When a person first approaches the entirety of the Elastos vision, its comprehensiveness can be overwhelming. In order to help crack what some perceive as the enigma of Elastos, it is helpful to begin with something familiar. An appropriate starting place is an Ethereum DApp.
In observing an Ethereum DApp, the one element that utilizes decentralization is smart contracts. Smart contracts are a huge innovation, but can a DApp that solely utilizes smart contracts be considered a paragon of decentralization? I would argue no.
Allow me to explain.
Smart contracts are something that are considered mainly “back-end” (which means something that operates away from the end user). If, for example, a CryptoKitty user wants to either buy or interact with a CryptoKitty, the user has to interact/interface with a website on the “front-end” (which means something that the end user directly interacts or interfaces with).
The problem we have here is that the only decentralized aspect of an Ethereum DApp is the smart contract back-end, while the DApp’s website front-end interface remains centralized.
But what if the website goes down? What if the DNS server gets hacked? What if the maker of the DApp goes out of business? Even if you still own your CryptoKitty on the blockchain, is it still worth as much (or worth anything at all) if people can no longer access the website to interact with that CryptoKitty? These are all questions that should wake you up to the reality that today’s DApps are not as decentralized as advertised.
Ethereum has been referred to as a Web 3.0 project by some. Theoretically, yes, we could consider Ethereum its own new web with all of the projects and DApps within its ecosystem. However, we have to realize that the Ethereum web has only one single service–smart contracts–and smart contracts alone are not enough to fulfill the true Web 3.0 vision.
Think of the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle: all the pieces are supposed to come together to form a grand image of a decentralized internet, yet half (or more) of the pieces are missing!
Solving the Web 3.0 Jigsaw Puzzle
So what are the missing decentralized puzzle pieces and where can we find them?
To answer this, let’s get back to the enigma of Elastos. Elastos is a whole suite of services that all come together to form a special environment where people can create and use truly decentralized apps, aptly named the “SmartWeb.” You can think of all of these Elastos services as the missing puzzle pieces that are lacking from Ethereum’s jigsaw puzzle which only contains smart contracts.
Puzzle piece #1 is the Elastos Carrier network, which takes over all network traffic, and any device that connects to the Carrier network will automatically join the network in the task of relaying data. All data sent through the Carrier network is end-to-end encrypted and all communications/transmissions are routed randomly through Carrier nodes, making data virtually impossible to intercept. Carrier can be described as a type of buffer that insulates the traditional and less secure internet communication protocols of today.
Puzzle piece #2 is the Elastos Runtime Environment, which is a safe and trusted sandboxed environment for DApps and media to execute and run locally on the user’s device. It also blocks any non-carrier network traffic from entering or leaving the sandbox by default. Even though the Runtime Environment is essentially on lockdown by default, it should be noted that a DApp developer does have the flexibility of allowing their app to contact certain services from the traditional internet to pull in external data if necessary, such as sports scores. An Elastos app that incorporates some centralized services is called a Hybrid App, whereas a completely decentralized app is called a DApp, and this distinction is made clear to the end user before deciding whether or not to continue with a particular app.
Puzzle piece #3 is Elastos Hive, which is a P2P storage solution for the Elastos ecosystem. One could think of it as a type of decentralized cloud storage service. In the future, anyone can become a Hive node and rent out their spare disk space to store files on behalf of the Elastos ecosystem. These files are encrypted before arrival and during storage on the Hive nodes, and are only decrypted on delivery to the file’s rightful end destination.
Puzzle piece #4 is the Elastos Sidechains, which are of course subordinate to the Elastos Mainchain as the base trust layer. The Elastos Mainchain achieves trust through merged mining with Bitcoin, in other words piggybacking off of the immense hashpower of the Bitcoin network. The Mainchain does not handle any smart contracts, instead delegating smart contracts to dedicated sidechains to distribute the load.
Two such sidechains are the ETH and NEO Sidechains running in Elastos. Aside from a few tweaks, they are designed to emulate their original counterparts, and are easily able to onboard developers from these ecosystems by allowing them to port over their already existing smart contracts. A key advantage of these sidechains versus their original counterparts is that the smart contracts on these sidechains can now interact with the rest of the Elastos ecosystem and its services. Another key improvement is that more of these sidechains can eventually be spawned to further distribute the load as demand comes in. It’s analogous to a city building new roads to help with traffic congestion. Even though the city’s newly built roads may technically be separate from one another, those roads can still end up interconnecting with each other if needed somewhere along the vast road network.
Another noteworthy sidechain in Elastos is the DID (Decentralized ID) Sidechain. This sidechain keeps track of the IDs for every user, device, and DApp, and is secured by the hashpower of Bitcoin, just like the Elastos Mainchain. This sidechain is important because it helps disintermediate the handling of IDs which have been traditionally controlled by centralized companies. For example, when you go to a site/app, instead of it saying “Login with Twitter” or “Login with Facebook,” it could now say something like “Login with Elastos,” and that login would be cryptographic in nature, rather than using the traditional email and password scheme.
Wrapping It All Together
So how would all of this work in action? First you would download and install the Elastos app from the App Store. This app is essentially a browser for the Elastos SmartWeb, similar to how Chrome is a browser for the World Wide Web. Think of it as a window into a new frontier if you will. When you open the app, you are now running a virtual machine on your phone that is sandboxed from everything else on your phone. In other words, what happens in Elastos, stays in Elastos.
Now that you are running the Elastos app on your phone, you navigate your way through the SmartWeb to find the DApp game that you are looking for. When you download the DApp, the data download would come from the decentralized Hive nodes, and be transmitted through the decentralized Carrier network nodes to your device. The game will then run inside the Elastos Runtime Environment, which is a safe and trusted execution environment that ensures integrity. If that DApp requires a sign-in, you would sign in cryptographically using your corresponding ID that is on the DID sidechain. If there is a transaction of assets within the game, that would likely be handled by smart contracts on either the ETH or NEO sidechains.
Truly Scarce and Tradable Digital Media
Let’s now move on to a different use case that the Elastos suite of services enables: the ability to have truly scarce and tradable digital media. You will be able to buy a movie on Elastos, in which case the ownership token for that movie will be transferred to your address. Then you will download the movie P2P from Hive through the Carrier network, but when you go to actually run the movie, the Runtime Environment will check against the blockchain to verify that you still have the ownership token for that movie. If you still have the ownership token, the movie will run. If you no longer have the ownership token, the Runtime Environment will not allow the movie to be played. When you are done with the movie, you will then be able to sell that movie to someone else P2P for less than what you bought it for, or perhaps for more than what you bought it for if the movie is a scarce limited edition with only 1,000 copies in circulation, thus making it a collectors item. The creator or publisher of that movie can also automatically receive a royalty cut of what the movie is resold for during its lifetime through smart contracts.
Most people do not understand how the current internet works, therefore cracking the enigma of a new internet is a challenge at first. However, once you begin to see the true vision of a decentralized Web 3.0, it becomes clear how a new digital economy can spawn from it. When you have decentralization that encompasses not just the back-end, but the front-end as well, you have a web that is capable of achieving things that just were not possible before. This is the SmartWeb, where crucial security layers are built in natively without having to delegate the feat of security to centralized big brothers like Facebook and Google. With native security built in, we can give the power back to the people and unlock the true potential of what the Web could eventually be.
by Dylan Hanson