   be delegated include home or small office networks, vehicles,
   building services and transportation services (road signs, etc.).  It
   should be noted that the homenet architecture text
   [I-D.ietf-homenet-arch] states that a CPE should consider the lack of
   sufficient address space to be an error condition, rather than using
   prefixes longer than /64 internally.

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   Another scenario occasionally suggested is one where the Internet
   address registries actually begin to run out of IPv6 prefix space,
   such that operators can no longer assign reasonable prefixes to users
   in accordance with [RFC6177].  It is sometimes suggested that
   assigning a prefix such as /48 or /56 to every user site (including
   the smallest) as recommended by [RFC6177] is wasteful.  In fact, the
   currently released unicast address space, 2000::/3, contains 35
   trillion /48 prefixes ((2**45 = 35,184,372,088,832), of which only a
   small fraction have been allocated.  Allowing for a conservative
   estimate of allocation efficiency, i.e., an HD-ratio of 0.94
   [RFC4692], approximately 5 trillion /48 prefixes can be allocated.
   Even with a relaxed HD-ratio of 0.89, approximately one trillion /48
   prefixes can be allocated.  Furthermore, with only 2000::/3 currently
   committed for unicast addressing, we still have approximately 85% of
   the address space in reserve.  Thus there is no objective risk of
   prefix depletion by assigning /48 or /56 prefixes even to the
   smallest sites.

3.2.  Hierarchical addressing

   Some operators have argued that more prefix bits are needed to allow
   an aggregated hierarchical addressing scheme within a campus or
   corporate network.  However, if a campus or enterprise gets a /48
   prefix (or shorter), then that already provides 16 bits for
   hierarchical allocation.  In any case, flat IGP routing is widely and
   successfully used within rather large networks, with hundreds of
   routers and thousands of end systems.  Therefore there is no
   objective need for additional prefix bits to support hierarchy and
   aggregation within enterprises.

3.3.  Audit requirement

   Some network operators wish to know and audit which nodes are active
   on a network, especially those that are allowed to communicate off
   link or off site.  They may also wish to limit the total number of
   active addresses and sessions that can be sourced from a particular
   host, LAN or site, in order to prevent potential resource depletion
   attacks or other problems spreading beyond a certain scope of
   control.  It has been argued that this type of control would be
   easier if only long network prefixes with relatively small numbers of
   possible hosts per network were used, reducing the discovery problem.
   However, such sites most typically operate using DHCPv6, which means
   that all legitimate hosts are automatically known to the DHCPv6
   servers, which is sufficient for audit purposes.  Such hosts could,
   if desired, be limited to a small range of IID values without
   changing the /64 subnet length.  Any hosts inadvertently obtaining
   addresses via SLAAC can be audited through Neighbor Discovery logs.

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3.4.  Concerns over ND cache exhaustion

   A site may be concerned that it is open to neighbour discovery (ND)
   cache exhaustion attacks [RFC3756], whereby an attacker sends a large
   number of messages in rapid succession to a series of (most likely
   inactive) host addresses within a specific subnet.  Such an attack
   attempts to fill a router's ND cache with ND requests pending
   completion, in so doing denying correct operation to active devices
   on the network.

   One potential way to mitigate this attack would be to consider using
   a /120 prefix, thus limiting the number of addresses in the subnet to
   be similar to an IPv4 /24 prefix, which should not cause any concerns
   for ND cache exhaustion.  Note that the prefix does need to be quite
   long for this scenario to be valid.  The number of theoretically
   possible ND cache slots on the segment needs to be of the same order
   of magnitude as the actual number of hosts.  Thus small increases
   from the /64 prefix length do not have a noticeable impact: even 2^32
   potential entries, a factor of two billion decrease compared to 2^64,
   is still more than enough to exhaust the memory on current routers.
   Given that most link layer mappings cause SLAAC to assume a 64 bit
   network boundary, in such an approach hosts would likely need to use
   DHCPv6, or be manually configured with addresses.

   It should be noted that several other mitigations of the ND cache
   attack are described in [RFC6583], and that limiting the size of the
   cache and the number of incomplete entries allowed would also defeat
   the attack.  For the specific case of a point-to-point link between
   routers, this attack is indeed mitigated by a /127 prefix [RFC6164].

4.  Effects of varying the interface identifier length

   This section of the document analyses the impact and effects of
   varying the length of an IPv6 unicast IID by reducing it to less than
   64 bits.

