IP addressing in China (2004)

This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of Apster, APNIC’s quarterly newsletter, in December 2004.


IP addressing in China

Managing the distribution of Internet resources, such as IP addresses and AS numbers, is a central responsibility of APNIC and the other RIRs around the world. However, for many in the Internet community, IP addressing and address policy are subjects which remain clouded by common misunderstandings.

Some of the most prevalent of these misunderstandings concern IP addressing in the Asia Pacific region, or in specific parts of the region, such as China. Press sources around the world have claimed on occasion that IPv4 address space will run out imminently, or that addresses are in short supply in the Asia Pacific. The rapid development of the Internet in China is often highlighted, but sometimes with reports that Chinese organisations are unable to obtain the address space that they need.

Wherever APNIC has encountered these rumours, we have tried to correct them. In this article, we discuss some of the specific misconceptions that appear in relation to IP addressing in China.

How much IPv4 space is left?

It has often been reported that the Internet will run out of IPv4 address space within the next few years. Indeed, experts including APNIC’s Internet Research Scientist Geoff Huston now project that at today’s consumption rates IPv4 should last another 5 to 10 years. This projection is certainly not a prediction, and IPv4 address space consumption is accelerating. However, being based on data representing over 8 years’ IPv4 address consumption (including the period of the dot-com boom), it is an important result.

Comparison of Chinese IP address holdings with MIT, Stanford etc.

During the early days of the Internet, IP address space was subdivided into 3 “classes”, and address blocks were available in corresponding sizes: class C, providing 256 addresses (/24 in today’s terms); class B, providing 65,000 addresses (/16); and class A, providing 16 million addresses (/8). During this period address conservation was not seen as a priority and throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s many large organisations were assigned /8 address blocks. These organisations, mostly in the United States, included large universities such as MIT and Stanford, as well as corporations like IBM, Apple Computer and Boeing.

A common misconception is that Chinese organisations hold a combined total of less address space than one of these ‘legacy’ /8 holders. This has not been true since sometime in 2000 or 2001, at which time total IP address holdings in ‘CN’ exceeded a /8. Today,Greater China holds the equivalent of more than 6 of these blocks and is receiving additional allocations regularly.

Myth of address ‘shortage’ in China

Another prominent claim is that there is an IP address ‘shortage’ in the Asia Pacific region, or specifically China. Often this appears to be based on an observation of the static distribution of IP address space globally, which is indeed unfair due to the historical factors described above. However, a substantial supply of IPv4 addresses still remains, and is being allocated readily whenever it is required, by APNIC and other RIRs.

Throughout the Asia Pacific region, APNIC allocates address space in response to allocation requests, and very few requests for address space are turned down. Mainland China has received IPv4 addresses at a faster rate than any other economy in the world. From an administrative perspective, China is receiving as many IP addresses as are requested, and allocations are made with few delays. While some allocations in China are made independently by CNNIC – the National Internet Registry (NIR) – APNIC works closely with CNNIC to ensure that supply of addresses is always maintained as needed.

The allocation of address space to RIRs from the IANA, and to ISPs from the RIRs (sometimes via National Internet Registries, or NIRs, in the APNIC region) is a continual process, and all allocations are made according to demonstrated need under a consistent set of policies. There is no preallocation of addresses to any economy or region in the world, meaning that a ‘shortage’ in any one country or economy simply cannot happen, except (and in theory only) as a result of specific national circumstances, of a type which do not exist in China.

IP addresses in China today

Recent presentations and publications by APNIC have demonstrated the strong growth in address space being allocated to China. These support the common knowledge of massive growth of the Internet which is sure to continue for many years to come.

The Director General’s report at the APNIC 18 Open Policy Meeting demonstrated this growth over the past several years. This presentation is available on the APNIC website at:

It is important to note that while the percentage of APNIC members in China is relatively small, this is because many Chinese organisations receive their address space through CNNIC. As seen in the chart below, China is currently the fastest growing destination for IPv4 address space allocated by APNIC; this in a year in which APNIC has allocated more address space than any of the other RIRs.

IPv4 Distirbution diagram

The global system for IP address distribution is constantly evolving, in response to requirements and proposals which arise through the APNIC Open Policy process. APNIC and the other RIRs have ensured that this occurs in an open, transparent, and bottom-up system, meaning that no single economy or region is advantaged or disadvantaged. All parties have their chance to participate in the policy-making processes and to promote their own interests, and in a world of finite resources, this has proven itself an outstandingly successful solution.

Paul Wilson
Chris Buckridge