Oftentimes you don’t know something’s broken until its replacement is already right before your eyes.
The IPFS bandwagon has been quietly rolling along for a while now, but its recent increased exposure by blockchain startups is opening people’s eyes to what could end up becoming the future of the internet.
IPFS, or Interplanetary File System, is a distributed network where files (text, images, video, websites) are hosted in a swarm of connected computers, similar to how torrent users share files among each other.
Interplanetary File System technology is being picked up by multiple blockchain platforms for its strength as a CDN (Content Delivery Network) with projects like BitTube, AKASHA, Numa, and Steemit implementing IPFS into their platforms.
But what’s wrong with HTTP, and how is IPFS better?
When you type in a web address on the current HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) system, it sends a query to a central server which requests permission to access the specified content. While this can be extremely useful, it also comes with some downsides.
First of all, if a particular server fails, then your content is gone from the web until the server is restored. Secondly, you suffer from the ever-present threat of censorship, where hosts can dictate what gets hosted on their servers.
While HTTP has served the internet well, many view its reliance on centrality and trust of authorities to be antithetical to the original ethos of the internet.
IPFS solves these problems by having no single storage point, but rather distributes chunks of the files across multiple computers. When a user requests the file – a video stream, for example – that file is streamed to the user from every other computer which has it cached.
HTTP is centralized. IPFS not only achieves decentralization but forms a distributed network that requires no authority figures whatsoever.
Anyone who has set up a website will have felt the sharp pain of surveying bandwidth costs, where you can conceivably be priced out of being successful simply due to a lack of money.
Since no central servers are needed for IPFS hosting, files can be split up into tiny chunks and distributed across the entire network. Instead of one person paying a huge price for hosting content, the entire network pays a minuscule portion of bandwidth usage.
Spam sites will persist so long as someone pays for them to be hosted, but with IPFS the end user gets to have a say in what survives and what doesn’t.
With IPFS, files that don’t get used are eventually squeezed out of a user’s cache. If this happens across the entire network, then the file can be forgotten forever. Likewise, a popular file will always be available since its constant usage will keep it enduring on the network.
Whereas your old favorite websites from the 90s are gone forever, with IPFS you could choose to keep certain data on your system, allowing it to be accessed by other users, and thus spreading it around the network once more.
The data addresses used by IPFS take the form of a cryptographic hash key. The key represents your chosen data so it cannot be altered without changing the key. Assuming someone did manage to alter the data you had posted, that data would now be associated with a different address.
Hosting your content on IPFS can be difficult for the non-tech savvy user, but with sites like BitTube popping up, users can put their files straight onto a community hub with the same ease as uploading a YouTube video.