4.1.  Interaction with IPv6 specifications

   The precise 64-bit length of the Interface ID is widely mentioned in
   numerous RFCs describing various aspects of IPv6.  It is not
   straightforward to distinguish cases where this has normative impact
   or affects interoperability.  This section aims to identify
   specifications that contain an explicit reference to the 64-bit
   length.  Regardless of implementation issues, the RFCs themselves
   would all need to be updated if the 64-bit rule was changed, even if
   the updates were small, which would involve considerable time and

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   First and foremost, the RFCs describing the architectural aspects of
   IPv6 addressing explicitly state, refer and repeat this apparently
   immutable value: Addressing Architecture [RFC4291], IPv6 Address
   Assignment to End Sites [RFC6177], Reserved Interface Identifiers
   [RFC5453], ILNP Node Identifiers [RFC6741].  Customer Edge routers
   impose /64 for their interfaces [RFC7084].  The IPv6 Subnet Model
   [RFC5942] points out that the assumption of a /64 prefix length is a
   potential implementation error.

   Numerous IPv6-over-foo documents make mandatory statements with
   respect to the 64-bit length of the Interface ID to be used during
   the Stateless Autoconfiguration.  These documents include [RFC2464]
   (Ethernet), [RFC2467] (FDDI), [RFC2470] (Token Ring), [RFC2492]
   (ATM), [RFC2497] (ARCnet), [RFC2590] (Frame Relay), [RFC3146] (IEEE
   1394), [RFC4338] (Fibre Channel), [RFC4944] (IEEE 802.15.4),
   [RFC5072] (PPP), [RFC5121] [RFC5692] (IEEE 802.16), [RFC2529]
   (6over4), [RFC5214] (ISATAP), [I-D.templin-aerolink] (AERO),
   [I-D.ietf-6lowpan-btle], [I-D.ietf-6man-6lobac],

   To a lesser extent, the address configuration RFCs themselves may in
   some ways assume the 64-bit length of an Interface ID (e.g, RFC 4862
   for the link-local addresses, DHCPv6 for the potentially assigned
   EUI-64-based IP addresses, Optimistic Duplicate Address Detection
   [RFC4429] which computes 64-bit-based collision probabilities).

   The MLDv1 [RFC2710] and MLDv2 [RFC3810] protocols mandate that all
   queries be sent with a link-local source address, with the exception
   of MLD messages sent using the unspecified address when the link-
   local address is tentative [RFC3590].  At the time of publication of
   RFC 2710, the IPv6 addressing architecture specified link-local
   addresses with 64-bit interface identifiers.  MLDv2 explicitly
   specifies the use of the fe80::/64 link-local prefix, and bases the
   querier election algorithm on the link-local subnet prefix of length

   The IPv6 Flow Label Specification [RFC6437] gives an example of a
   20-bit hash function generation which relies on splitting an IPv6
   address in two equally-sized 64bit-length parts.

   The basic transition mechanisms [RFC4213] refer to IIDs of length 64
   for link-local addresses, and other transition mechanisms such as
   Teredo [RFC4380] assume the use of IIDs of length 64.  Similar
   assumptions are found in 6to4 [RFC3056] and 6rd [RFC5969].
   Translation-based transition mechanisms such as NAT64 and NPTv6 have
   some dependency on prefix length, discussed below.

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   The proposed method [RFC7278] of extending an assigned /64 prefix
   from a smartphone's cellular interface to its WiFi link relies on
   prefix length, and implicitly on the length of the Interface ID, to
   be valued at 64.

   The CGA and HBA specifications rely on the 64-bit identifier length
   (see below), as do the Privacy extensions [RFC4941] and some examples
   in IKEv2bis [RFC5996].

   464XLAT [RFC6877] explicitly mentions acquiring /64 prefixes.
   However, it also discusses the possibility of using the interface
   address on the device as the endpoint for the traffic, thus
   potentially removing this dependency.

   [RFC2526] reserves a number of subnet anycast addresses by reserving
   some anycast IIDs.  An anycast IID so reserved cannot be less than 7
   bits long.  This means that a subnet prefix length longer than /121
   is not possible, and a subnet of exactly /121 would be useless since
   all its identifiers are reserved.  It also means that half of a /120
   is reserved for anycast.  This could of course be fixed in the way
   described for /127 in [RFC6164], i.e., avoiding the use of anycast
   within a /120 subnet.  Note that support for "on-link anycast" is a
   standard IPv6 neighbor discovery capability [RFC4861][RFC7094], and
   therefore applications and their developers would expect it to be

   The Mobile IP home network models [RFC4887] rely heavily on the /64
   subnet length and assume a 64-bit IID.

   While preparing this document, it was noted that many other IPv6
   specifications refer to mandatory alignment on 64-bit boundaries,
   64-bit data structures, 64-bit counters in MIBs, 64-bit sequence
   numbers and cookies in security, etc.  Finally, the number "64" may
   be considered "magic" in some RFCs, e.g., 64k limits in DNS and
   Base64 encodings in MIME.  None of this has any influence on the
   length of the IID, but might confuse a careless reader.

