Ethereum

Internet Computer: Where Were Going, We Dont Need Clouds – The New Stack

At first glance, the grandly named internet computer is something between a blockchain and a decentralized cloud provider. It is run by the dfinity foundation, a Swiss non-profit organization. Since its launch last May, dfinity has made big claims about what the internet computer is capable of in the emerging web3 world: billing itself as “build just about anything, cloudless dapps.” So, to learn more, I spoke with Lomesh Dutta, Vice President of Growth at the Dfinity Foundation.

First, let’s discuss what the internet computer is. In a handbook published last year, Dfinity founder Dominic Williams called the internet computer an “infinite blockchain” and said it was “the third great innovation in the blockchain,” after the cryptocurrency of bitcoin in 2009 and ethereum smart contracts in 2015. now, we clearly need to beware of hyperbole in the crypto world. So, to translate what Williams is saying into practical web architecture language: The Internet’s computer is made up of independent data centers that cooperate with each other (thanks to a Redditor for that definition). I’m not sure why this makes it “infinite”, but I guess the point is that it’s a peer-to-peer network and not owned by a corporation.

Reading: Internet computer vs ethereum

In our conversation, lomesh dutta defined the internet computer as “essentially a network of interconnected blockchains.” these are called “subnets” in dfinity terminology. in its documentation, dfinity states that “each subnet is a blockchain consisting of a certain number of independently owned and controlled, decentralized machines (connected peer computers called nodes) that run the software components of the internet’s computer protocol.” this means that each of these subnet blockchains is capable of running web applications.

how the internet computer compares to ethereum

so how does all this compare to ethereum, the current leading web development platform for blockchain? The key difference is that internet computing applications run entirely “on-chain”, whereas with ethereum it is common to put only transaction data on the blockchain. Since ethereum is basically a giant blockchain, it’s woefully inefficient as an application platform. thus it relies heavily on “off-chain” solutions and decentralized storage services. but with the internet computer, dutta said, everything can be done on its subnets.

“essentially, you can connect one blockchain to another,” he said, “so we have a way where all these blockchains can talk to each other.”

Critics have pointed out that because the internet computer is a series of interconnected blockchains, relying on a limited number of nodes to achieve blockchain consensus, it is not as decentralized as ethereum. when i brought this up with dutta, his first response was “we never say we are a direct competitor of ethereum”. Ethereum is amazing at what it does, he said, which in his opinion is being “a global settlement layer.” what the internet computer does, he continued, is “something ethereum isn’t even designed to do.”

“we’re saying that we’ve created an environment where you can run any kind of software application completely on the blockchain, and you can use tokens, [so] you can also connect with different ethereum contracts.”

coping with web 2.0 clouds

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The internet computer is one of many blockchains vying for a piece of the web3 developer pie. In fact, it is currently the 33rd ranked blockchain by market capitalization, at the time of writing, putting it well below the likes of Solana, Cardano, Polkadot, and Avalanche. perhaps for this reason, dfinity wants to emphasize how the internet computer can integrate with other blockchains, including the two biggest ones.

“so one of the things we are working on is integration with bitcoin and ethereum,” said dutta. “That means the internet computer can connect directly to those networks without using any bridges. So what that means is that a smart contract on the internet computer can transmit messages directly, not just simple tokens, between the two networks. and what that allows us to do is keep your token logic (let’s say) on ethereum, and you can build your front-end middleware on the internet computer.”

This all sounds great, but how is it different from using cloud providers like aws or azure to host the front end of your web application? this is what a lot of ethereum “dapps” use today, for example hosting the app on aws and having it talk to the blockchain via smart contracts. it seems like the internet computer, if used in an integrated way with ethereum or bitcoin, is essentially taking over what aws was responsible for.

again, dutta deflected the comparison. “We treat ourselves like a blockchain and we don’t necessarily say that we compete with companies like aws and google,” she said. however, she made it clear that applications running on the computer with internet don’t need aws.

“Let’s say from the point of view of someone who is building a decentralized application. so the internet computer definitely offers the capabilities where they can host the entire application like they would in a traditional cloud. so they don’t need aws or google cloud. if they were to build, say, a twitter, a reddit, a linkedin, or an enterprise app, they can run completely, 100 percent on the blockchain, without needing a cloud.”

like dr. emmett brown said to marty mcfly in back to the future, “roads? where we’re going we don’t need roads.”

how do smart contracts work on the internet computer

See also: How Long Does It Take to Mine 1 Ethereum? – Aquila Style

Any discussion of an application running on a blockchain should address smart contract programming; in other words, how to program instructions for data on a blockchain. On the internet computer, a smart contract is called a “vessel”, which williams defined in his video manual as “a bundle of web assembly bytecode logic that you can create from any high-level programming language, such as rust or motoko”. the latter is a unique language created for the internet computer.

according to dutta, the internet computer has “a few thousand active developers” and about half of them use rust, the other half motoko. As for how the canister programming environment is different from the robustness of ethereum, dutta said it all boils down to web assembly.

“solidity is a language designed by the ethereum foundation, which is then compiled to essentially run on the evm [ethereum virtual machine]. in our case, we work with an open standard, which is webassembly, as our execution environment. so it’s different [from] the ethereum environment. anything that compiles to webassembly is fair game for us.”

dealing with web 2.0 applications

As with most other blockchains (including ethereum), these are early days for the internet computer in terms of web applications running on its platform. dfinity has a storefront that includes some cool apps, including a web host billed as a competitor to netlify, called fleek. But none of these apps are truly web-scale yet, in terms of user numbers, compared to current web mainstays like twitter, reddit, and indeed netlify.

Dutta is naturally optimistic about what can and will be built on the internet computer. “Anything you can imagine exists in the web2 world, people are building a version of it [on the internet computer],” she said. “From Google Drive, to Google Photos, to Reddit, to Twitter and Instagram, all [of] these services are being reinvented on the Internet computer. they are all running today as applications.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if any of those web3 applications will ever usurp dutta namechecked web 2.0 applications. and as for web 2.0 clouds… i hate to disagree with dr. emmett brown, but I think roads will be needed for many decades to come.

amazon web services (aws) is a sponsor of the new stack.

See also: When Is The Best Time For An Ethereum Transaction? – Finance Digest

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