Keeping 2018 SAFE and SOLID

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

You may have noticed a recurring theme across the SAFE ecosystem and beyond this year. The conversation around the ownership of data is picking up pace. Perhaps you were at (or watched) SAFE DevCon 2018. Or perhaps you’ve stumbled across a podcast discussing words such as RDF and Socially Linked Data.

The word ‘Solid’ is appearing more frequently in conversations — but why? And what does it mean for the SAFE Network?

SAFE of course is about three things:-

  • Security: no-one can access your data without your permission.
  • Privacy: data is only shared with those you choose (if and when you want to share it)
  • Freedom: of association, contribution, collaboration (amongst many other rights).

SOLID (short for ‘Social Linked Data’), on the other hand, is a project that was started by Sir Tim Berners-Lee that defines a set of standards for the representation of data which ensures that ownership remains with you as an individual.

As you can see, when it comes to the vision, there are more than a few similarities between the 5-year old Solid and 12-year old SAFE projects.

Over the Summer the team were out in San Francisco at the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 and gave an overview of the work that had been carried out to date in combining the principles of SAFE with the conventions of Solid before such internet luminaries as Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Brewster Kahle. And it’s now worth taking stock of the progress that we’ve made to date.

SOLID is driven by the desire to ensure that everyone gets back control of their own personal data from centralised platforms. So a SOLID web application simply becomes a way of displaying data from many different sources that you choose — without you losing ownership of your data. In other words, SOLID wants you to choose exactly where to store the data that you produce and then use URL’s (Uniform Resource Locators) to access that data moving forwards in a way that gives you control.

The concept is brilliant. But this brave new world envisaged by the Solid community doesn’t yet tackle one of the crucial problems out there — how to secure the data itself (regardless of where you have chosen to store it).

And that is exactly where SAFE comes in.

Because by using the SAFE Network to store your data, it now lives on a server-less, trustless autonomous network. No trust is necessary as the encryption key for a user’s data never leaves the user’s computer and no identifiable information is shared with any other peers. So by building these types of concepts into SAFE, developing applications becomes much easier — because all concepts of authentication, authorisation and data security are already taken care of by the Network itself.

In other words, it’s a future that delivers on the goals of both projects. But how will it work?

We started by focusing on two key objectives: data on SAFE had to be portable (so users could switch applications at will) and for that data to be self-descriptive (to enable users to define how their data could be searchable on the Network in ways that would bring them the greatest benefit).

For this reason, we adopted the RDF (Resource Description Framework) standard used by Solid. Having a standard way to store data on SAFE is crucial for scaling the project. And it also enabled us to build some utilities that would help developers in the future.

For example, WebID’s were introduced. These are simply a way of having an identity on the Network that you can share with other people using a URL. The data that is produced is stored on SAFE in the RDF format. You can see this in the WebID Profile Manager that we built (where you create your own profile with a human-readable URL) and also in the WebID Switcher (which enables users to choose any of his or her WebID’s to access any particular application on the Network). And if you want to try that out today you can — just take a look at Patter, our proof-of-concept Twitter-style clone.

What’s more, by publishing WebID’s on the SAFE Network, it solves the well-known problem faced by anyone who’s ever suffered as a result of malicious actors exploiting the current weaknesses of the current DNS system. For example, all it takes today is for an ISP or DNS server to be attacked for you to be redirected to a malicious server. What’s more, no-one has full ownership of their domain name on the Clearnet — you simply have a registered right to use it which can be removed at any instant. Relying on SAFE removes this vulnerability.

So how is this relevant today?

This week we released an update to the SAFE Browser. Get involved and download the new (v.0.11) release today. It contains plenty of functionality to ensure that the symbiosis between the two projects gets closer. There will be far more to come but at this stage, we’re just glad to see more people are getting excited by the thought of improving the future that we all want to live in.

If you are new to the SAFE project, you’ll be able to get an invite to take part by signing up and spending around an hour reading the Forum []. And if you feel that this is a world that you want to be part of, please come join us. Take control of your data — and secure it with the SAFE Network.