4.2.  Possible failure modes

   This section discusses several specific aspects of IPv6 where we can
   expect operational failures with subnet prefixes other than /64.

   o  Router implementations: Router implementors might interpret IETF
      specifications such as [RFC6164] and [RFC7136] to indicate that
      prefixes between /65 and /126 inclusive for unicast packets on-
      the-wire are invalid, and operational practices that utilize
      prefix lengths in this range may fail on some devices, as
      discussed in Section 4.3.2.

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   o  Multicast: [RFC3306] defines a method for generating IPv6
      multicast group addresses based on unicast prefixes.  This method
      assumes a longest prefix of 64 bits.  If a longer prefix is used,
      there is no way to generate a specific multicast group address
      using this method.  In such cases the administrator would need to
      use an "artificial" prefix from within their allocation (a /64 or
      shorter) from which to generate the group address.  This prefix
      would not correspond to a real subnet.

      Similarly [RFC3956], which specifies Embedded-RP, allowing IPv6
      multicast rendezvous point addresses to be embedded in the
      multicast group address, would also fail, as the scheme assumes a
      maximum prefix length of 64 bits.

   o  CGA: The Cryptographically Generated Address format (CGA,
      [RFC3972]) is heavily based on a /64 interface identifier.
      [RFC3972] has defined a detailed algorithm showing how to generate
      a 64-bit interface identifier from a public key and a 64-bit
      subnet prefix.  Changing the /64 boundary would certainly
      invalidate the current CGA definition.  However, CGA might benefit
      in a redefined version if more bits are used for interface
      identifier (which means shorter prefix length).  For now, 59 bits
      are used for cryptographic purposes.  The more bits are available,
      the stronger CGA could be.  Conversely, longer prefixes would
      weaken CGA.

   o  NAT64: Both stateless [RFC6052] NAT64 and stateful NAT64 [RFC6146]
      are flexible for the prefix length.  [RFC6052] has defined
      multiple address formats for NAT64.  In Section 2 "IPv4-Embedded
      IPv6 Prefix and Format" of [RFC6052], the network-specific prefix
      could be one of /32, /40, /48, /56, /64 and /96.  The remaining
      part of the IPv6 address is constructed by a 32-bit IPv4 address,
      a 8-bit u byte and a variable length suffix (there is no u byte
      and suffix in the case of 96-bit Well-Known Prefix).  NAT64 is
      therefore OK with a subnet boundary out to /96, but not longer.

   o  NPTv6: IPv6-to-IPv6 Network Prefix Translation [RFC6296] is also
      bound to /64 boundary.  NPTv6 maps a /64 prefix to another /64
      prefix.  When the NPTv6 Translator is configured with a /48 or
      shorter prefix, the 64-bit interface identifier is kept unmodified
      during translation.  However, the /64 boundary might be changed as
      long as the "inside" and "outside" prefixes have the same length.

   o  ILNP: Identifier-Locator Network Protocol (ILNP) [RFC6741] is
      designed around the /64 boundary, since it relies on locally
      unique 64-bit node identifiers (in the interface identifier
      field).  While a re-design to use longer prefixes is not

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      inconceivable, this would need major changes to the existing
      specification for the IPv6 version of ILNP.

   o  shim6: The Multihoming Shim Protocol for IPv6 (shim6) [RFC5533] in
      its insecure form treats IPv6 address as opaque 128-bit objects.
      However, to secure the protocol against spoofing, it is essential
      to either use CGAs (see above) or Hash-Based Addresses (HBA)
      [RFC5535].  Like CGAs, HBAs are generated using a procedure that
      assumes a 64-bit identifier.  Therefore, in effect, secure shim6
      is affected by the /64 boundary exactly like CGAs.

   o  Duplicate address risk: If SLAAC was modified to work with shorter
      IIDs, the statistical risk of hosts choosing the same pseudo-
      random identifier [RFC7217] would increase correspondingly.  The
      practical impact of this would range from slight to dramatic,
      depending on how much the IID length was reduced.  In particular,
      a /120 prefix would imply an 8 bit IID and address collisions
      would be highly probable.

   o  The link-local prefix: While RFC 4862 is careful not to define any
      specific length of link-local prefix within fe80::/10, the
      addressing architecture [RFC4291] does define the link-local IID
      length to be 64 bits.  If different hosts on a link used IIDs of
      different lengths to form a link-local address, there is potential
      for confusion and unpredictable results.  Typically today the
      choice of 64 bits for the link-local IID length is hard-coded per
      interface, in accordance with the relevant IPv6-over-foo
      specification, and systems behave as if the link local prefix was
      actually fe80::/64.  There might be no way to change this except
      conceivably by manual configuration, which will be impossible if
      the host concerned has no local user interface.

