Today, there are billions of Internet users using web and mobile applications for communication, entertainment, or even informational purposes – making access to content and services necessary for the vast majority of people. With that said, there’s a problem with the way the Internet is currently configured: almost everything we see online is hosted on origin servers.
The issue with a central origin server is that it can go down in a natural disaster or get flooded with requests from users. In both scenarios, users are barred from the public gateway to the information they seek. The alternative to today’s highly centralized Internet? The IPFS or the Interplanetary File System.
What is the IPFS, and how does it change how we interact with the Internet? Keep reading to find out.
Despite its name, the IPFS or Interplanetary File System is a peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol built by the founder of Protocol Labs, Juan Benet.
It combines the availability of content versions and documentation of Git with the file distribution of a peer-to-peer network like BitTorrent – creating a more “permanent” internet than what we’re currently used to.
How The IPFS Works
The IPFS is a decentralized software system that’s made out of several nodes, which consist of every computer connected to the network. Every time a user sends in a request for a specific piece of content, other nodes in the network distribute the necessary information.
Once the requesting user receives the page they asked for, a copy is sent into their local cache. This makes them part of the system, allowing them to participate in the interactive ecosystem directory and decentralized delivery of information.
This peer-based file distribution makes the IPFS one of the most resilient networks, providing performance without interruption.
Reading this, you may be concerned about your content’s security. After all, if every user on the IPFS sends data to other users, aren’t your files at risk of being disseminated?
This common misconception usually comes from conflating the IPFS with an active file-hosting system like Google Drive or Dropbox. Users connected to the IPFS don’t “upload” information to the network and instead participate as part of a larger group.
That means other users won’t have access to your files unless you purposely upload them to the larger network. Likewise, encrypting your files would allow specific recipients exclusive access to your message or file.
Why It Matters
As we mentioned earlier, all content is hosted on a central origin server that can be virtual or physical. These servers are owned by companies that simply allow active users to access their content.
Everything happens through an HTTPS connection, which essentially sends and receives requests for content. Once these requests are processed, the pages are sent through a search engine or straight to a user’s browser.
What does this have to do with the Interplanetary File System? Unlike traditional HTTPS connections, the IPFS gateway focuses on decentralized distribution, which allows active users to access content even with a spotty Internet connection. This can be a boon to networks located in remote communities.
But that’s not the only way IPFS can revolutionize today’s Internet experience. Because all content is hosted on every node (or peer), the server never goes offline. This shared hosting system helps with overall internet performance and bandwidth costs, making connectivity more accessible and democratic.
How The IPFS Stores Data
Data on the IPFS is stored in 256-bit hash objects, with larger chunks of information segmented to fit this format. For example, if a large file is made up of several IPFS objects, there’s usually one chunk that holds links to all the others. Every file uploaded onto the system is assigned a cryptographic hash address – this simplifies the data fetching process.
This hash address is the anchor by which nodes can fetch and verify information, with each change logged as a “version” of that file. That way, users can access any iteration of the file, lending blockchain-like immutability to the system.
IPFS vs. HTTP
Because the IPFS disseminates information through its node system, a new type of web address is necessary.
With HTTP, web addresses route users to a specific “location”, which can time out if many users try to access the same page at once. In contrast to this, the IPFS uses content identifiers to direct users to the correct space. That means it focuses less on the “where” and more on the “what”.
Final Thoughts On IPFS
The IPFS is a great leap forward in democratizing the way we interact with the Internet. Naturally, it works well alongside the blockchain. Its decentralized filing and fetching system allows users to play an active role in storing and managing their data across web services.
While the technology is still developing, it can be an incredible boon for users who want to be more active in the way they browse the web and connect with others.