Interesting Protocols Advancing Distributed Systems

Benjamin Hall
Apr 15, 2018 · 7 min read

“Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” — Douglas Adams

The world of distributed ledgers is immense, some of it works, some only exists in theory with no prior medium to allow the creativity, the math, the mind to be executed in real world application. In my personal opinion, we have reached a tipping point where it is more than just blocks sequentially linked, that is so 2008. We have every type of distributed ledger at our fingertips, all promising the world. Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs), Hashgraph — gossiping it’s way around, even multi dimensional blockchains promising parallelization and cross chain instant communications.

If we all take a few steps back, abstract the intended value of, we realise at the end of chain so to speak, they all represent a system of state transfer — asset, value, whatever the mind can come up with. Some fast, some more secure, other’s designed for private enterprise.

Edward Teller once said “the science of today is the technology of tomorrow”. The chains, the blocks, the sequential linking — look we get it, it’s not exciting anymore. So what is you ask? Well here’s some concepts, not all exactly hot off the press, but nonetheless I have found interesting and I hope you do also. They are the science of today, the theories now given a medium to explore. These are advancements in protocol, in algorithmic governance, in size which individually, or collectively will spark further debates — ones that excite technologists again. Whether it be for or against, they could be the technology of tomorrow.

BULLETPROOFS

Photo by Spenser H on Unsplash

Bitcoin famously is known for its pseudonymous nature, it has anonymity — unlinkability of real world people to Bitcoin addresses. However lacks the other portion of privacy transactions — confidentiality, as it exposes the amount in transactions. Privacy, data, is always a hot topic from Facebook leaks to Edward Snowden. People want it, not because they are criminals, because they believe in their right to live a free life, away from surveillance. A perfect world that is near impossible to live in this digital age.

Bulletproofs are just that, a privacy technology proposed by six highly intelligent guys from Stanford, University College London and Blockstream. They offer a computationally small, confidential transaction that is able to be employed by existing chains — fairly easily (arguably). It does not offer anonymity such as BTC, as it’s use case is different. However has a number of valuable benefits.

Unlike ZK-SNARKS which is another zero knowledge argument of knowledge system, BULLETPROOFs are lightweight, and do not require a trusted system. These are known as “Short non-interactive zero knowledge proofs”, these have valuable benefits in any distributed system where they are transmitted or stored, as they reduce overall cost (Bulletproof WP, pg2) such as transaction fees with suggestions from Monero it could save as much as 80%. The white paper states that at the time of writing, the Bitcoin blockchain had 160 GB of range proof data, which if Bulletproofs were used would be only 17 GB, near 10x times reduction. Impressive.

The technology is nascent, and not proven in a large scale system, though it has yielded strong support from the crypto community. If you are keen to check it out, and are a mathematically genius, click here.

MIMBLEWIMBLE

Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

The year was 2016, a pseudonymous author “Tom Elvis Jedusor” (Voldemort’s real name in the French edition of the Harry Potter novels). Logged onto a BitcoinTalk forum, dropped a whitepaper, and disappeared. Maybe it was Satoshi, leaving another gift to the cryptocurrency world, in it, a radical new proposal to slim down the Bitcoin protocol. One which took privacy and scalability head on.

The proposal built on existing protocols like “coin joins” which allows a user to bundle their transactions into one big one, scrambling all inputs and outputs — for privacy of course. Using what is known as the Pedersen Commitment Scheme the creator “Tom” reversed the application of such scheme to how Bitcoin currently uses it, and used it to generate dummy signatures while still being able to prove all transactions are valid. A massive leap forward in privacy and fungibility.

In doing so, it also implemented the ability to effectively minimise blockchain bloat and size through only keeping record of the UTXO and the creation block — that’s it. Not a long list of transactions through its life cycle stored on chain. Therefore a record of the current output is the only important factor, if one can prove this is correct — HAPPY DAYS.

