When chains and blocks serve no useful purpose
About 18 months have passed since the finance sector woke up, en masse, to the possibilities of permissioned blockchains, or to use the more general term, “distributed ledgers”. The period since has seen a tsunami of activity, including research reports, strategic investments, pilot projects, and the formation of many consortia. No one can accuse the banking world of not taking the potential of this technology seriously.
Naturally, the explosive growth in blockchain projects has driven the development of permissioned blockchain platforms, on which those projects are built. For example, our product MultiChain has tripled in usage over the past year, whether we measure web traffic, monthly downloads or commercial inquiries. And of course, there are many other platforms, such as BigChainDB, Chain, Corda, Credits, Elements, Eris, Fabric, Ethereum (deployed in a closed network), HydraChain and Openchain. Not to mention still more startups who have developed some kind of blockchain platform but have not made it publicly available.
For companies wishing to explore and understand a new technology, an abundance of choice is generally a good thing. However, in the case of blockchains, which still remain loosely defined and poorly understood, this cornucopia comes with a significant downside: many of the available “blockchain” platforms don’t actually address the core problem they are meant to solve. And what is that problem? Allow me to quote the succinct video definition by Richard Gendal Brown, CTO of R3, in full:
A distributed ledger is a system that allows parties who don’t fully trust each other to come to consensus about the existence, nature and evolution of a set of shared facts without having to rely on a fully trusted centralized third party.
To take an extreme example, consider a bunch of Lego bricks tied together with string. If we use the term “block chain” to describe this fashion item, who’s to say that we’re not describing it accurately? And yet, that particular chain of blocks will not help multiple parties to safely and directly share a database without a central intermediary. Similarly, many “blockchain” platforms do something related to chains of blocks, but also lack the necessary properties to serve as the basis for a peer-to-peer database.
Another chain of blocks that does not help with database sharing – source.
Minimum viable blockchain
In order to understand the basic requirements of a distributed ledger, it helps to clarify how these systems differ from regular databases, which are controlled by a single entity. For example, let’s consider a simple system for tracking who owns a particular company’s shares. The ledger, as implemented in a database, has one row for each owner containing two columns: the owner’s identifier, such as their name, and the corresponding quantity of shares.
Here are six crucial ways in which this system could fail its users:
- Forgery: Transferring shares from one person to another without the sender’s permission.
- Censorship: Refusing to fulfill someone’s request to transfer some shares elsewhere.
- Reversal: Undoing a transfer that took place at some point in the past.
- Illegitimacy: Changing the total quantity of shares in the system without a corresponding action by the issuer.
- Inconsistency: Giving different responses to inquiries from different users.
- Downtime: Not responding to incoming requests for information at all.
Because of all these possibilities, the shareholders must maintain a high level of trust in whoever is managing this ledger on their behalf. Building and running an organization worthy of that trust comes with substantial hassle and cost.
Blockchains or distributed ledgers remove the need for this kind of central database operator, by allowing the users of a database to interact directly with each other on a peer-to-peer basis. In our example, the stockholders could safely hold their shares on a blockchain which they collectively manage, and make transfers to each other instantly over that chain. (The disadvantage is a significant loss of confidentiality between the chain’s users, which we won’t address here but I’ve previously discussed at length.)
All this brings us back to the question of blockchain platforms. In order to serve as a viable basis for peer-to-peer database sharing, a blockchain has to protect its participants against all six types of database failure – forgery, censorship, reversal, illegitimate transactions, inconsistency and downtime. While many products in the market fulfill these requirements, quite a few of them come up short. I call these blockchains “half-baked” because they may address some of these risks, but not all. In some respects at least, the database’s users remain dependent on the good behavior of a single participant, which is precisely the scenario we want to avoid.
These half-baked blockchains come in any number of varieties, but three archetypes stand out as the most common or obvious. I’m not going to name individual products because, well, I don’t want to offend. The blockchain startup community is small enough that most of us know each other through conferences and other meetings, and the interactions tend to be positive. Nevertheless, if blockchains (in the sense of useful peer-to-peer databases) are ever going to emerge as a coherent product category, it’s important to distinguish between half-baked and real solutions.
The one validator blockchain
One pattern we’ve seen a few times is a blockchain in which only one participant can generate the blocks in which transactions are confirmed. Transactions are sent to this one node instead of being broadcast to the network as a whole, so their acceptance is subject to this party’s whims rather than some kind of majority consensus. Still, once a block has been built by this central party, it is broadcast to the other nodes in the network, who can independently confirm the validity of the transactions within, and record the new block locally and permanently.
