IPv6 Christmas Display Uses 75 Internet’s Worth of Addresses

By Ted Yapo

We’ve seen internet-enabled holiday displays before, and we know IPv6 offers much more space than the older IPv4 addressing scheme that most of us still use today, but the two have never been more spectacularly demonstrated than at jinglepings.com. The live video stream shows an Internet-connected Christmas tree and an LED display wall that you can control by sending IPv6 ICMP echo request messages, more commonly known as pings.

Reading the page, you quickly parse the fact that there are three ways to control the tree. First, you can type a message in the box and press send – this message gets displayed on the crawl at the bottom of the LED screen.  Second, you can light up the tree by sending a ping to the IPv6 address 2001:4c08:2028:2019::RR:GG:BB, where RR, GG, and BB are 8-bit hex values for red, green, and blue. This is a neat abuse of the IPv6 address space, in that the tree has 224 (around 16.8 million) IPv6 addresses, one for each color you can set. We were impressed by this brute-force use of address space, at least until we read on a little further.

You can also make your own drawings on the LED wall, again by sending pings. In this case, the address to set a pixel to a particular color is: 2001:4c08:2028:X:Y:RR:GG:BB, where X and Y are the pixel coordinates. This seems easy enough: to set pixel (10, 11) to magenta, the RGB value (0xFF, 0x00, 0xFF), you’d simply ping the IPv6 address 2001:4c08:2028:10:11:FF:00:FF. Having  an array of addressable LEDs is commonplace in hacker circles today, although each of them having their own live IPv6 address on the Internet seems a little excessive at first. Then it hits you – each LED has an IPv6 address for every possible color, just like the tree: 16.8 million addresses for each LED. The LED display is 160×120 pixels in size, so the total number of IPv6 addresses used is 160x120x224, which is 75 times larger than all possible IPv4 addresses!  This is a hack of monstrous proportions, and we love it.

In case you’re not running IPv6 yet, we’ve got you covered. To send individual pings using your browser, you can use a site like Ipv6now. If you want to send pixels to the display wall, you’re better off using a 6in4 tunnel that lets you access IPv6 sites using your current IPv4 connectivity.  Hurricane Electric offers a free 6in4 tunnel service that we’ve found useful. Then it’s just a matter of writing some code to send pixel values as pings.  The python scapy module is perfect for this sort of thing. But, first you’ll have to fill out the form on jinglepings.com and wait to get your IPv6 address whitelisted before you can draw on the display; evidently the usual bad actors have found the site and started drawing inappropriate things.

If you think this use of addresses seems wasteful, you needn’t worry. There are around 3.4×1038 IPv6 addresses, enough for 1027 such displays. We’re going to go out on a limb here and say it: nobody will ever need more than 2128 IP addresses.

If you’re looking to build an LED holiday display on a smaller budget, check out this one that re-purposes normal LED strings.

Thanks to [Ward] for the tip!