Pelle Braendgaard has a textbook biography of an old security programmer. At the age of 12, he used to go to his local computer store in Denmark to write BASIC code on an eight-bit Sinclair ZX Spectrum. In 1993, he stumbled upon Mosaic, the first graphic web browser, while surfing the UNIX command line indefinitely on a university computer. He quickly fell in love with the web and found a job as a webmaster for AltaVista, a pioneering search engine.
“In the early days, you really had to find it all by yourself,” Braendgaard said, his voice hovering between Danish and American. “All of us who were growing back then, we had to learn everything… didn’t have a good library. There are no good developer tools. “
The Web has evolved since then, but Braendgaard has continued. Today, he is writing decentralized applications, or “DApps” for Ethereum – a cryptographic-based technology that is as green as the web in the 1990s, offering similar novelty and opportunity to make an impact.
If everyone knew about Ethereum, it was like Bitcoin’s experimental cousin. If they know one thing about it, it’s that the price of Ether, Ethereum’s base currency, has skyrocketed to 20 in the past six months. But the ensuing get-rich-quick craze that followed has caused many to ignore Ethereum’s more enduring significance. Not just a new digital currency, it’s a new kind of decentralized computer – a computer that no one controls but inside, anyone can see. On this machine, a new generation of applications, called “DApps”, was born.
How can Ethereum be a cryptocurrency and one computer at the same time? Instead of running on a laptop or server, it runs on thousands of PCs at the same time, all kept in sync with blockchain technology. In its simplest form, blockchain is an ordered list of items to which all of these computers agree. On Ethereum, that list is made up of programmable computer states (think one and zero). Anyone can pay currency (Ether, not dollars) to run their code on – and thus change – the state of the computer. Miners put their machines in a random math race for a chance to choose which code to run next (i.e. add the next block of numbers and zeros to the list) and collect associated fees. concerned.
This system is called the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), or colloquially, “world computer. “The code is run publicly, but the user is pseudonym. It’s like Amazon Web Services, except that instead of Amazon as a seller and a user as a buyer, the user can play one of two roles. No individual controls the system. That makes Ethereum truly new – unprecedented.
Decentralized applications, or DApps, are programs that run on the world’s computers. However, “Run” may not be the right word, because Ethereum-computer is terribly slow and coding for it is like turning a digital clock for decades. Computing on EVM is currently too expensive and inefficient to run a modern web-based service like Twitter. Storing even a profile photo would cost hundreds of dollars and today the network can only run around seven transactions per second. (For comparison, Facebook runs 25,000 transactions per second search alone.) Software changes can speed some things up, but Ethereum is always slower than regular computers.
It’s a cumbersome system, but that doesn’t stop developers from writing Ethereum programs. They are drawn to what the platform earns by spending all of those additional resources. DApps are small, interconnected scripts for transferring money and connecting users. They are good at coordinating multiple computers for currency-exchange tasks without any central oversight. This decentralization is Ethereum’s biggest attraction. DApps don’t need to trust the benevolence of central administrators like Amazon to run the code, or into payment systems like PayPal or banks to exchange currency.
Blockchain theorists have named this decentralized protection from outside interference: They call it “distrust,” and it’s the core of many DApps. (This term is confusing, because it sounds like a label for something you can’t trust. But what is it really saying, because you can trust cryptography and blockchain, you can’t trust it. needs to listen to anyone for anything.) “Hello, World!” of the Ethereum DApp development – which novice programmers use to learn how the system works – is the voting DApp. If a voting DApp is used, such as a presidential race, the DApp can automatically count the votes and determine the winner. All votes will be anonymous, but anyone can see the code that counts them, and the system will not be tampered with by Russian oligarchs. Braendgaard is the lead engineer of another type of DApp called uPort, which uses trustlessness to allow users to self-manage Identity. Users can prove their identity using other apps, but unlike when logging into an app via Facebook or Google, they can do so without having to trust a centralized provider.