   It goes without saying that if prefixes longer than /64 are to be
   used, all hosts must be capable of generating IIDs shorter than 64
   bits, in order to follow the auto-configuration procedure correctly

4.3.  Experimental observations

4.3.1.  Survey of the processing of Neighbor Discovery options with
        prefixes other than /64

   This section provides a survey of the processing of Neighbor
   Discovery options which include prefixes that are different than /64.

   The behavior of nodes was assessed with respect to the following

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   o  PIO-A: Prefix Information Option (PIO) [RFC4861] with the A bit

   o  PIO-L: Prefix Information Option (PIO) [RFC4861] with the L bit

   o  PIO-AL: Prefix Information Option (PIO) [RFC4861] with both the A
      and L bits set.

   o  RIO: Route Information Option (RIO) [RFC4191].

   In the tables below, the following notation is used:

      This option is not supported (i.e., it is ignored no matter the
      prefix length used).

      The corresponding prefix is considered "on-link".

      The corresponding route is added to the IPv6 routing table.

      The default configuration is NOT-SUP, but there is an option to
      enable ROUTE.

      The Option is ignored as an error.

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        |  Operating System  | PIO-A  | PIO-L | PIO-AL |   RIO   |
        |    FreeBSD 9.0     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |   Linux 3.0.0-15   | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-DEF |
        |   Linux-current    | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-DEF |
        |     NetBSD 5.1     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |  OpenBSD-current   | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |     Win XP SP2     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  |  ROUTE  |
        | Win 7 Home Premium | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  |  ROUTE  |

      Table 1: Processing of ND options with prefixes longer than /64

        |  Operating System  | PIO-A  | PIO-L | PIO-AL |   RIO   |
        |    FreeBSD 9.0     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |   Linux 3.0.0-15   | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-DEF |
        |   Linux-current    | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-DEF |
        |     NetBSD 5.1     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |  OpenBSD-current   | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  | NOT-SUP |
        |     Win XP SP2     | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  |  ROUTE  |
        | Win 7 Home Premium | IGNORE | LOCAL | LOCAL  |  ROUTE  |

     Table 2: Processing of ND options with prefixes shorter than /64

   The results obtained can be summarized as follows:

   o  the "A" bit in the Prefix Information Options is honored only if
      the prefix length is 64.  At least for the case where the IID
      length is defined to be 64 bits in the corresponding link-type-
      specific document, which is the case for all currently published
      such documents, this is consistent with [RFC4862], which defines

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      the case where the sum of the advertised prefix length and the IID
      length does not equal 128 as an error condition.

   o  the "L" bit in the Prefix Information Options is honored for any
      arbitrary prefix length (whether shorter or longer than /64).

   o  nodes that support the Route Information Option allow such routes
      to be specified with prefixes of any arbitrary length (whether
      shorter or longer than /64)

4.3.2.  Other Observations

   Participants in the V6OPS working group have indicated that some
   forwarding devices have been shown to work correctly with long
   prefixes such as /80 or /96.  Indeed, it is to be expected that
   longest prefix match based forwarding will work for any prefix
   length, and no reports of this completely failing have been noted.
   Also, DHCPv6 is in widespread use without any dependency on the /64
   boundary.  Reportedly, there are deployments of /120 subnets
   configured using DHCPv6.

   There have been definite reports that some routers have a performance
   drop-off or even resource exhaustion for prefixes longer than /64,
   due to design issues.  In particular, some routing chip designs
   allocate much less space for longer prefixes than for prefixes up to
   /64, for the sake of savings in memory, power and lookup latency.
   Some devices need special-case code to handle point-to-point links
   according to [RFC6164].

   It has been reported that at least one type of switch has a content-
   addressable memory limited to 144 bits, which is indeed a typical
   value for commodity components [TCAM].  This means that packet
   filters or access control lists cannot be defined based on 128-bit
   addresses and two 16-bit port numbers; the longest prefix that could
   be used in such a filter is a /112.

4.4.  Implementation and deployment issues

   From an early stage, implementations and deployments of IPv6 assumed
   the /64 subnet length, even though routing was based on prefixes of
   any length.  As shown above, this became anchored in many
   specifications (Section 4.1) and in important aspects of
   implementations commonly used in local area networks (Section 4.3).
   In fact, a programmer might be lulled into assuming a comfortable
   rule of thumb that subnet prefixes are always /64 and an IID is
   always of length 64.  Apart from the limited evidence in
   Section 4.3.1, we cannot tell without code inspections or tests
   whether existing stacks are able to handle a flexible IID length, or

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   whether they would require modification to do so.  A conforming
   implementation of an IPv6-over-foo that specifies a 64 bit IID for
   foo links will of course only support 64.  But in a well designed
   stack, the IP layer itself will treat that 64 as a parameter, so
   changing the IID length in the IPv6-over-foo code should be all that
   is necessary.

