Understanding Blockchain Interoperability for Noobs: A Non Technical Primer.

Emmanuel Odianosen
Apr 12, 2019 · 3 min read
Polkadot

Disclaimer: This post is intended for beginners in the Blockchain space. I wrote this because I understand the challenges I faced when I was getting into the Blockchain space and wished I had some sort of primer to break down concepts for me using very non technical style of writing.

Okay. To be certain that you will understand the concept of interoperability, I have to first and foremost be certain that you understand what Blockchains are. Just to serve as a refresher; According to Wikipedia: “A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved record cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.”

A Blockchain is a piece of technology. It is easier to think of it this way cause the explanation of smart contracts, consensus and ledgers all become easy to understand. Even at that it is crucial to realize the following:

1. Blockchain technologies run on the web.

2. There are different Blockchain Technologies

3. Each Blockchain technology has it’s own operational protocols.

Having established the following above, it is also pertinent to address a misconception often associated with Blockchain Technology thus: “Bitcoin is not a Blockchain, instead it is cryptocurrency which is running on Blockchain technology”. This further emphasis the earlier explanation that there are different Blockchain technologies. This is a thing of beauty, such that these independent Blockchain technology platforms with their varying ways of ensuring trust are a further testament to the need and the associated move to Web 3. In itself each Blockchain smart contract cannot interact with smart contract and tokens from another Blockchain, this is a problem of itself. The way to solve this is the solution of interoperability. What then is interoperability?

Enter Web 3 Foundation!

According to her website: “The Web3 Foundation nurtures and stewards technologies and applications in the fields of decentralized web software protocols, particularly those which utilize modern cryptographic methods to safeguard decentralization, to the benefit and for the stability of the Web3 ecosystem.”

In line with the above, Web 3 foundation has as one of her products: Polkadot.

Simply put: “Polkadot is a protocol that allows independent Blockchains to exchange information”.

At the most basic form, the explanation above is the simplest explanation of interoperability!

As you might have rightly noticed, “Interoperability” is a compound word made up of two words: Inter meaning between and operability whose root word is operations.

Surmising both words to one definition: “The operations between two or more (in this case) Blockchain technologies”.

Prior to this time, it was somewhat impossible to get different Blockchain Technologies to speak (interact) among themselves. This is due mainly to the technological implementation of each Blockchain technology and how they were able to achieve consensus. Such that, it was impossible for a smart contract running on Ethereum to communicate with another running on r3. Given how much value can be accrued from the ability of different consensus mechanisms to communicate, the Polkadot team set off to build the Polkadot network which is running on a Blockchain technology of it’s own known as substrate.

This new piece of technology when it gets to it’s full peak will be reminiscent of the days when the internet brought together all various independent database intranets across the globe in the early Nineties. The world of Blockchain technology at this time is still at the stage of the 1970s to the early 1990s of the internet where only Universities, Financial institutions, Governments and Security Agencies used it as a tool for high level communications between themselves.

Once, Polkadot makes it possible for varying Blockchain (smart contracts) to become interoperable (speak to each), this then invariably means that a Business logic in Ethereum will then be able to communicate to another on r3 to carry out a financial transactions. This will then mean that public, private and consortium chains can then communicate with each other.

Smart contracts in Health can interact with smart contracts in Business and vice versa. Plus smart contracts in Business can interact with smart contracts in Energy.

A whole new word for you and for me!

Emmanuel Odianosen

Written by

JS | Solidity | DevC Community Co-Lead @DevCommsLagos

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