You most likely keep a lot of data. Your personal computer is likely full of photos, music, movies, work documents, and more. It’s becoming more and more difficult to keep it all organized and accessible.
Sure, you could just store everything on your computer’s hard drive. But what happens if your computer crashes, and you lose everything?
Many technology companies offer cloud storage solutions, but what happens when your government prevents apps like Google Drive or Dropbox in your country?
These cloud solutions suffer from the same flaw as much of the current web: centralization.
However, the rise of web3 technologies has shown that the future of the web may be distributed in nature. In this article, we’ll explore the IPFS protocol and how it plans to change the fundamental architecture of the internet.
What is IPFS?
The Interplanetary File System or IPFS is a decentralized network that stores and shares data.
IPFS allows anyone to store files and share them with anyone else who has access to the network. Files uploaded to the network are stored on many different computers around the world.
IPFS was created by a team of developers led by Juan Benet, a former engineer at Google. Benet was inspired by the BitTorrent protocol allowing users to share files without a central server. The p2p file sharing protocal made Benet realize that the same approach could work for a worldwide decentralized file system.
It has been in development since 2015, but there are already a number of applications that support it such as the Brave Browser and Opera.
IPFS has become an alternative way to store information online in situations where centralized storage has failed. For example, when Turkish authorities banned Wikipedia throughout the country, activists used IPFS to create a decentralized portal for a copy of Turkish Wikipedia.
The future of IPFS looks promising. With more and more applications using it, it has the potential to become the default way to store and share data on the Internet.
How Does it Work?
IPFS is a type of peer-to-peer or p2p storage network.
If someone requests a file, a copy of that file is cached on their local node. If more people request that data, more cached copies will be created. This means that the burden of fulfilling the request is gradually shared amongst all the nodes that have the cached file.
The network relies on three main principles: content addressing, content linking, and content discovery.
Let’s take a look at how IPFS accomplishes each of these three principles.
Think about the usual way you look for files on a computer. In order to access a file, you will have to navigate to a specific directory on your device and find a file with the right file name.
While this is a standard practice in computing, it does not necessarily translate well to a distributed network like IPFS.
Instead of identifying content by location, IPFS looks at the content itself. This process is known as content addressing.
All files that are included in the IPFS protocol come with a content identifier which acts as a unique hash for the specific file.
The Interplanetary Linked Data project (IPLD) expands this concept further by providing libraries to enable users of the IPFS protocol to explore their data in whatever format they wish to.
IPFS uses a data structure called a directed acyclic graph or DAG.
The IPFS protocol uses a type of DAG called a Merkle DAG which is set up so that each node has a unique identifier that is a hash of the node’s contents.
The network uses the Merkle DAG to optimize how it represents directories and files. Suppose you have a folder that contains three files. That folder will contain a unique hash that represents the three files within it. Each file in turn is composed of several blocks.
Since each node is linked to a hash generated based on the node’s contents, the entire data structure is said to be self-verified. This key property is what allows files to work in a distributed capacity in the IPFS protocol.
To find which peers are hosting the content you’re looking for, IPFS relies on a distributed hash table or DHT.
A hash table is simply a database of keys to values. IPFS uses the distributed hash table to find out which peers in the network are storing the blocks that make up the content you’re trying to access.
IPFS uses the libp2p library to allow peers to send data to one another.
In the desktop application, much of the above technologies are hidden and work behind-the-scenes.
Users can simply run their own IPFS client and upload their own files to the network.
Files the user uploads to the network is accesible through the file’s unique content identifier. You may use a service such as the IPFS Browser to access the file from any device that can connect to the internet.
IPFS Key Features
Here are four key features of the IPFS protocol:
- IPFS is a peer-to-peer file system. This means that files are stored and distributed directly between users, without the need for a central server. Users have the option to run their own node to connect to other peers.
- IPFS is decentralized. This means that there is no single point of failure. If one node goes down, the system can still function.
- IPFS allows for easier archiving. The highly efficient Merkle DAG allows the network to minimize the amount of storage space needed. This is a huge advantage for any entity that needs to archive historical data.
- Users who are not familiar with the command line can use their easy-to-use desktop application that supports drag-and-drop file imports and quick sharing and downloading options.
- IPFS is open source. This means that anyone can contribute to the development of the system.
Pros and Cons of IPFS Protocol
- It is designed to be scalable to accommodate a large number of users and a large number of files.
- It is fault-tolerant, meaning that it can continue to function even if some of the nodes in the network are unavailable.
- It is resistant to censorship, meaning that it is difficult for a single entity to block or remove content from the network.
- IPFS is secure. IPFS stores files using cryptographic hashes, which makes them tamper-proof.
- The Interplanetary File System is still in development and has minimal customer support compared to commercial file storage solutions.
- It is not clear how well the system will scale, or how well it will resist censorship.
- The system may be vulnerable to attacks by powerful entities.
- Content addressing returns a link that contains the hash. Users will have to use a DNS to make the link human-readable.
The IPFS protocols are a new way of storing and sharing data that has many benefits over traditional methods. It is decentralized, meaning that there is no single point of failure, and it is very efficient, using less bandwidth than other methods.
However, it is still in development and has some limitations, such as not being able to store very large files. Overall, IPFS is a promising new technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we store and share data.
Do you think that decentralized cloud storage protocols like IPFS are the future of hosting files online?