To return to our six forms of database malfunction, this type of blockchain is far from useless. Transactions must be digitally signed by the entity whose funds they move, so they cannot be forged by the central party. They cannot be reversed because each node maintains its own copy of the chain. And transactions cannot perform illegal operations like creating assets out of thin air, because every node independently validates each transaction for correctness. Finally, each node maintains its own copy of the database, so its content is always available for reading.
Unfortunately, four out of six is not enough. The validating node can easily censor individual transactions, by refusing to include them in the blocks it creates. Even if the operators of this node are honest, a system or communications failure can render it unavailable, causing all transaction processing to come to a halt. In addition, depending on the setup, the validating node may be able to transmit different versions of the blockchain to different participants. In terms of censorship and consistency, the database still contains a single point of failure, on which all the other nodes rely.
One platform offers a twist on this scheme, in which blocks are centrally generated by a single node, but a quorum of other designated nodes signs them to indicate consensus. In terms of the risk of inconsistency, this certainly helps. The nodes in the quorum will only lend their signatures to a single version of the blockchain, which can therefore be considered as authoritative. Nonetheless, the quorum nodes cannot help if the block generator censors transactions, or loses its connection to the Internet. Ultimately, this type of blockchain still uses a hub-and-spoke architecture, rather than a peer-to-peer network.
The shared state blockchain
Technically speaking, there are many similarities between blockchains and more traditional distributed databases such as Cassandra and MongoDB. In both cases, transactions can be initiated by any node in the network, and must reach all the other nodes as part of a consensus about the database’s developing state. Both blockchains and distributed databases have to cope with latency (communication delays which stem from the distance between nodes) and the possibility of some nodes and/or communication links intermittently failing.
Distributed databases have been around for a while, so any blockchain platform developer would do well to understand their consensus algorithms and the strategies they use to globally order transactions and resolve conflicts. Nonetheless, it’s important not to take the comparison too far, because blockchains must contend with a crucial additional challenge – an absence of trust between the database’s nodes. Whereas distributed databases focus on providing scalability, robustness and high performance within a single organization’s boundaries, blockchains must be redesigned in order to safely traverse those boundaries.
To return to our six types of database risk, a node in a distributed database need only worry about downtime, i.e. the possibility of other nodes becoming unavailable. Nodes can safely assume that every transaction and message on the network is valid, and are not concerned with forgery, censorship, reversal, illegitimacy or inconsistency. Their worst problem is dealing with two simultaneous but valid transactions, initiated on different nodes, which affect the same piece of data. Solving these conflicts is by no means trivial, but it’s still a lot easier than worrying about “Byzantine faults“, in which some nodes deliberately act to disrupt the functioning of others.
A database can only be shared safely across trust boundaries if nodes treat all activity on the network with a certain degree of suspicion. For example, every transaction which modifies the database must be individually digitally signed since, in a peer-to-peer architecture, there is no other way to know its true point of origin. Similarly, every incoming message, such as the announcement of a new block, has to be critically assessed for its content and context. Unlike in distributed databases, nodes must not be able to immediately and directly modify another node’s state.
Some “blockchain” platforms have been developed by starting with a distributed database, and sprinkling some features on top to make them more blockchainy. For example, by grouping transactions into blocks and storing hashes (digital fingerprints) of those blocks in the database, they aim to add a form of immutability. But unless each node can be sure that its list of hashes cannot be modified by another node, this type of immutability is easily gamed. The standard response to these criticisms is that every security problem can be solved with sufficient time and coding. But this is rather like holding some prisoners in an open field, and trying to stop them escaping with tripwires and ditches. It’s far safer to use a purpose-built concrete structure, whose doors are locked and whose windows are barred.
The one cloud blockchain
By far the strangest phenomenon I’ve seen is blockchain platforms which can only be accessed through their developer’s cloud-based platform-as-a-service. To be clear, we’re not talking about some of a blockchain’s participants choosing to host their nodes on their cloud provider of choice, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. Rather, this is a blockchain which can only be accessed through APIs exposed by the servers of a company “hosting” it.
Let us grant, for argument’s sake, that a centralized blockchain provider genuinely has a group of nodes running under its control. What difference does this make to the users of the system who are sending API requests and receiving responses? The participants have no way of assessing if everyone’s transactions have been processed without omission or error. Perhaps the central service is malfunctioning, or perhaps it is censoring or reversing some transactions deliberately. And if you believe the blockchain provider has no reason to do this, why not use them to host a regular centralized database instead? You’ll get a more mature product with better performance, and suffer none of the risks of working with new technologies. In short, centralized blockchains are about as useful as Lego on a string.
