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8.8: IPv6 Host Address Assignment

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    IPv6 provides two competing ways for hosts to obtain their full IP addresses. One is DHCPv6, based on IPv4’s DHCP (7.10 Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)), in which the entire address is handed out by a DHCPv6 server. The other is StateLess Address AutoConfiguration, or SLAAC, in which the interface-identifier part of the address is generated locally, and the network prefix is obtained via prefix discovery. The original idea behind SLAAC was to support complete plug-and-play network setup: hosts on an isolated LAN could talk to one another out of the box, and if a router was introduced connecting the LAN to the Internet, then hosts would be able to determine unique, routable addresses from information available from the router.

    In the early days of IPv6 development, in fact, DHCPv6 may have been intended only for address assignments to routers and servers, with SLAAC meant for “ordinary” hosts. In that era, it was still common for IPv4 addresses to be assigned “statically”, via per-host configuration files. RFC 4862 [] states that SLAAC is to be used when “a site is not particularly concerned with the exact addresses hosts use, so long as they are unique and properly routable.”

    SLAAC and DHCPv6 evolved to some degree in parallel. While SLAAC solves the autoconfiguration problem quite neatly, at this point DHCPv6 solves it just as effectively, and provides for greater administrative control. For this reason, SLAAC may end up less widely deployed. On the other hand, SLAAC gives hosts greater control over their IPv6 addresses, and so may end up offering hosts a greater degree of privacy by allowing endpoint management of the use of private and temporary addresses (below).

    When a host first begins the Neighbor Discovery process, it receives a Router Advertisement packet. In this packet are two special bits: the M (managed) bit and the O (other configuration) bit. The M bit is set to indicate that DHCPv6 is available on the network for address assignment. The O bit is set to indicate that DHCPv6 is able to provide additional configuration information (eg the name of the DNS server) to hosts that are using SLAAC to obtain their addresses. In addition, each individual prefix in the RA packet has an A bit, which when set indicates that the associated prefix may be used with SLAAC.

  • 8.7.1 Duplicate Address Detection

    Whenever an IPv6 host obtains a unicast address – a link-local address, an address created via SLAAC, an address received via DHCPv6 or a manually configured address – it goes through a duplicate-address detection (DAD) process. The host sends one or more Neighbor Solicitation messages (that is, like an ARP query), as in 8.6 Neighbor Discovery, asking if any other host has this address. If anyone answers, then the address is a duplicate. As with IPv4 ACD (7.9.1 ARP Finer Points), but not as with the original IPv4 self-ARP, the source-IP-address field of this NS message is set to a special “unspecified” value; this allows other hosts to recognize it as a DAD query.

    Because this NS process may take some time, and because addresses are in fact almost always unique, RFC 4429 [] defines an optimistic DAD mechanism. This allows limited use of an address before the DAD process completes; in the meantime, the address is marked as “optimistic”.

    Outside the optimistic-DAD interval, a host is not allowed to use an IPv6 address if the DAD process has failed. RFC 4862 [] in fact goes further: if a host with an established address receives a DAD query for that address, indicating that some other host wants to use that address, then the original host should discontinue use of the address.

    If the DAD process fails for an address based on an EUI-64 identifier, then some other node has the same Ethernet address and you have bigger problems than just finding a working IPv6 address. If the DAD process fails for an address constructed with the RFC 7217 [] mechanism, 8.2.1 Interface identifiers, the host is able to generate a new interface identifier and try again. A counter for the number of DAD attempts is included in the hash that calculates the interface identifier; incrementing this counter results in an entirely new identifier.

    While DAD works quite well on Ethernet-like networks with true LAN-layer multicast, it may be inefficient on, say, MANETs (3.7.8 MANETs), as distant hosts may receive the DAD Neighbor Solicitation message only after some delay, or even not at all. Work continues on the development of improvements to DAD for such networks.

  • 8.7.2 Stateless Autoconfiguration (SLAAC)

    To obtain an address via SLAAC, defined in RFC 4862 [], the first step for a host is to generate its link-local address (above, 8.2.2 Link-local addresses), appending the standard 64-bit link-local prefix fe80::/64 to its interface identifier (8.2.1 Interface identifiers). The latter is likely derived from the host’s LAN address using either EUI-64 or the RFC 7217 [] mechanism; the important point is that it is available without network involvement.

    The host must then ensure that its newly configured link-local address is in fact unique; it uses DAD (above) to verify this. Assuming no duplicate is found, then at this point the host can talk to any other hosts on the same LAN, eg to figure out where the printers are.