   The main practical consequence of the existing specifications is that
   deployments in which longer subnet prefixes are used cannot make use
   of SLAAC-configured addresses, and require either manually configured
   addresses or DHCPv6.  To reverse this argument, if it was considered
   desirable to allow auto-configured addresses with subnet prefixes
   longer than /64, all of the specifications identified above as
   depending on /64 would have to be modified, with due regard to
   interoperability with unmodified stacks.  In fact [RFC7217] allows
   for this possibility.  Then modified stacks would have to be
   developed and deployed.  It might be the case that some stacks
   contain dependencies on the /64 boundary which are not directly
   implied by the specifications, and any such hidden dependencies would
   also need to be found and removed.

   At least one DHCPv6 client unconditionally installs a /64 prefix as
   on-link when it configures an interface with an address, although
   some specific operating system vendors seem to change this default
   behavior by tweaking a client-side script.  This is in clear
   violation of the IPv6 subnet model [RFC5942].  The motivation for
   this choice is that if there is no router on the link, the hosts
   would fail to communicate with each other using the configured
   addresses because the "on-link assumption" was removed in [RFC4861].
   This is not really about the magic number of 64, but an
   implementation may sometimes pick an arbitrary value of prefix length
   due to the removal of the on-link assumption, and the value chosen
   will most likely be 64.

   Typical IP Address Management (IPAM) tools treat /64 as the default
   subnet length, but allow users to specify longer subnet prefixes if
   desired.  Clearly, all IPAM tools and network management systems
   would need to be checked in detail.

   Finally, IPv6 is already deployed at many sites, with a large number
   of staff trained on the basis of the existing standards, supported by
   documentation and tools based on those standards.  Numerous existing
   middlebox devices are also based on those standards.  These people,
   documents, tools and devices represent a very large investment that
   would be seriously impacted by a change in the /64 boundary.

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4.5.  Privacy issues

   The length of the interface identifier has implications for privacy
   [I-D.ietf-6man-ipv6-address-generation-privacy].  In any case in
   which the value of the identifier is intended to be hard to guess,
   whether or not it is cryptographically generated, it is apparent that
   more bits are better.  For example, if there are only 20 bits to be
   guessed, at most just over a million guesses are needed, today well
   within the capacity of a low cost attack mechanism.  It is hard to
   state in general how many bits are enough to protect privacy, since
   this depends on the resources available to the attacker, but it seems
   clear that a privacy solution needs to resist an attack requiring
   billions rather than millions of guesses.  Trillions would be better,
   suggesting that at least 40 bits should be available.  Thus we can
   argue that subnet prefixes longer than say /80 might raise privacy
   concerns by making the IID guessable.

   A prefix long enough to limit the number of addresses comparably to
   an IPv4 subnet, such as /120, would create exactly the same situation
   for privacy as IPv4 except for the absence of NAT.  In particular, a
   host would be forced to pick a new IID when roaming to a new network,
   to avoid collisions.  As mentioned earlier, it is likely that SLAAC
   will not be used on such a subnet.

5.  Security Considerations

   In addition to the privacy issues mentioned in Section 4.5, and the
   issues mentioned with CGAs and HBAs in Section 4.2, the length of the
   subnet prefix affects the matter of defence against scanning attacks
   [I-D.ietf-opsec-ipv6-host-scanning].  Assuming the attacker has
   discovered or guessed the prefix length, a longer prefix reduces the
   space that the attacker needs to scan, e.g., to only 256 addresses if
   the prefix is /120.  On the other hand, if the attacker has not
   discovered the prefix length and assumes it to be /64, routers can
   trivially discard attack packets that do not fall within an actual

   However, assume that an attacker finds one valid address A and
   assumes that it is within a long prefix such as a /120.  The attacker
   then starts a scanning attack by scanning "outwards" from A, by
   trying A+1, A-1, A+2, A-2, etc.  This attacker will easily find all
   hosts in any subnet with a long prefix, because they will have
   addresses close to A.  We therefore conclude that any prefix
   containing densely packed valid addresses is vulnerable to a scanning
   attack, without the attacker needing to guess the prefix length.
   Therefore, to preserve IPv6's advantage over IPv4 in resisting
   scanning attacks, it is important that subnet prefixes are short
   enough to allow sparse allocation of identifiers within each subnet.

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   The considerations are similar to those for privacy, and we can again
   argue that prefixes longer than say /80 might significantly increase
   vulnerability.  Ironically, this argument is exactly converse to the
   argument for longer prefixes to resist an ND cache attack, as
   described in Section 3.4.

   Denial of service attacks related to Neighbor Discovery are discussed
   in Section 3.4 and in [RFC6583].  One of the mitigations suggested by
   that document is "sizing subnets to reflect the number of addresses
   actually in use", but the fact that this greatly simplifies scanning
   attacks is not noted.  For further discussion of scanning attacks,
   see [I-D.ietf-opsec-ipv6-host-scanning].

