DRILL
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DRILL

We thought we couldn’t live without the Internet and, in the end, what we couldn’t live without was the InterChain

“Remember the times of the Internet? That good old technology… And look at us now, what we can’t live without is the InterChain.”

Everyone talks about how blockchain technology is the new Internet, and how much it is going to change companies and people lives. However, for this to be actually true, some brand new ideas and approaches would need to be explored. Let me discuss a bit more this idea.

Right now, we have public blockchains, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, operating independently from each other. Ethereum’s ledger can’t share information with the Bitcoin ledger, and you can’t send a transaction from a Bitcoin address to an Smart contract in the Ethereum blockchain.

We also have private and permissioned blockchains, where a few actors can build their own ledgers, share information, invite new friends, run smart contracts and send transactions between each other without anyone else in the public Ethereums and Bitcoins of the world knowing about them. This setup enables the design of pretty new and innovative isolated systems, products and business models, but is this enough for us to assure that the blockchain will be the new Internet? Until these systems are not able to interact between each other, the answer to this question in my opinion is no.

Let’s go back in time for a moment, specifically to year 1969 at the University of Berkeley. Remember how a brand new protocol stack called TCP/IP allowed distant communications between computer devices? Initially, a dedicated network of four computer was built between 4 US Universities. Then little by little, the technology was becoming more mature, and new devices were joinng this network, and new private networks were being deployed. Later on, an architecture of devices was being built to allow small networks in different areas to be connected with each other, so that information could be shared with any device in any of these networks. And, ladies and gentlemen, this is how (pretty briefly and simplified) the Internet was born.

You may be already noticing where I am trying to get. Blockchain technology resembles now the 70s. We are at a point where permissioned and public ledgers are getting more and more mature, with new products being build successfuly over independent and isolated blockchain networks. However, we need to aim for an Inter-chain protocol in order to release blockchain’s full potential, and to, finally, be able to say that “the blockchain is the new Internet”. Imagine if we could connect all the blockchain-based payment protocols (Bitcoin, Stellar), computing protocols (Ethereum, NEM, NEO, iExec), identity protocols (Sovrin, uPort), storage protocols (IPFS, Storj), etc. together into a single interchain network.

And you may be wondering, this “interchain thing” is just an idea for now, right? We are years from it still. But not at all, there are already a few projects aiming a decentralized Internet, proposing their own way of achieving blockchain interoperability.

Polkadot

Polkadot is one of the key players in this new paradigm, and they describe themselves as an “heterogeneous multi-chain technology”. They want to build a completely decentralized web, and they are aiming exactly what we think blockchain needs to become the new Internet. Polkadot is built to connect private/consortium chains, public/permissionless networks, oracles and future technological developments yet to be created in the Web3 ecosystem. It enables an internet where independent blockchains can exchange information and trust-free transactions via the Polkadot relay chain, with the key tenets of scalability, governance and interoperability.

Polkadot’s main building blocks are: (i) a relay chain in charge of coordinating consensus and transaction delivery between chains; (ii) parachains, constituent blockchains which gather and process transactions; and (iii) bridges with their own consensus such as Ethereum. Polkadot is the closest proposal to the global interchain protocol required for the brand new Internet.

Extracted from Polkadot’s official site

AION Protocol

AION can be described as “a multi-tier sytsem designed to address unsolved questions of scalability, and interoperability in blockchain networks”. Their main aim is to fix current interoperability, scalbility and performance limitations of the blockhcain technology.

They propose to fix the interoperability problem through the use of a high-performance bridging mechanism for inter-chain communication. This will enable the communication between two independent chains (which could represent, for instance, two companies private chains) for the development of interchain dApps, sharing of data, and hybrid consensus. For scalability matters, they are building high-performance VM (FastVM) to allow fast excutions, and the storage of high amounts of data onchain. Aion solves the interoperability problem presented above. However, the solution seems to be heading to the construction of dedicated bridges for the communication of specific chains, and not to the use of a general protocol for the global interconnection of chains.

Extracted from AION’s white paper

Cosmos

Cosmos is a decentralized network of independent parallel blockchains, each powered by classical BFT consensus algorithms like Tendermint. This project also tackles blockchain’s interoperability and scalability.

It proposes an architecture with zones (sovereign private or public blockchains that can exchange value through hubs), hubs (a blockchain that enables Zones to work together), validators (responsible for committing new blocks and ensuring that consensus is reached), and atoms (which are a license for holders to stake and vote on the Cosmos Hub).

Cosmos requires interconnected blockchains to use classical BFT consensus. Despite the limitation that forcing the use of a BFT consensus could mean for Cosmos as a candidate for interchain protocol, the hierarchical architecture proposed in Cosmos seems to me like a great candidate for the interchain architecture we need.

Extracted for Cosmos’ official site

All these projects present good an innovative solutions in the quest of solving blockchain interoperability. We are in the early stages of this new inter-chain paradigm, and despite its many challenges, it may be the key to take the blockchain into a brand new level.

As Joel Monegro puts it really nicely in this blog post, we are shifting from “thin protocols and big apps, to fat protocols and thin apps”, where independent blockchains represent the big protocols and the core functionalities of our systems, and an interchain protocol is the glue that sticks everything together. In my next posts, I will go a little bit more in depth on this interchain paradigm after doing some research and performing some experiments of my own.

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