    The next step is to see if there is a router available. The host may send a Router Solicitation (RS) message to the all-routers multicast address. A router – if present – should answer with a Router Advertisement (RA) message that also contains a Prefix Information option; that is, a list of IPv6 network-address prefixes (8.6.2 Prefix Discovery).

    As mentioned earlier, the RA message will mark with a flag those prefixes eligible for use with SLAAC; if no prefixes are so marked, then SLAAC should not be used. All prefixes will also be marked with a lifetime, indicating how long the host may continue to use the prefix. Once the prefix expires, the host must obtain a new one via a new RA message.

    The host chooses an appropriate prefix, stores the prefix-lifetime information, and appends the prefix to the front of its interface identifier to create what should now be a routable address. The address so formed must now be verified through the DAD mechanism above.

    In the era of EUI-64 interface identifiers, it would in principle have been possible for the receiver of a packet to extract the sender’s LAN address from the interface-identifier portion of the sender’s SLAAC-generated IPv6 address. This in turn would allow bypassing the Neighbor Solicitation process to look up the sender’s LAN address. This was never actually permitted, however, even before the privacy options below, as there is no way to be certain that a received address was in fact generated via SLAAC. With RFC 7217 []-based interface identifiers, LAN-address extraction is no longer even potentially an option.

    A host using SLAAC may receive multiple network prefixes, and thus generate for itself multiple addresses. RFC 6724 [] defines a process for a host to determine, when it wishes to connect to destination address D, which of its own multiple addresses to use. For example, if D is a unique-local address, not globally visible, then the host will likely want to choose a source address that is also unique-local. RFC 6724 [] also includes mechanisms to allow a host with a permanent public address (possibly corresponding to a DNS entry, but just as possibly formed directly from an interface identifier) to prefer alternative “temporary” or “privacy” addresses for outbound connections. Finally, RFC 6724 [] also defines the sorting order for multiple addresses representing the same destination; see 8.11 Using IPv6 and IPv4 Together.

    At the end of the SLAAC process, the host knows its IPv6 address (or set of addresses) and its default router. In IPv4, these would have been learned through DHCP along with the identity of the host’s DNS server; one concern with SLAAC is that it originally did not provide a way for a host to find its DNS server. One strategy is to fall back on DHCPv6 for this. However, RFC 6106 [] now defines a process by which IPv6 routers can include DNS-server information in the RA packets they send to hosts as part of the SLAAC process; this completes the final step of autoconfiguration.

    How to get DNS names for SLAAC-configured IPv6 hosts into the DNS servers is an entirely separate issue. One approach is simply not to give DNS names to such hosts. In the NAT-router model for IPv4 autoconfiguration, hosts on the inward side of the NAT router similarly do not have DNS names (although they are also not reachable directly, while SLAAC IPv6 hosts would be reachable). If DNS names are needed for hosts, then a site might choose DHCPv6 for address assignment instead of SLAAC. It is also possible to figure out the addresses SLAAC would use (by identifying the host-identifier bits) and then creating DNS entries for these hosts. Finally, hosts can also use Dynamic DNS (RFC 2136 []) to update their own DNS records.

  • SLAAC privacy

    A portable host that always uses SLAAC as it moves from network to network and always bases its SLAAC addresses on the EUI-64 interface identifier (or on any other static interface identifier) will be easy to track: its interface identifier will never change. This is one reason why the obfuscation mechanism of RFC 7217 [] interface identifiers (8.2.1 Interface identifiers) includes the network prefix in the hash: connecting to a new network will then result in a new interface identifier.

    Well before RFC 7217 [], however, RFC 4941 [] introduced a set of privacy extensions to SLAAC: optional mechanisms for the generation of alternative interface identifiers, based as with RFC 7217 on pseudorandom generation using the original LAN-address-based interface identifier as a “seed” value.

    RFC 4941 goes further, however, in that it supports regular changes to the interface identifier, to increase the difficulty of tracking a host over time even if it does not change its network prefix. One first selects a 128-bit secure-hash function F(), eg MD5 (22.6 Secure Hashes). New temporary interface IDs (IIDs) can then be calculated as follows

    \[(IID_{new},seed_{new}) = F(seed_{old}, IID_{old})\]

    where the left-hand pair represents the two 64-bit halves of the 128-bit return value of F() and the arguments to F() are concatenated together. (The seventh bit of IIDnew must also be set to 0; cf 8.2.1 Interface identifiers where this bit is set to 1.) This process is privacy-safe even if the initial IID is based on EUI-64.