   Note that, although not known at the time of writing, there might be
   other resource exhaustion attacks available, similar in nature to the
   ND cache attack.  We cannot exclude that such attacks might be
   exacerbated by sparsely populated subnets such as a /64.  It should
   also be noted that this analysis assumes a conventional deployment
   model with a significant number of end-systems located in a single
   LAN broadcast domain.  Other deployment models might lead to
   different conclusions.

6.  IANA Considerations

   This document requests no action by IANA.

7.  Acknowledgements

   This document was inspired by a vigorous discussion on the V6OPS
   working group mailing list with at least 20 participants.  Later,
   valuable comments were received from Ran Atkinson, Fred Baker, Steven
   Blake, Lorenzo Colitti, David Farmer, Bill Fenner, Ray Hunter,
   Paraskevi Iliadou, Jen Linkova, Philip Matthews, Matthew Petach,
   Scott Schmit, Tatuya Jinmei, Fred Templin, Ole Troan, Stig Venaas,
   and numerous other participants in the 6MAN working group.  An
   extremely detailed review by Mark Smith was especially helpful.

   This document was produced using the xml2rfc tool [RFC2629].

8.  Change log [RFC Editor: Please remove]

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-08: IESG comments, 2014-10-31.

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-07: correction to Linux NOT-SUP status,

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-06: minor IETF Last Call comments, 2014-10-02.

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   draft-ietf-6man-why64-05: Area Director review comments, 2014-09-16.

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-04: fixed reference error, 2014-09-10.

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-03: fixed nits, 2014-08-27.

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-02: responded to WGLC reviews and comments,

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-01: language improvements, added TCAM
   reference, 2014-05-07.

   draft-ietf-6man-why64-00: WG adoption, WG comments, including major
   text reorganisation: 3 main sections describe advantages of fixed
   length IID, arguments for shorter lengths, and expected effects of
   varying the length, 2014-04-11.

   draft-carpenter-6man-why64-01: WG comments, added experimental
   results, implementation/deployment text, 2014-02-06.

   draft-carpenter-6man-why64-00: original version, 2014-01-06.

9.  References

9.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2464]  Crawford, M., "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over Ethernet
              Networks", RFC 2464, December 1998.

   [RFC2467]  Crawford, M., "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over FDDI
              Networks", RFC 2467, December 1998.

   [RFC2470]  Crawford, M., Narten, T., and S. Thomas, "Transmission of
              IPv6 Packets over Token Ring Networks", RFC 2470, December

   [RFC2492]  Armitage, G., Schulter, P., and M. Jork, "IPv6 over ATM
              Networks", RFC 2492, January 1999.

   [RFC2497]  Souvatzis, I., "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over ARCnet
              Networks", RFC 2497, January 1999.

   [RFC2526]  Johnson, D. and S. Deering, "Reserved IPv6 Subnet Anycast
              Addresses", RFC 2526, March 1999.

   [RFC2529]  Carpenter, B. and C. Jung, "Transmission of IPv6 over IPv4
              Domains without Explicit Tunnels", RFC 2529, March 1999.

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   [RFC2590]  Conta, A., Malis, A., and M. Mueller, "Transmission of
              IPv6 Packets over Frame Relay Networks Specification", RFC
              2590, May 1999.

   [RFC2710]  Deering, S., Fenner, W., and B. Haberman, "Multicast
              Listener Discovery (MLD) for IPv6", RFC 2710, October

   [RFC3056]  Carpenter, B. and K. Moore, "Connection of IPv6 Domains
              via IPv4 Clouds", RFC 3056, February 2001.

   [RFC3146]  Fujisawa, K. and A. Onoe, "Transmission of IPv6 Packets
              over IEEE 1394 Networks", RFC 3146, October 2001.

   [RFC3306]  Haberman, B. and D. Thaler, "Unicast-Prefix-based IPv6
              Multicast Addresses", RFC 3306, August 2002.

   [RFC3315]  Droms, R., Bound, J., Volz, B., Lemon, T., Perkins, C.,
              and M. Carney, "Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol for
              IPv6 (DHCPv6)", RFC 3315, July 2003.

   [RFC3590]  Haberman, B., "Source Address Selection for the Multicast
              Listener Discovery (MLD) Protocol", RFC 3590, September

   [RFC3810]  Vida, R. and L. Costa, "Multicast Listener Discovery
              Version 2 (MLDv2) for IPv6", RFC 3810, June 2004.

   [RFC3956]  Savola, P. and B. Haberman, "Embedding the Rendezvous
              Point (RP) Address in an IPv6 Multicast Address", RFC
              3956, November 2004.

   [RFC3972]  Aura, T., "Cryptographically Generated Addresses (CGA)",
              RFC 3972, March 2005.

   [RFC4191]  Draves, R. and D. Thaler, "Default Router Preferences and
              More-Specific Routes", RFC 4191, November 2005.