Solving the mystery
We’ve now seen three types of platform which market themselves as “blockchains”, and indeed make some use of a chain of blocks, but which don’t solve the fundamental problem for which these systems are designed. To recap, this is to enable a single database to be safely and directly shared across trust boundaries, without a central intermediary.
Apart from pointing at this peculiar phenomenon, I believe it’s instructive to consider what might underlie it. Why are so many blockchain startups building products which don’t fulfill the promise of this technology, often achieving no more than traditional centralized or distributed databases? Why are so many talented people wasting so much of their time?
I can see two main classes of explanation – technical and commercial. To start with the technical, it is rather tricky to create distributed consensus systems which can tolerate one or more nodes behaving maliciously in unpredictable ways. In the case of MultiChain, we somewhat cheated, by using bitcoin’s battle-hardened reference implementation as a starting point, and then replacing proof of work by a structurally similar consensus algorithm called “mining diversity”. Teams developing a blockchain node from scratch have to think deeply about asynchronous and adversarial processes – a combination which few programmers have experience of. I can certainly understand the temptation to take a shortcut, such as using a single node to generate blocks, or piggybacking on an existing distributed database, or only running nodes in a trusted environment. Choosing any of these undoubtedly makes life easier for developers, even if this undermines the entire point.
As for commercial reasons, every startup seems to be approaching the blockchain opportunity from a different angle. Here at Coin Sciences, we’re focused on becoming a (database) software vendor, so we’re distributing MultiChain for free while developing a premium node with additional features. Other startups want to sell subscription services, so they will naturally build a platform which customers cannot host themselves. Some are hoping to centrally control a blockchain or help their partners to do so (an odd ambition for a disintermediation technology!) and are naturally drawn to consensus algorithms that rely on a single node. And finally, there are companies whose primary goal is to sell consulting services, in which case their platform need not function at all, so long as its website brings in some large customers.
Perhaps another issue is that some blockchain companies are being run by people who are undoubtedly bursting with talent, but lack a deep understanding of the technology itself. In startups carving out a new field, it’s probably vital for strategic decisions to be taken by people who understand the nature of that field and how it differs from what came before. Not a few blockchain startups appear to have painted themselves into a corner by pursuing a product vision which is attractive to their customers, but cannot actually be built.
As a user of blockchains, how can you avoid being caught by these fallacies? When evaluating a particular blockchain platform, be sure to ask whether it fulfills the six requirements of safe peer-to-peer database sharing: prevention of downtime and inconsistency, as well as transaction forgery, censorship, reversal and illegitimacy. And beware of explanations that consist of too much mumbling or hand waving – they probably mean that the answer is no.
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Why Uniswap, Cardano, Solana, and Dogecoin Could Become Best-Performing Cryptos Of 2021
The year has been a good one so far for altcoins. There’s no denying Bitcoin’s pedigree and influence on the market as it is still the biggest cryptocurrency by far in the crypto space. Having said that, there are a lot of altcoins or relatively smaller and cheaper cryptocurrencies which have attracted investors and newbies looking to diversify their crypto portfolios. As crypto adoption continues to grow so has the interest in it which has been evident in the last few months. Institutional interest is at an all-time high as many traditional companies, firms and institutions are boarding the cryptocurrency bandwagon.
There are a lot of altcoins putting up impressive numbers guaranteed to give back good yields and this article sheds light on four of them.
Uniswap is one of the dApps based on the Ethereum blockchain. The project allows users to trade Ethereum tokens through liquidity pools. The DeFi coin boasts of being the first decentralized exchange with the option of a margin and leverage trading.
The UNI coin has two main services, thus delivering and utilizing liquidity. Although it is new in the crypto space as it was released into the market last year, its performance has made it one of the leading DeFi coins on the market.
Uniswap v3 was released days ago, an upgrade of its protocol and aims to provide better oracles, new fee tiers as well as give users more control over the liquidity they provide. Many analysts believe the coin is expected to blow and with its price at $36, it would be a steal compared to others.
Cardano has been one of the popular coins on the crypto market for some while. Its network has a smaller footprint which makes it flexible, more adaptable, and secure. Transactions are faster as it requires less energy, and have interoperability and scalability among its pros.
Cardano’s recent update has equipped it with the ability to build smart contracts which have attracted a lot of dApp developers, a sector that is blowing up this year. The coin is 4th on the crypto ladder with a trading price of $2.32 which has seen a 27.35% rise within the last seven days.
