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Looking Into IPFS

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The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a new hypermedia distribution protocol, addressed by content and identities. IPFS enables the creation of completely distributed applications. It aims to make the web faster, safer, and more open. IPFS is an open source  project developed by the team at Interplanetary Networks and many contributors from the open source community.

IPFS is a peer-to-peer distributed file system that seeks to connect all computing devices with the same system of files.  In some ways, IPFS is similar to the Web, but IPFS could be seen as a single BitTorrent swarm, exchanging objects within one Git repository. In other words, IPFS provides a high throughput content-addressed block storage model, with content-addressed hyperlinks. This forms a generalized Merkle DAG, a data structure upon which one can build versioned file systems, blockchains, and even a Permanent Web.  IPFS combines a distributed hash table , an incentivized block exchange, and a self-certifying namespace. IPFS has no single point of failure, and nodes do not need to trust each other.” – https://ipfs.io/

IPFS sets an interesting precedent for new systems and creativity on the web. The HTTP protocol has worked extremely well, but it fails to address the issues of long term preservation of content. Servers fail, companies go out of business, the DMCA forces it to go down, sites gets hacked, etc. Due to the nature of the current web, the content that gets posted is difficult to archive. Not to mention, Internet technologies (and a lot of other computing technologies) have a tendency to move toward obsolescence very quickly due to influences of economy, marketing strategies and user expectation of convenience. There are efforts to archive the net, such as the Internet Archive. Perhaps the most bold suggestion has been to restructure the Internet to make it inherently self-archiving.

There are several questions that a protocol like IPFS will bring about. The first of which is a matter that concerns the fine line of censorship and content moderation. The benefit of IPFS is that it can allow artwork, literature, and music to be shared freely between peers.  It is also expected that garbage content will be spread and many peers will not want to take part in actively distributing it. How may content be moderated and curated in a distributed system? To take down content in the HTTP-based web, one must target a centralized location. Since the content is distributed through a network of peers, we need to ask how content can be moderated and curated so that it will still preserve the free nature of the system. One idea that has been put forward is the idea of an open-source blacklist.

How can we search for content in a distributed web? Do we need search engines that can index IPFS sites? Could we take the example of BitTorrent Trackers  which help facilitate communication between peers, and build upon the idea? How can we create a distributed search engine? Ideas like Tim Berners-Lee’s “The Semantic Web” may come into play.

The IPFS protocol still operates off of TCP/IP and as of right now, it mainly requires a centralized ISP. Hardware such as routers, cable, and servers are harder to take out of the hands of centralized systems. An entity needs a lot of capital to invest in such equipment. We have to consider the implications of the long-term, and ask ourselves if the TCP/IP protocol suite will eventually get replaced by future protocols. How will internet technologies change in 50-100 years down the line? The Permanent Web may not be so permanent if we have critical infrastructure failure or completely upgrade aging protocols.

The IPFS project needs active development. “The Permanent Web” can help stop censorship from a centralized authority. It blurs the line between web server and web client. It gives users the ability to host content straight from their local machine. It brings about a web that is easier to archive and share directly between peers. It has promise, but it is not a perfect solution. With new technologies, come new questions to be asked. It is incredibly ambitious from the start, and we need to begin brainstorming on the future of the Internet.

You can find more resources on IPFS and similar technology at the following links

 

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