   [RFC4213]  Nordmark, E. and R. Gilligan, "Basic Transition Mechanisms
              for IPv6 Hosts and Routers", RFC 4213, October 2005.

   [RFC4291]  Hinden, R. and S. Deering, "IP Version 6 Addressing
              Architecture", RFC 4291, February 2006.

   [RFC4338]  DeSanti, C., Carlson, C., and R. Nixon, "Transmission of
              IPv6, IPv4, and Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) Packets
              over Fibre Channel", RFC 4338, January 2006.

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   [RFC4380]  Huitema, C., "Teredo: Tunneling IPv6 over UDP through
              Network Address Translations (NATs)", RFC 4380, February

   [RFC4429]  Moore, N., "Optimistic Duplicate Address Detection (DAD)
              for IPv6", RFC 4429, April 2006.

   [RFC4861]  Narten, T., Nordmark, E., Simpson, W., and H. Soliman,
              "Neighbor Discovery for IP version 6 (IPv6)", RFC 4861,
              September 2007.

   [RFC4862]  Thomson, S., Narten, T., and T. Jinmei, "IPv6 Stateless
              Address Autoconfiguration", RFC 4862, September 2007.

   [RFC4941]  Narten, T., Draves, R., and S. Krishnan, "Privacy
              Extensions for Stateless Address Autoconfiguration in
              IPv6", RFC 4941, September 2007.

   [RFC4944]  Montenegro, G., Kushalnagar, N., Hui, J., and D. Culler,
              "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over IEEE 802.15.4
              Networks", RFC 4944, September 2007.

   [RFC5072]  Varada, S., Haskins, D., and E. Allen, "IP Version 6 over
              PPP", RFC 5072, September 2007.

   [RFC5121]  Patil, B., Xia, F., Sarikaya, B., Choi, JH., and S.
              Madanapalli, "Transmission of IPv6 via the IPv6
              Convergence Sublayer over IEEE 802.16 Networks", RFC 5121,
              February 2008.

   [RFC5214]  Templin, F., Gleeson, T., and D. Thaler, "Intra-Site
              Automatic Tunnel Addressing Protocol (ISATAP)", RFC 5214,
              March 2008.

   [RFC5453]  Krishnan, S., "Reserved IPv6 Interface Identifiers", RFC
              5453, February 2009.

   [RFC5533]  Nordmark, E. and M. Bagnulo, "Shim6: Level 3 Multihoming
              Shim Protocol for IPv6", RFC 5533, June 2009.

   [RFC5535]  Bagnulo, M., "Hash-Based Addresses (HBA)", RFC 5535, June

   [RFC5692]  Jeon, H., Jeong, S., and M. Riegel, "Transmission of IP
              over Ethernet over IEEE 802.16 Networks", RFC 5692,
              October 2009.

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   [RFC5942]  Singh, H., Beebee, W., and E. Nordmark, "IPv6 Subnet
              Model: The Relationship between Links and Subnet
              Prefixes", RFC 5942, July 2010.

   [RFC5969]  Townsley, W. and O. Troan, "IPv6 Rapid Deployment on IPv4
              Infrastructures (6rd) -- Protocol Specification", RFC
              5969, August 2010.

   [RFC5996]  Kaufman, C., Hoffman, P., Nir, Y., and P. Eronen,
              "Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)", RFC
              5996, September 2010.

   [RFC6052]  Bao, C., Huitema, C., Bagnulo, M., Boucadair, M., and X.
              Li, "IPv6 Addressing of IPv4/IPv6 Translators", RFC 6052,
              October 2010.

   [RFC6146]  Bagnulo, M., Matthews, P., and I. van Beijnum, "Stateful
              NAT64: Network Address and Protocol Translation from IPv6
              Clients to IPv4 Servers", RFC 6146, April 2011.

   [RFC6164]  Kohno, M., Nitzan, B., Bush, R., Matsuzaki, Y., Colitti,
              L., and T. Narten, "Using 127-Bit IPv6 Prefixes on Inter-
              Router Links", RFC 6164, April 2011.

   [RFC6177]  Narten, T., Huston, G., and L. Roberts, "IPv6 Address
              Assignment to End Sites", BCP 157, RFC 6177, March 2011.

   [RFC6296]  Wasserman, M. and F. Baker, "IPv6-to-IPv6 Network Prefix
              Translation", RFC 6296, June 2011.

   [RFC6437]  Amante, S., Carpenter, B., Jiang, S., and J. Rajahalme,
              "IPv6 Flow Label Specification", RFC 6437, November 2011.

   [RFC7084]  Singh, H., Beebee, W., Donley, C., and B. Stark, "Basic
              Requirements for IPv6 Customer Edge Routers", RFC 7084,
              November 2013.