In adding to Bulletproofs above a direct quote from the white paper references mimblewimble and makes for an interesting intersection between the two technologies;

“A Mimblewimble blockchain grows with the size of the UTXO set. Using Bulletproofs, it would only grow with the number of transactions that have unspent outputs, which is much smaller than the size of the UTXO set. Overall, Bulletproofs can not only act as a drop-in replacement for the range proofs in confidential transactions, but it can also help make Mimblewimble a practical scheme with a blockchain that is significantly smaller than the current Bitcoin blockchain.”

Of course there is more to it than this, this is just to introduce you to concepts I find interesting. So check it out here.

SAFEBOX

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Arguments have raged for years around scalability, solutions and how we should go about it. Bitcoin Cash took the easy route, up the block size, hardly innovative and slowly leading the copycat currency to further centralisation on their roadmap to 1GB blocks. A terrible solution, when Moore’s law applies to transistors not storage. still a lifeless concept.

Safebox is the invention of Albert Molina, creator of PASCAL Coin. Instead of requiring an individual to download the full blockchain, 160GB+ if you want the Bitcoin one currently. Safebox only requires an individual to download the last 100 blocks. This is achieved by storing the balance, rather than a ledger of events like Bitcoin does, which is also where SAFEBOX and Mimblewimble cross paths.

It is this architecture, which means theoretically block sizes are dynamic in that if you compare it to what Bitcoin node operators currently store, SAFEBOX could in turn have 5.4GB blocks with a throughput of 72,000TPS (according to their whitepaper). This is all relative to the comparison, and not what currently happens, but it shows a strong use case for safe boxes scalability. As currently it in production is achieving over 100 TPS.

Overall, a deletable blockchain, keeping it lightweight and scalable. Check it out here

QUANTUM MECHANICS — RANDOM NUMBER GENERATION

“Lines of code on a computer screen” by Lewis Ngugi on Unsplash

Randomness is something humans are particularly horrible at, such as selecting what food to eat, or even creating new passwords. When it comes to the world of blockchains and cryptocurrencies, some may even choose to generate their own brain wallet. Based on the above, not exactly the best idea as a malicious actor may use a dictionary attack to steal your hidden bitcoins.

Though throughout distributed systems, which utilize consensus algorithms such as Proof-of-work (POW), Proof-of-stake (POS) to Byzantine Fault Tolerance (PBFT/IBFT) comes an innate need for RANDOMNESS. In that of random number generation.

In such distributed systems it is used to ensure something is not inferred, that one could not simply guess what was next, whether that be selection of a node to run the consensus protocol in POS or creating mnemonics (seed phrases).

A key challenge of such is it is extremely hard to ensure the outputs of generation are actually unpredictable. There has been recent advancements using a loophole-free Bell test which undeniably based on any known physical theory that prohibits faster than light (superluminal signalling). Though, a long way off, time consuming to generate and hard to implement, the tests carried out in this will certainly pave the way towards how quantum mechanics could be used to mitigate the raw power of quantum computers in securing the distributed systems of tomorrow.

This recent research article can be found here (abstract only available).

CONSENSUS ALGORITHMS

These are in a lot of ways, not new nor novel. The Byzantine Generals Problem was coined by Leslie Lamport in 1982. In the years since, we have seen a number of iterations including;

Then the list of weird and wonderful rolls on;

8. Proof of Storage (PoS)

9. Proof of Authority (PoA)

I can’t keep up I really can’t, from saving the network from Sybil attacks, to overall 51% corruption. These consensus algorithms are being created for a wide variety of purposes…but I can safely say that PoW is the only long standing algorithm used in distributed ledgers to last the test of time.

THE END

A little list of stuff that keeps me pondering the interesting work of distributed systems. Hope you got something to research out of it!

Benjamin Hall.

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Coinmonks

Coinmonks is a non-profit Crypto educational publication. Follow us on Twitter @coinmonks Our other project — https://coincodecap.com

Benjamin Hall

Written by

HAVOK Advisory & Education. Blockchain and Distributed Systems. Fervent IT Systems Analyst. Views are my own.

Coinmonks

Coinmonks

Coinmonks is a non-profit Crypto educational publication. Follow us on Twitter @coinmonks Our other project — https://coincodecap.com

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