    The probability of two hosts accidentally choosing the same interface identifier in this manner is vanishingly small; the Neighbor Solicitation mechanism with DAD must, however, still be used to verify that the address is in fact unique within the host’s LAN.

    The privacy addresses above are to be used only for connections initiated by the client; to the extent that the host accepts incoming connections and so needs a “fixed” IPv6 address, the address based on the original EUI-64/RFC-7217 interface identifier should still be available. As a result, the RFC 7217 mechanism is still important for privacy even if the RFC 4941 mechanism is fully operational.

    RFC 4941 stated that privacy addresses were to be disabled by default, largely because of concerns about frequently changing IP addresses. These concerns have abated with experience and so privacy addresses are often now automatically enabled. Typical address lifetimes range from a few hours to 24 hours. Once an address has “expired” it generally remains available but deprecated for a few temporary-address cycles longer.

    DHCPv6 also provides an option for temporary address assignments, again to improve privacy, but one of the potential advantages of SLAAC is that this process is entirely under the control of the end system.

    Regularly (eg every few hours, or less) changing the host portion of an IPv6 address should make external tracking of a host more difficult, at least if tracking via web-browser cookies is also somehow prevented. However, for a residential “site” with only a handful of hosts, a considerable degree of tracking may be obtained simply by observing the common 64-bit prefix.

    For a general discussion of privacy issues related to IPv6 addressing, see RFC 7721 [].

  • 8.7.3 DHCPv6

    The job of a DHCPv6 server is to tell an inquiring host its network prefix(es) and also supply a 64-bit host-identifier, very similar to an IPv4 DHCPv4 server. Hosts begin the process by sending a DHCPv6 request to the All_DHCP_Relay_Agents_and_Servers multicast IPv6 address ff02::1:2 (versus the broadcast address for IPv4). As with DHCPv4, the job of a relay agent is to tag a DHCPv6 request with the correct current subnet, and then to forward it to the actual DCHPv6 server. This allows the DHCPv6 server to be on a different subnet from the requester. Note that the use of multicast does nothing to diminish the need for relay agents. In fact, the All_DHCP_Relay_Agents_and_Servers multicast address scope is limited to the current LAN; relay agents then forward to the actual DHCPv6 server using the site-scoped address All_DHCP_Servers.

    Hosts using SLAAC to obtain their address can still use a special Information-Request form of DHCPv6 to obtain their DNS server and any other “static” DHCPv6 information.

    Clients may ask for temporary addresses. These are identified as such in the “Identity Association” field of the DHCPv6 request. They are handled much like “permanent” address requests, except that the client may ask for a new temporary address only a short time later. When the client does so, a different temporary address will be returned; a repeated request for a permanent address, on the other hand, would usually return the same address as before.

    When the DHCPv6 server returns a temporary address, it may of course keep a log of this address. The absence of such a log is one reason SLAAC may provide a greater degree of privacy. SLAAC also places control of the cryptographic mechanisms for temporary-address creation in the hands of the end user.

    A DHCPv6 response contains a list (perhaps of length 1) of IPv6 addresses. Each separate address has an expiration date. The client must send a new request before the expiration of any address it is actually using.

    In DHCPv4, the host portion of addresses typically comes from “address pools” representing small ranges of integers such as 64-254; these values are generally allocated consecutively. A DHCPv6 server, on the other hand, should take advantage of the enormous range (264) of possible host portions by allocating values more sparsely, through the use of pseudorandomness. This is to make it very difficult for an outsider who knows one of a site’s host addresses to guess the addresses of other hosts, cf 8.2.1 Interface identifiers.

    The Internet Draft draft-ietf-dhc-stable-privacy-addresses [] proposes the following mechanism by which a DHCPv6 server may generate the interface-identifier bits for the addresses it hands out; F() is a secure-hash function and its arguments are concatenated together:

    \[F(prefix, client_DUID, IAID, DAD_counter, secret_key)\]

    The prefix, DAD_counter and secret_key arguments are as in SLAAC privacy. The client_DUID is the string by which the client identifies itself to the DHCPv6 server; it may be based on the Ethernet address though other options are possible. The IAID, or Identity Association identifier, is a client-provided name for this request; different names are used when requesting temporary versus permanent addresses.

    Some older DHCPv6 servers may still allocate interface identifiers in serial order; such obsolete servers might make the SLAAC approach more attractive.

  • This page titled 8.8: IPv6 Host Address Assignment is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Peter Lars Dordal.

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