InterPlanetary File System – Everything You Need to Know IPFS

Beginner’s Guide / 28.07.2020

Decentralization is creeping into every sector globally, making systems more efficient and secure. Web services and file transfer are also catching up on the trend. The number of people who use the Internet daily is high. By the end of this year, the amount of data gathered worldwide will be over 40,000 Exabytes. 

The enormous amount of information should have an efficient pathway to circulate to people who want access to it. Otherwise, there will be congestion leading to slow web access, low storage space, and bandwidth. That is the problem with today’s web.

IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) is a decentralized web network creating a superior web of tomorrow. In this article, we will help you understand what this alternative for current web options entails.

What is IPFS?

InterPlanetary File System is a peer-to-peer network enabling the storage and sharing of information globally. It aims to make internet censorship-free, speedier, and more secure. 

It is best to understand the existing internet protocol for transfer that has been in use to know about how IPFS came to be. 

HTTP

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) has been around since its invention in the early 1990s, acting as the ultimate tool for website loading and transfer of small files. Based on a client-server network, HTTP depends on data stored in centralized servers using a location-based addressing approach. That is with the help of the Internet Protocol Suite. The communication protocol is efficient in distributing, securing, and managing data while weighing servers and client needs.

Despite this, HTTP comes with several issues that are more visible in this era of technological advancements. Some are:

  • HTTP works around getting information from one server at a time. The same leads to inefficiency in data availability while searching and downloading by clients.
  • The protocol further has censorship issues due to centralization, which has a significant bias.
  • File duplication in HTTP leads to the overloading of bandwidth space, which is already expensive to come by.
  • Web pages last for a short while; thus, a weak history of the information found on the Internet.
  • Low connection and download speeds that have improved insignificantly from 2KB to 2MB in over 20 years.
  • Privacy and security issues since the information circulating through HTTP is not encrypted and has exposure to virtual threats
  • Encrypted information through Secure Sockets Layer requires considerable computational power for decryption making the process energy efficient if a client does not have a superior SSL terminator

Components of IPFS

Contributions of many developers led to the formulation of IPFS’IPFS’ complex architecture. It aims to cater to the shortcomings that the HTTP communication protocol presents; an ongoing project by Protocol Labs is still in its beta stages. The main components that make IPFS a superior network are:

  • Distributed Hash Tables (DHT): It is a decentralized data structure, keeping track of the availability of information based on who has it. It checks between nodes to ensure access to data during searches. It presents scalability and fault tolerance being functional even when nodes fail or leave the network.
  • BitSwap: IPFS utilizes a general version of BitTorrent, a sharing network that acts as a marketplace for data. The network splits files into blocks. Bitswap provides content for peers when a large number of nodes run through it. They then send wants that determine files entailed in blocks. Peers will receive fewer wants if the content is identical. If there is a delay, more peers get more wants.
  • Merkle DAG: The component combines Merkle trees and a Directed Acyclic Graph. Merkle trees ensure the authenticity of data by arranging data blocks using cryptographic hash functions. A DAG, on the other hand, ensures topological information is not cyclic. They provide a system to organize data blocks using hashes in a DAG, ensuring it can distinguish content uniquely with no alterations.
  • Version Control System: It is a feature similar to Git that allows duplication, editing, and storage of files, which are later merged with the original one. History of the data and changes is permanently available in the network and accessible to overlay networks. As a result, the data is censorship-free and up to date.
  • InterPlanetary Name Space: It is a self-certifying file system (SFS) utilizing public-key cryptography to accept content published by clients. The feature allows for authentication of data during exchanges. 

How IPFS Works

Once a file is present on the network, it receives a cryptographic hash to identify it uniquely and the blocks within. The system goes ahead to get rid of identical content while tracking history. Nodes select only the information they need. 

Using DHT, the network can identify which node has what type of information. When a user performs a search, the network goes ahead to reveal information stored behind a specific file’s hash. Merkle DAG system then connects file structures, which makes records available to users through a human-readable name provided by IPNS.

Why is IPFS Important?

IPFS presents a revolutionized web structure compared to HTTP. The diversity of who can use the IPFS system is notable. Users are yet to explore every inch of the versatile network and know its advantages. Below are a few.

  • Inexpensive: It has lower hosting costs encouraged by a peer-to-peer network ensuring inexpensive bandwidth by eliminating duplication of data hence saving on space.
  • Efficiency: IPFS provides high performance since servers face low interruptions while ensuring extensive data available through the utilization of several nodes at the same time.
  • Decentralization: eliminates control of data output by biased internet service providers ensuring censorship-free content. Furthermore, security threats cannot affect the entire system, only specific nodes maintaining functionality. Software developers also keep on upgrading nodes, improving their security.
  • A web independent of Internet connectivity: The feature allows access to content offline or in low connectivity. Also, if nodes go offline or encounter problems, their content is still available to users.
  • Archiving: The IPFS network ensures that data files and any changes made to them are available permanently over time. Even though editing is possible, the system also ensures that there is no duplication of the original data.

Implications of IPFS

As stated earlier, IPFS is still undergoing development despite its extensive use by people. However, it has a few challenges that developers are dealing with actively. One of them is the security implications that come along with the incomplete project. Nonetheless, any vulnerabilities are taken seriously to sustain a secure network. They encourage reporting of any suspicions immediately to their security department.  

Some features like IPNS are slow with a poor user-interface, which users expect to improve as development continues. The whole idea behind IPFS is a complex concept for the typical user to understand, which might discourage use. Lastly, there needs a significant focus on ensuring long-term data backup in case nodes decide to delete original files.

Conclusion

A new age of web development has dawned upon us with the introduction of IPFS. The platform aims to settle issues presented by the use of HTTP, including slow connection speeds, centralization, and duplication. It offers a flexible system for a variety of applications, including by researchers, archivists, service providers, and blockchains, among others. 

Nevertheless, several areas need polishing yet to ensure secure and user-friendly services to clients. Easier and faster file searching and file sharing, with great content delivery, is the end game. All the same, we expect a massive evolution into a different Internet world once the project is complete.

Adam is an outgoing young lad who likes adventures and discovering new things. Despite his boring life, he loves writing about cryptocurrencies and exploring what blockchain technology can do for the coming digital world where all adventures will be virtual.