When Blockchains goes down: because cryptographic interruptions are on the rise


Berniesanders (not to be confused with the former presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) is an institution on the blogging platform based on Blockchain Steemit.

Steemit allows content creators to earn crypto – at least, encryption that is native to the Steem blockchain, of which there are three – for popular posts. While recent hits include waffle recipes, romantic fiction and punditry crypts, berniesanders receive a fairly steady salary (about $ 30 at a time) for his single sentence, self-described "shitty messages."

A recent sampling: "Are you having fun? I'm having fun." ($ 60), "I'm on a boat!" ($ 31), "Show me your shoes". ($ 30) and "How many comments can you get a shitty post?" ($ 263 and 319 comments).

But for a few hours, on September 17th, the Steemit community was deprived of the wisdom of the berniesers.

On that day, Steemit became unavailable when Steem underwent an interruption and stopped adding new blocks. The blockchain and the app at the top had become dark.

Steem's interruption, the company explained, was linked to an imminent update of a fork. The fork code was managed by some early nodes and, as such, these nodes split into an incompatible chain when some safeguards failed. The nodes accidentally forced the network early and, as a result, the nodes failed to reach consensus on new blocks.

"The blockchain was the piece that was broken in this case," Ned Scott, founder and CEO of Steemit, told CoinDesk. "But it caused a chain effect, a domino effect on all the apps built on top."

For Steem's blockchain, it's about 400 applications, according to Scott.

And many of those applications were probably confused, worried, and sometimes angry users wondered why they could not interact with their favorite blockchain-based tools. In this case, once the Steemit network has resumed normal functioning, the berniesander are back with a tag "testingshitsteem", "amateurshitdevs" and "deadchain."

This is perhaps a bit tough.

Of course, other users were not "quite critical." A Steemit user who uses "alphasteem" (her recipe for waffles) said:

"I think it's the way things work with new technologies. "

The only problem is that this is not how things should work this particular piece of new technology.One of the most frequently cited benefits of blockchain networks is the fact that they suffer zero downtime – or next to it.

For example, there is a website dedicated to monitoring bitcoin activity time since its launch in January 2009: 99.992559576 percent, at the time of writing, and the Ethereum Foundation describes the applications of the network as running "exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or interference from third parties."

In recent months, however, the main networks of blockchain have seen times of inactivity vity and the trend has some people wonder, WTF?

Other Interruptions

The incident on Steem's network is not the only recent example of a declining blockchain (in fact, it is not the only time that Steem has gone down in recent months ). [19659002] In March, Neo's blockchain was temporarily interrupted. This may happen, initially the head of research and development of the project Malcolm Lerider explained "when a node of consent is disconnected during consent."

In response to criticized episode – to the effect that, if only one of the only seven consensus nodes on the Neo network can pause the chain going offline, Neo is very vulnerable – Lerider he took a step back. He said that Neo could handle the loss of a consensus node and that the circumstances that led to the incident were more complicated.

A few months later, the EOS blockchain also saw the production of new blocks stopped for almost five hours. [19659002] According to Thomas Cox, who at the time was the vice president of Block.One's product, the company behind the EOS protocol (he left the company), deferred transactions were not properly controlled, which led to a "state" strange "and" prevented from creating further blocks "

This incident occurred only a couple of days after the EOS network was made available in June.

Federates and Delegates

These examples raise the question of why, almost a decade in the existence of blockchain, the promise of zero dead times is starting to show cracks.

The answer may have to do with the emergence of new ways of reaching consensus: the process by which all participants in a comet blockchain system or agreement on the state of the network.

In bitcoin, ethereum and other proof-of-work systems (PoW), the way in which consensus is reached makes it extremely unlikely that a network will stop, even if a high level

Speaking to this, Riccardo Spagni, head of project at monero (a cryptocurrency proof-of-work), told CoinDesk:

"PoW can handle things like network partitioning and come back together sometimes, and it's incredibly robust."

Al conversely, a newer method – versions of which Neo, EOS and Steem employ – designates a certain set of specialized nodes to determine the state of the network. Rather than "mining", these nodes are agreed through faster and less energy-intensive processes, allowing faster and less expensive transactions of bitcoin or ethereum.

