InterPlanetary File System (IPFS): Re-architecting the Internet

The global COVID pandemic outbreak has compelled millions to be cooped up at home and has turned to the internet for work, entertainment and other necessities. This has caused unprecedented stress on internet infrastructure. Initial stats indicate a surge of 50-70% in internet hits. Platforms like YouTube and Netflix has announced that they would lower video quality to reduce traffic on mobile and broadband networks. 

Heaven forbid what if the internet just couldn’t bear it anymore and it stops working? Let’s all hope with all the optimism in our heart that this won’t happen. But if we are using decentralized internet protocol, we could know for sure.

How the Internet Works Now?

The internet works with a set of rules called protocols that describe how data moves around the network. One of the protocols that serve as the heart of the web is the HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol invented by Tim Berners-Lee. It is an application-level protocol that works on a principle of request-response cycle. It is used to exchange data like images, video, audio, documents etc. 

Problems with HTTP

The biggest problem of all with HTTP is that it is centralised. The data is stored on a server owned by a few companies. The location-based addressing model of HTTP supports centralization as it is easy to find the file. But this doesn’t work if we are disconnected to the larger global network or in case you want to minimise the load across the network.

Moreover, this aspect of centralisation gives immense power to the providers with our valuable data and data access can be easily curtailed by governments and certain individuals (say hackers) if they wish to do so.

The next problem with HTTP is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be sent over a specific connection in a given time. It can be likened to how wide or narrow the pipe is (here the connection). With more and more devices demanding data, websites can crash. Remember the 404 error.

Re-architecting the internet with IPFS

IPFS is a distributed peer to peer system for storage as well as access files, applications, websites etc. Juan Benet the founder of protocol labs is the brain behind the InterPlanetary File System.

IPFS adopts two technologies for its working i.e that of the git and that of the torrent. Here a system that can manage store files and track the variations done to it over time much like git. 

IPFS is a distributed file system i.e the data moves across the network like how data in torrent moves around.

Let’s say you want your friends to view an image you have uploaded on Facebook. You sent them a link. They click on to the link and because HTTP is location-specific each of their device requests the same page on a Facebook server located on the other side of the planet.

IPFS uses content addressing i.e it identifies the file by the content itself. The address has some identifier of the content itself which is hashed cryptographically so that you get an identifier of the secured file and no other file can come up with the same hash and that uses the same file. So instead of asking one of the Facebook servers for the page, you contact other computers to share the page with you.

That is, it can get the required page not only from Facebook but from anyone who has it.

Besides, when you use IPFS, you not only download files from another device but also helps to distribute them like a torrent.

IPFS makes this happen for not only webpages but also other file types a computer might store like document, email or even a database.

So, what’s the deal with IPFS?

  • A strong robust internet: With our whole lives shifting online even if someone attacks the servers the data is never lost with IPFS. You can still get the same web pages from elsewhere.
  • No Government censure: Because files on IPFS can come from different places it will be difficult for anybody to block things.
  • Speedy internet even when you are farther away. If a file can be retrieved from a nearby device rather than from any other location, you can get it faster. Many cloud services have tried to move their data centres to multiple locations to make access as faster as possible. With IPFS this can be possible for everybody.

IPFS is still in its crib but it aims to supplement or probably replace the HTTP protocol that is the backbone of the internet and it is speedily gaining ground.

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