The IPFS protocol is a very great technological advance that will change the operating principles of servers and Internet networks. It has a few differences from the centralized and decentralized network architectures you already know (or interact with on a daily basis even if you don’t). This is a project that has accomplished great things in terms of security and error-free operation and continues to evolve. but what is it exactly?
What is IPFS?
IPFS, or InterPlanetary File System, is a peer-to-peer protocol and network for both storing and sharing data in a distributed file system. It’s like HTTP, except built more like BitTorrent. IPFS makes it possible to address content (retrieve a file based on its contents, rather than its name or location) across the network and share it with end-to-end communication. The initial design of the project belongs to Juan Benet. IPFS is open source and has a strong community.
Bitcoin had a huge impact on the emergence of IPFS. Design features such as network architecture on data storage, deleting repeated records, and addressing nodes connected to the network have emerged from Bitcoin’s Blockchain protocol. Moreover, GIT (Version Control System) and Torrent technologies have also come together in IPFS technology.
What is the purpose of IPFS?
IPFS’ mission is to create a perpetual web, and to do so by replacing HTTP. IPFS evolved as a solution to the restrictions in the current physical design of the web. To better understand this, let’s consider some features of today’s web.
Today’s web infrastructure
If you look at the physical landscape of today’s web, its topology, you can better see the differences with IPFS. Let’s first consider two approaches to designing the Web: a network with a centralized architecture and a network with a decentralized architecture.
In networks with a centralized architecture, there is only one server. Such networks have various scalability issues, and there are other issues like having a single point of failure. This problem means that all functionality is lost if the server goes down. Centralized architectural networks can also exhibit poor working performance.
In contrast, decentralized architectural networks use a completely different system that is scalable and works with multiple servers. It outperforms centralized designs in efficiency and has a much better error handling mechanism in case of system errors and issues. But achieving all this can require high costs.
Different approach to IPFS
If you examine the IPFS topology, you will come across a fully distributed architecture. They have nodes that can handle both server and client operations. This is why they work very efficiently. To understand this more easily, see the diagram below:
With today’s HTTP web technology, you can see that a centralized structure is less efficient. A distributed architecture is more efficient, but with HTTP-based web technology, costs are rising too quickly.
IPFS offers a solution. With HTTP you can ask what is at a certain location (like a web address), but with IPFS you can ask where a certain file is (like on a nearby computer).
Let’s clarify this with an example. Say you’re taking a class at university with 100 people when your professor shares a web link with you. When 100 students want to access this web server, 100 different requests go to the server. In response, 100 responses come from the server. It is not an ideal method in terms of efficiency. Additionally, this process becomes more complicated for HTTP when there is a server-side issue (such as data deletion, ISP-side communication issue, or country-based content blocking).
Now consider this example using IPFS. But first, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how IPFS works. Let’s say the HTTP link in the previous example was http://18.104.22.168/folder/data.txt. A comparable IPFS link would be in a structure like /ipfs/WhsYEWbqs0R/folder/file.txt.
You install special software to access the /ipfs architecture. After installation, you can visit the file system as if it were a virtual disk or as if you were accessing an HTTP web address.
When the teacher distributes the link to the students, the students who send the request will be able to receive the data based on their proximity to others who have requested it before. If you are concerned about data integrity, there are cryptology techniques (taking the hash of the data) to verify that you are receiving the correct .
In other words, it is possible to obtain the desired data by connecting to someone who has previously obtained it from the central server, without compromising the integrity of the data. At this point, IPFS uses torrent technology.
IPFS and Blockchains
IPFS has structural similarities with blockchains. For this reason, IPFS and blockchains can work together successfully. Juan Benet, the inventor of IPFS, calls the interoperability of Blockchain and IPFS a perfect marriage. Founded by Juan Benet, Protocol Labs currently hosts the development of several projects in addition to IPFS.
One of Protocol Labs’ initiatives is the IPLD (Inter Planetary Linked Data). With this project, Bitcoin and Ethereum chains are transferred to the IPFS distributed network. It is possible to store many more Blockchain architectures in the IPFS network with this protocol.
One of the goals here is to keep blockchains secure. Another goal is to reach different users who will ensure that this data continues to exist on the network. They do this by rewarding users who store data on the network with an alternative cryptocurrency called filecoin.
The future of IPFS
IPFS appears to affect future Internet usage in several ways. It continues to develop at a very rapid rate and its use is increasing day by day. IPFS is becoming more common in applications that require high-level data storage, file sharing, or security.
IPFS uses many servers and nodes around the world to store files and data. When one of these servers or nodes is damaged, the others will fill the gap and you can recover the system.
In this world where millions of data are born every minute, keeping that data and keeping it secure is evolving with technologies like IPFS. Distributed and decentralized architectures look set to support many areas in the future.