Another coin that is making a name for itself in the fast-growing DeFi ecosystem is Solana.
Launched in March 2020, the digital project has enjoyed a steady rise, making its way up the crypto ladder with impressive runs. Sol is currently at 16 on the crypto ladder with an impressive market valuation of $14 billion.
Its Proof-of-History algorithm has the highest speeds of a transaction and offers relatively cheaper transaction fees as compared to other coins such as Ethereum. The digital asset currently trades above $50.
DOGE has defied many odds to become one of the fastest-growing digital coins on the crypto market presently. Created as a meme coin back in 2013, it has seen a major resurgence taking its price from $0.0076 to an all-time high of $0.7 in less than 21 days led by Elon Musk’s never-ending endorsements.
Dogecoin has seen a surge of over 8000% so far this year and remains one of the cheapest coins to buy. It is currently trading at $0.5, and despite the many controversies surrounding DOGE, it does have what it takes to yield massive progress if adopted by Tesla for payments.
DOGE Price Analysis: DOGE Breaks Out Of Bull Flag As Alt-coins Continue Rallying
DOGE coin has been through a wild ride in 2021. Elon Musk has been the biggest influence of the price of Doge as his words have both helped and hurt the Doge. Doge had recently experienced a 50% correction but bulls quickly bought up DOGE as it bounced off its ascending channel it has followed for a month.
Major support range for DOGE comes in at $0.44-$0.48. If the price of DOGE can hold this support, it is considered bullish for another leg up. To confirm a bullish upswing, DOGE must break and hold $0.56. Confirming a potential bullish leg, the price of DOGE recently broke out of a bullish flag and confirmed it.
DOGE Price Analysis: DOGE/USDT 1 Day Chart
If DOGE fails to hold major support range, a fall to $0.40 is expected. Near this area lies the 30 MA which has held as support last week when Doge coin fell to $0.36. In addition, the bottom trend of its ascending channel is around the same area. This zone is a massive support for DOGE and can be relied upon if a bearish leg prints.
The Stochastic RSI has recently corrected to oversold levels. At the time of writing, the strength has revived over the 30 level and must hold for DOGE to continue rising. The MACD has been sideways for a few days which can tell a bigger move is coming. The MACD histogram has been ticking up and is looking for a green bullish tick for the first time in a week.
DOGE intraday levels
- Spot rate: $0.537
- Trend: Neutral
- Volatility: High
- Support: $0.489
- Resistance: $0.561
Fundstrat’s Tom Lee Increases Bitcoin Price Target to $1,25,000 Despite Elon Musk’s Turnaround
Tom Lee, Managing Partner and the Head of Research at Fundstrat Global Advisors who is an avid Bitcoin bull has now increased his Bitcoin price target from $100,000 to $125,000 despite a recent bizarre turnaround by Elon Musk. Musk has recently closed the Bitcoin payment gateway for Tesla cars just a month after availing the service to US customers citing environmental concerns. The claims about bad environmental impact surely took many by surprise given Musk himself is a big advocate for clean energy and the Bitcoin network’s majority mining power input comes from a clean energy source.
Lee in an interview said that Musk’s recent comment about Bitcoin could be a result of pressure from investors. He added that Musk’s recent turnaround would not have much of an impact on Bitcoin bulls and the top cryptocurrency would continue to soar higher. He also increased his price target by $25,000 to prove his point. He explained,
“I don’t think it’s going to get people negative on bitcoin, but it is going to get people to focus on the problems that are being created by digital assets. It is probably better to view it as a call to action for the bitcoin industry to focus on renewables or more efficient ways to provide proof of work.”
Lee is among the selected few early Bitcoin proponents who have always maintained that the top cryptocurrency would top $100,000 which until last year seemed more bizarre than far-fetched.
Is the Recent Market Sell-Off Because of Musk Comments?
Bitcoin price fell nearly 15% on May 12 after Musk announced Tesla’s decision to stop accepting Bitcoin payment. Many believed the market correction was potentially triggered by Musk’s comments, however, on-chain data indicate otherwise. Bitcoin inflow on exchanges had spiked significantly right before Musk’s comments which is a bearish indicator and a sign of sell-off. Thus either people sending Bitcoin onto exchanges were aware of Tesla’s incoming decision or the sell-off was not necessarily triggered by Musk’s comment.
Musk since then has been aggressively promoting and shilling Dogecoin hinting at making necessary development changes to make the meme coin more efficient. He also claimed that he has been in touch with Dogecoin developers but the meme currency network’s developer activity is negligible over the past three years.
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