These systems are generally known as federated or delegated protocols, with more specific labels that are based on the exact cryptographic methods involved: Byzantine delegates Fault Tolerance (dBFT) for Neo and proof-of -stake delegate (DPoS) for EOS and Steem .

Neo & # 39; s Lerider challenged the idea that the federated blockchains are more susceptible to downtime in general. "Several consent algorithms can be used in a federated chain," he told CoinDesk, and "to find out which ones have the potential to go down," you need to look into the specific implementation.

In general, however, the delegated consent has brought something new to the cryptocurrency: the potential for scale sufficient to accommodate use cases that only centralized providers were able to handle previously. For example, Steem and EOS can support millions of transactions a day, according to the Block & # 39; tivity website.

Yet, at the same time, these new protocols have reintroduced a forge of centralized suppliers in the blockchain world: downtime. When the key nodes in a federated system go down or do not synchronize, the entire network can freeze.

Accessibility or consistency?

This does not mean that these systems are necessarily inferior to traditional work trials however

There is an important compromise at work, according to Eric Wall, leader of the blockchain and cryptocurrency at the Swedish Fintech Cinnober.

"All distributed systems are fundamentally limited by the CAP theorem," he told CoinDesk.

According to this theorem, which is often cited in discussions on blockchain networks, a given system can only optimize for two of the three characteristics: consistency, availability and tolerance of partitions (hence the acronym "CAP").

Although, in reality, the range of choices is narrower. Partition tolerance – the ability to perform a blockchain on a network that loses some messages, as the Internet does – is "non-negotiable," Wall said. So engineers can favor accessibility, as in bitcoin and ethereum; o favor coherence, as in EOS, Steem and Neo.

Wall described how these options appear in practical terms, saying: "Many federated systems simply stop in contingent situations, often requiring manual intervention to start working again – on the other hand, we generally do not stop, but instead the bitcoin forks into two blockchain for a short period of time a couple of times a month. "

In other words, from the user's point of view, the bitcoin network can never go down, but there is no guarantee that a user has not been on a fork that will eventually be abandoned in favor of a canonical chain.

Most of the time, Wall continues, the lack of consistency of bitcoins is not a big deal. The network "has a possible coherence", he said, "which derives from the fact that the forks are automatically solved after a short time."

He added, "So while Bitcoin is not a true CAP system, it's practically as good as one."

So again, some incidents have shown that fostering availability over consistency can put us in trouble the blockchain. Steemit's Scott pointed to an incident in March 2013, when bitcoin broke into what Vitalik Buterin – then a journalist – called "one of the most serious sobs we've seen in the last four years".

Echoing, Wall suggested that such incidents may be a topic for "CP" systems favorable to consistency compared to those "AP" favorable to accessibility:

"Two conflicting forks are a much bigger danger for the network of a single arrest ".


What might seem remarkable here, however, is that the bitcoin has not suffered a similar incident since 2013, while younger networks continue to experience "sobs".

"The reason these bugs were more prevalent in federated systems than PoW based systems are recently reduced to the fact that the Bitcoin code base is more battle tested, more rigorously controlled and of higher quality than to the federated counterparts, "said Wall.

In fact, when the oldest blockchain dPOS, Bitshares, flew in 2015, the bitcoin had already been live for more than six years.

But the younger networks could well recover. "Steem is now a very tough blockchain," Scott said after the recent break.

"I do not look back and say that there were no obstacles in the road," he continued. "I look at those bumps and bruises as a testimony to our strength and resilience and our drive to innovation."

Steem is still planning to proceed with the update of the planned rigid fork – the twentieth – on September 25th.

also notable that, as a grizzled veteran, the bitcoins have barely avoided the terrible consequences of a serious bug discovered this week, which could potentially have torn down vast swathes of the network for a relatively low cost.

Speaking of this, Zooko Wilcox, founder and CEO of the company Zcash (zcash, as bitcoin, is a proof-of-work cryptocurrency), told CoinDesk that, in the end, no network is perfectly secure.

He concluded:

"There is a risk that software will fail by breaking down any software system, including blockchains like Bitcoin, Ethereum or Zcash."

Clear image by Artur Matosyan on Unsplash

in the blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that aims at extending the journalistic standards and adheres to a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of the Digital Currency Group, which invests in criptovalute and blockchain startups.

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