Unique Referencing and Identification in the Token Universe: Cross-Chain, Worldwide, and Fork-Resilient

The token economy has gained significant momentum. As of today, an ecosystem of more than 5,100 publicly traded crypto tokens and over 245,000 Ethereum token contracts has emerged. However, due to the lack of holistic market standards, this wave of new tokens may confront market participants with ambiguity and uncertainty, exposing retail investors to avoidable risks and deterring institutional funds. Acknowledging the market‘s need for more standardization in order to grow and mature, ITSA has developed the International Token Identification Number (ITIN) as a unique identifier, which covers all DLT-based cryptographic tokens, regardless of their status as security, their fungibility or tradability. But any identifier needs a strong foundation that copes with the particularities of the ecosystem it is intended for. To build a strong and sustainable foundation for the ITIN and to consider the characteristics peculiar to the decentralized world, ITSA is introducing the Uniform Token Locator (UTL). The UTL is a novel identification and referencing standard capable of uniquely identifying all types of tokens across different ledgers and is resilient to chain splits. Just like information on the WWW is identified by a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), tokens are identified and located through the UTL. ITSA maintains a register on how to map UTLs to ITINs. Other organizations can also use the UTL and map it to their shortened identifier. — Authors: Philipp Sandner, Johannes Pfeffer, Constantin Ketz, Nils Bundi, Thomas Faber

Introduction

Now that cryptographic tokens are no longer a new phenomenon, the speed at which new tokens are being issued has increased significantly. With only a few lines of code needed, it has become quite convenient and affordable to deploy a new token with a smart contract. To this date, and only ten years after Bitcoin ushered in the era of tokens, an ecosystem of more than 5,100 publicly traded crypto tokens and over 245,000 Ethereum token contracts has emerged.

Short video on Youtube: “The Uniform Token Locator (UTL) — A Concept to Identify Tokens Uniquely, Cross-Chain, Worldwide, and Fork-Resilient”
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Figure 1: There will be significantly more DL based tokens than assets in the traditional world.

A new identification and reference standard for the decentralized economy

Acknowledging the market‘s need for more standardization in order to grow and mature, the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) pursues the goal of developing and implementing holistic market standards for the identification (1), classification (2), and in consequence analysis (3) of all distributed ledger (DL) based cryptographic tokens. In the forthcoming of this article we focus on (1) and outline the motivation for and concept underpinning of the International Token Identification Number (ITIN).

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Figure 2: Tokens are defined by software on different DL-Protocols and digitally represent a specific asset, i.e. some form of economic value. While traditional identifiers, such as ISIN, FIGI or currency codes, focus on assigning unique codes (or names) directly to assets, the ITIN aims at unambiguously locating tokens across DLs in a fork-resilient manner.
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Figure 3: Example of a token purchase agreement referring an ambiguous Ethereum address
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Figure 4: Example how a token can be addressed in a paper-based contract via a QR code

Structure and origin of the UTL

The UTL conceptually builds upon the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), used to locate resources, e.g. a website, in the world wide web (WWW). We propose a novel method for using purposefully crafted URLs to identify and locate tokens on DLs. Any static website in the WWW can be uniquely accessed by a URL even if the content itself is moved from one server to another, using the Domain Name Service (DNS). In the same way, tokens can be uniquely accessed through the UTL. Just like the URL consists of different components such as (1) Protocol, (2) Subdomain, (3) Domain, (4) Top-Level-Domain, (5) Directory and (6) File Name, the UTL includes the following parts:

  1. Post-fork hash (PFH) — The hash of the first finalized block complying to the protocol rules of the newest blockchain fork. This hash is generally unique.
  2. Recent hash (RH) — The newest known hash of the chain.
  3. Optional: Smart contract address — Required for non-native tokens.
  4. Optional: Token sub-address — Required for multi-token contracts.
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Figure 5: Building upon the URL — ITSA’s concept of a Uniform Token Locator (UTL)
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Figure 6: A real-life example for the UTL and the ITIN

Assumptions and Limitations

In developing v1 of the UTL we have made a number of assumptions. These assumptions help break down the complexity of creating a generalized approach to the identification and location of tokens across DLs and are resilient against forks but, at the same time, introduce limitations of the system.

Conclusion and Outlook

We have introduced a novel framework for the unique identification and localization of tokens. It is the first of its kind to sustainably embrace the characteristics of the fast-growing token economy and its decentralized nature. When transferring or buying a token, you have to make sure it’s the correct one on the correct chain rather than a copy on an obscure fork. Hence, it is insufficient to base the identification on e.g. the token contract address only. The token also has to be located across ledgers.

References

[1] http://bitcoinstats.com/network/dns-servers/

Remarks

If you like this article, we would be happy if you forward it to your colleagues or share it on social networks. More information about the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) e.V. can be found on the Internet, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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The International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) is a not for profit organization working on holistic market standards for the global token economy.

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