Network Working Group
Request for Comments: 1715
Category: Informational
C. Huitema
November 1994

The H Ratio for Address Assignment Efficiency

Status of this Memo

This memo provides information for the Internet community. This memo does not specify an Internet standard of any kind. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


This document was submitted to the IETF IPng area in response to RFC 1550. Publication of this document does not imply acceptance by the IPng area of any ideas expressed within. Comments should be submitted to the author and/or the mailing list.

Table of Contents

   1.   Efficiency of address assignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
   2.   Estimating reasonable values for the ratio H . . . . . . . . 2
   3.   Evaluating proposed address plans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   4.   Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   5.   Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

1. Efficiency of address assignment

A substantial part of the "IPng" debate was devoted to the choice of an address size. A recurring concept was that of "assignment efficiency", which most people involved in the discussion expressed as a the ratio of the effective number of systems in the network over the theoretical maximum. For example, the 32 bits IP addressing plan could in theory number over 7 billions of systems; as of today, we have about 3.5 millions of addresses reported in the DNS, which would translate in an efficiency of 0.05%.

But this classic evaluation is misleading, as it does not take into account the number of hierarchical elements. IP addresses, for example, have at least three degrees of hierarchy: network, subnet and host. In order to remove these dependencies, I propose to use a logarithmic scale for the efficiency ratio:

                             log (number of objects)
                         H = -----------------------
                                  available bits

The ratio H is not too dependent of the number of hierarchical levels. Suppose for example that we have the choice between two levels, encoded on 8 bits each, and one single level, encoded in 16 bits. We will obtain the same efficiency if we allocate in average 100 elements at each 8 bits level, or simply 10000 elements in the single 16 bits level.

Note that I use base 10 logs in what follows, because they are easier to compute mentally. When it comes to large numbers, people tend to use "powers of 10", as in "IPng should be capable of numbering 1 E+15 systems". It follows from this choice of units that H varies between 0 and a theoretical maximum of 0.30103 (log base 10 of 2).

2. Estimating reasonable values for the ratio H:

Indeed, we don't expect to achieve a ratio of 0.3 in practice, and the interesting question is to assert the values which can be reasonably expected. We can try to evaluate them from existing numbering plans. What is especially interesting is to consider the moment where the plans broke, i.e. when people were forced to add digits to phone number, or to add bits to computer addresses. I have a number of such figures handy, e.g.:

  • Adding one digit to all French telephone numbers, moving from 8 digits to 9, when the number of phones reached a threshold of 1.0 E+7. The log value is 7, the number of bits was about 27 (1 decimal digit is about 3.3 bits). The ratio is thus 0.26
  • Expending the number of areas in the US telephone system, making it effectively 10 digits long, for about 1.0 E+8 subscribers. The log value is 8, the number of bits is 33, the ratio is about 0.24
  • Expending the size of the Internet addresses, from 32 bits to something else. There are currently about 3 million hosts on the net, for 32 bits. The log of 3.E6 is about 6.5; this gives a ratio of 0.20. Indeed, we believe that 32 bits will still be enough for some years, e.g. to multiply the number of hosts by 10, in which case the ratio would climb to 0.23
  • Expending the size of the SITA 7 characters address. According to their documentation, they have about 64000 addressed points in their network, scattered in 1200 cities, 180 countries. An upper case character provides about 5 bits of addressing, which results in an efficiency of 0.14. This is an extreme case, as SITA uses fixed length tokens in its hierarchy.
   * The globally-connected physics/space science DECnet (Phase IV)
     stopped growing at about 15K nodes (i.e. new nodes were hidden)
     which in a 16 bit space gives a ratio of 0.26
  • There are about 200 million IEEE 802 nodes in a 46 bit space, which gives a ratio of 0.18. That number space, however, is not saturated.

From these examples, we can assert that the efficiency ratio usually lies between 0.14 and 0.26.

3. Evaluating proposed address plans

Using a reverse computation, we get the following population counts in the network:

                    Pessimistic (0.14)     Optimistic (0.26)
      32 bits             3 E+4 (!)           2 E+8
      64 bits             9 E+8               4 E+16
      80 bits           1.6 E+11            2.6 E+27
     128 bits             8 E+17              2 E+33

I guess that the figure explains well why some feel that 64 bits is "not enough" while other feel it is "sufficient by a large margin": depending of the assignment efficiency, we are either well below the target or well above. But there is no question, in my view, that 128 bits is "more than enough". Even if we presume the lowest efficiency, we are still way above the hyperbolic estimate of 1.E+15 Internet hosts.

It is also interesting to note that if we devote 80 bits to the "network" and use 48 bits for "server less autoconfiguration", we can number more that E.11 networks in the pessimistic case - it would only take an efficiency of 0.15 to reach the E+12 networks hyperbole.

I guess this explains well why I feel that 128 bits is entirely safe for the next 30 year. The level of constraints that we will have to incorporate in the address assignment appears very much in line with what we know how to do, today.

4. Security Considerations

Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

5. Author's Address

Christian Huitema
INRIA, Sophia-Antipolis
2004 Route des Lucioles
BP 109
F-06561 Valbonne Cedex

   Phone: +33 93 65 77 15
   EMail: Christian.Huitema@MIRSA.INRIA.FR