The internet has proved to be something of a necessary evil. Thanks to the world wide web, we can now have interactions with other people from all corners of the globe and get information right on our fingertips about events unfolding in the world. All this is enabled by remote servers. Cloud computing, which offers on-demand computing resources, is an evolution of the basic internet model. Today, cloud computing allows users to store private data, run applications, manage applications’ access control, and a lot more.
But currently, we’re contending with the negative implications of cloud computing. Mass data and privacy breaches, users having little to no say over their own data, lack of trust in tech giants, etc.
Even with that, computing is indispensable in our lives at this point. But that doesn’t imply we have to stick with the highly flawed current computing model. We’re already seeing an evolution of cloud computing into decentralized models. Decentralized computing gives the power to users, not tech giants like Facebook and Google. It gives developers tools to develop decentralized applications that are third-party manipulation-proof. It facilitates a more satisfying consumer-software relationship. Most of all, it prioritizes users’ safety above everything else.
Blockstack is an open-source platform that’s at the forefront in trying to achieve this. The Blockstack team believes that the new web frontier is a user-owned internet powered by the innovative blockchain. The project made headlines for being the first token sale in the history of the US to be cleared by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
So, what’s Blockstack, and what’s it all about? Let’s dive in already.
Blockstack is a blockchain-enabled project that wants to offer a “fair and open internet that puts users in control of their data.” The big idea is to accord data users complete control over their data and identity as opposed to the current situation where individuals have little to no control over how big companies do with their data. The Blockstack team is accomplishing this goal through a suite of very affordable and easy-to-use developer tools that developers of all over the world can use to create decentralized applications (DApps).
According to the Blockstack white paper, “Blockstack is an open-source effort to design, develop and grow a decentralized computer network that provides a full-stack alternative to traditional cloud computing. Blockstack is reimagining the application layer of the traditional internet and provides a new network for decentralized applications; applications built on Blockstack enable users to own and control their data directly.”
Blockstack’s Design Goals
Before we do a deep dive into the inner workings of Blockstack, let’s first see the design goals it envisions for DApps:
#1. Ease of Use. Blockstack wants its decentralized applications to be as easy to use as conventional internet applications, such as Facebook, are. In the same vein, they should be as easy to develop as it is on cloud computing today.
#2. Scalability. Blockstack intends for DApps built on it to be able to support millions to billions of users. For this to be possible, the Blockstack blockchain should be able to scale with an ever-growing number of users.
#3. User Control. Ultimate user control is very important to the Blockstack team. DApps running on the Blockstack network must put users in complete control over their data and identifying information by default.
How Does Blockstack Work?
The Blockstack network relies on numerous components that work with each other to provide an environment creating and implementing DApps. Let’s examine some of the key ones.
i) The Stacks Blockchain.
This is the foundation of the Blockstack network. The Stacks blockchain enables users to register and control digital assets such as usernames – which in turn allows them to control how the data is stored. The blockchain also allows users to register and execute smart contracts. Stacks has two kinds of participants: miners and stackers.
Miners on the Stacks blockchain need to post Bitcoin to mine a block. The BTC will then be distributed across a network of nodes (stackers), maintaining the blockchain. The Stacks blockchain uses a proof-of-transfer (PoX) consensus mechanism. According to the whitepaper of Blockstack’s version 2 blockchain, “PoX can help to solve a bootstrapping problem for new blockchains. Participation rewards in a separate, more stable base cryptocurrency can be a better incentive for encouraging initial participation than offering participation rewards in a new cryptocurrency.”
ii) Gaia Storage System.
The Blockstack white paper describes Gaia as a “user-controlled storage system that enables applications to interact with private data lockers.” Users, and not the Stacks blockchain, get to host these data lockers. This can be either on a cloud provider, local disk, or remote storage. Users also choose the storage provider. Users can discover data lockers by looking up on the Stacks blockchain. As with any centralized data storage, Gaia removes the need for third-party storage solutions such as Google and Amazon.
iii) Blockstack Authentication
Blockstack has a feature known as the Blockstack Authentication protocol that facilitates decentralized authentication on the platform. With the feature, users can establish their identity and provide information on which Gaia location should be used for that user’s data storage. Instead of commonplace passwords, Gaia utilizes public key cryptography to secure user data. Authentication happens entirely on the Blockstack blockchain and is maintained by the Blockstack Naming System.
iv) Blockstack Libraries and SDKs
v) Clarity Smart Contracts
Blockstack implements a programming language for what it calls ‘predictable smart contracts.’ Clarity-based smart contracts unlock interesting use cases for DApps. Some potential use cases include:
- Access control (e.g., pay to play)
- Creation of both non-fungible and fungible tokens
- Business model templates (e.g., financial projections and sales strategies)
- Application-specific blockchains
- Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs)
- Language design
Charity differs from the majority of smart contract languages in two key ways: it is interpreted (not compiled), and it’s decidable (not Turing complete). Interpreted means the contract source code is published and executed by nodes on the network. This removes the need for compiled representation (as with the Ethereum Virtual Machine bytecode for Ethereum’s smart contract language Solidity, for instance), which minimizes the possibility for bugs occurring.
Clarity is also decidable. Decidability helps to determine exactly when a code is going to be executed and what exactly it will do in certain situations. The intention of using a decidable language is to avoid incidents like the DAO attack. Because Solidity is an undecidable language, it’s impossible to know how a contract will behave in specific circumstances without actually executing in those circumstances.
Token Overview and Use Cases
Stack (STX) is the native token of the Blockstack blockchain. Use cases for Stack include, but are not limited to:
- Payment for registering blockchain-based identities which include usernames, domains and so on
- Payment for publishing and executing Clarity smart contracts
- Rewards to miners for hosting nodes and securing the network
Tokenomics of Stack
Let’s take a look at how Stack is, well, stacking up in the crypto market. As of Jul 21, Stack is trading at $0.158618, and it ranks at position #93 with a market cap of $84 million. It has a 24-hour volume of 3.4 million, and a circulating supply of 530, 526, 315. STX has a total supply of 764, 449, 681, and a maximum supply of 2, 048, 913, 488. The token has an all-time high of $0.258708 (Feb 12, 2020) and an all-time low of $0.045008 (Mar 13, 2020).
Where to Buy and Store STX
You can purchase STX tokens at a variety of exchanges, including Huobi, IDEX, HashKey Pro, and Binance. However, US residents cannot buy STX tokens from these exchanges – at least not yet.
For storage, Blockstack has provided an official wallet available on Mac and Windows. If you prefer a more secure solution, consider a hardware wallet such as the Trezor One, Trezor Model T, Ledger Nano S, and Ledger Blue wallets.
The Blockstack team wants to turn the tables on how the internet operates. It envisions a web where users have agency – not one where their privacy and data is controlled by powerful corporates. This is certainly a timely idea. The blockchain community and people who care about privacy are keeping their eyes peeled on this one.