   [RFC7136]  Carpenter, B. and S. Jiang, "Significance of IPv6
              Interface Identifiers", RFC 7136, February 2014.

9.2.  Informative References

              O'Dell, M., "8+8 - An Alternate Addressing Architecture
              for IPv6", draft-odell-8+8.00 (work in progress), October

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              Brandt, A. and J. Buron, "Transmission of IPv6 packets
              over ITU-T G.9959 Networks", draft-brandt-6man-lowpanz-02
              (work in progress), June 2013.

              Nieminen, J., Savolainen, T., Isomaki, M., Patil, B.,
              Shelby, Z., and C. Gomez, "Transmission of IPv6 Packets
              over BLUETOOTH Low Energy", draft-ietf-6lowpan-btle-12
              (work in progress), February 2013.

              Lynn, K., Martocci, J., Neilson, C., and S. Donaldson,
              "Transmission of IPv6 over MS/TP Networks", draft-ietf-
              6man-6lobac-01 (work in progress), March 2012.

              Cooper, A., Gont, F., and D. Thaler, "Privacy
              Considerations for IPv6 Address Generation Mechanisms",
              draft-ietf-6man-ipv6-address-generation-privacy-02 (work
              in progress), October 2014.

              Chown, T., Arkko, J., Brandt, A., Troan, O., and J. Weil,
              "IPv6 Home Networking Architecture Principles", draft-
              ietf-homenet-arch-17 (work in progress), July 2014.

              Gont, F. and T. Chown, "Network Reconnaissance in IPv6
              Networks", draft-ietf-opsec-ipv6-host-scanning-04 (work in
              progress), June 2014.

              Templin, F., "Transmission of IP Packets over AERO Links",
              draft-templin-aerolink-46 (work in progress), October

   [IEEE802]  IEEE, "IEEE Standard for Local and Metropolitan Area
              Networks: Overview and Architecture", IEEE Std 802-2001
              (R2007), 2007.

   [RFC2629]  Rose, M., "Writing I-Ds and RFCs using XML", RFC 2629,
              June 1999.

   [RFC3756]  Nikander, P., Kempf, J., and E. Nordmark, "IPv6 Neighbor
              Discovery (ND) Trust Models and Threats", RFC 3756, May

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   [RFC4692]  Huston, G., "Considerations on the IPv6 Host Density
              Metric", RFC 4692, October 2006.

   [RFC4887]  Thubert, P., Wakikawa, R., and V. Devarapalli, "Network
              Mobility Home Network Models", RFC 4887, July 2007.

   [RFC5505]  Aboba, B., Thaler, D., Andersson, L., and S. Cheshire,
              "Principles of Internet Host Configuration", RFC 5505, May

   [RFC6583]  Gashinsky, I., Jaeggli, J., and W. Kumari, "Operational
              Neighbor Discovery Problems", RFC 6583, March 2012.

   [RFC6741]  Atkinson,, RJ., "Identifier-Locator Network Protocol
              (ILNP) Engineering Considerations", RFC 6741, November

   [RFC6877]  Mawatari, M., Kawashima, M., and C. Byrne, "464XLAT:
              Combination of Stateful and Stateless Translation", RFC
              6877, April 2013.

   [RFC7094]  McPherson, D., Oran, D., Thaler, D., and E. Osterweil,
              "Architectural Considerations of IP Anycast", RFC 7094,
              January 2014.

   [RFC7217]  Gont, F., "A Method for Generating Semantically Opaque
              Interface Identifiers with IPv6 Stateless Address
              Autoconfiguration (SLAAC)", RFC 7217, April 2014.

   [RFC7278]  Byrne, C., Drown, D., and A. Vizdal, "Extending an IPv6
              /64 Prefix from a Third Generation Partnership Project
              (3GPP) Mobile Interface to a LAN Link", RFC 7278, June

   [TCAM]     Meiners, C., Liu, A., and E. Torng, "Algorithmic
              Approaches to Redesigning TCAM-Based Systems", ACM
              SIGMETRICS'08 467-468, 2008.

Authors' Addresses

   Brian Carpenter (editor)
   Department of Computer Science
   University of Auckland
   PB 92019
   Auckland  1142
   New Zealand


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   Tim Chown
   University of Southampton
   Southampton, Hampshire  SO17 1BJ
   United Kingdom


   Fernando Gont
   SI6 Networks / UTN-FRH
   Evaristo Carriego 2644
   Haedo, Provincia de Buenos Aires  1706


   Sheng Jiang
   Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd
   Q14, Huawei Campus
   No.156 Beiqing Road
   Hai-Dian District, Beijing  100095
   P.R. China


   Alexandru Petrescu
   CEA Saclay
   Gif-sur-Yvette, Ile-de-France  91190


   Andrew Yourtchenko
   7a de Kleetlaan
   Diegem  1830


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