The truth is that in IPv6 there are two types of private addresses, link local and unique local addresses. Link local IPv6 addresses, as the name suggests, are valid only on a single link. For example, on a single wireless network. You'll recognize those addresses by their prefix, which is fe80::/10, and they are automatically configured by appending interface's unique ID. IPv4 also has link local address, though it is not so frequently used. Still, maybe you noticed it when your DHCP didn't work and suddenly you had address that starts with 169.254.0.0./16. This was a link local IPv4 address configured. The problem with link local addresses is that they can not be used in case you try to connect two or more networks. They are only valid on a single network, and packets having those addresses are not routable! So, we need something else.
Unique local addresses (ULA), defined in RFC4193, are closer to IPv4 private addresses. That RFC defines ULA format and how to generate them. Basically, those are addresses with the prefix FC00::/7. These addresses are treated as normal, global, addresses, but are only valid inside some restricted area and can not be used on the global Internet. This is the same as saying that 10.0.0.0/8 addresses can be used within some private networks, but are not allowed on a global Internet. You choose how this conglomerate of networks will be connected, what prefixes used, etc.
There is difference, though. Namely, it is expected that ULA will be unique in the world. You might ask why is that important, when those addresses are not allowed on the Internet anyway. But, that is important. Did it ever happened to you that you had to connect two private IPv4 networks (directly via router, via VPN, etc.), and coincidentally, both used, e.g. 192.168.1.0/24 prefix? Such situations are a pain to debug, and require renumbering or some nasty tricks to make them work. So, being unique is an important feature.
So, the mentioned RFC, actually specifies how to generate ULA with /48 prefix and a high probability of the prefix being unique. Let's first see the exact format of ULA:
| 7 bits |1| 40 bits | 16 bits | 64 bits |First 8 bits have a fixed value 0xFD. As you can see, prefix is 7 bit, but L bit must be set to 1 if the address is specified according to the RFC4193. So, first 8 bits are fixed to the value 0xFD. Note that L bit set to 0 isn't specified, it is something left for the future. Now, the main part is Global ID, whose length is 40 bits. That one must be generated in such a way to be unique with high probability. This is done in the following way:
| Prefix |L| Global ID | Subnet ID | Interface ID |
- Obtain current time in a 64-bit format as specified in the NTP specification.
- Obtain identifier of a system running this algorithm (EUI-64, MAC, serial number).
- Concatenate the previous two and hash the concatenated result using SHA-1.
- Take the low order 40 bits as a Global ID.
Occasionally you'll stumble upon so called site local addresses. Those addresses were defined starting with the initial IPv6 addressing architecture in RFC1884 and were also defined in subsequent revisions of addressing architecture (RFC2373, RFC3513) but were finally deprecated in RFC3879. Since they were defined for so long (8 years) you might stumble upon them in some legacy applications. They are recognizable by their prefix FEC0::/10. You shouldn't use them any more, but use ULA instead.