What is the blockchain ?

“BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY COULD CHANGE OUR WORLD MORE THAN PEOPLE IMAGINE. BITCOIN, HOWEVER, COULD BE A BUBBLE.”


A blockchain is a distributed database that is shared among the nodes of a computer network. As a database, a blockchain stores information electronically in digital format. Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems, such as Bitcoin, for maintaining a secure and decentralized record of transactions.


The innovation with a blockchain is that it guarantees the fidelity and security of a record of data and generates trust without the need for a trusted third party. A blockchain is a distributed database that is shared among the nodes of a computer network. As a database, a blockchain stores information electronically in digital format.


Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems, such as Bitcoin, for maintaining a secure and decentralized record of transactions. The innovation with a blockchain is that it guarantees the fidelity and security of a record of data and generates trust without the need for a trusted third party.


Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.


One key difference between a typical database and a blockchain is how the data is structured. A blockchain collects information together in groups, known as blocks, that hold sets of information. Blocks have certain storage capacities and, when filled, are closed and linked to the previously filled block, forming a chain of data known as the blockchain.


All new information that follows that freshly added block is compiled into a newly formed block that will then also be added to the chain once filled.

A database usually structures its data into tables, whereas a blockchain, like its name implies, structures its data into chunks (blocks) that are strung together. This data structure inherently makes an irreversible timeline of data when implemented in a decentralized nature.


When a block is filled, it is set in stone and becomes a part of this timeline. Each block in the chain is given an exact time stamp when it is added to the chain.

Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, two mathematicians who wanted to implement a system where document time stamps could not be tampered with. In the late 1990s, cypherpunk Nick Szabo proposed using a blockchain to secure a digital payments system, known as bit gold (which was never implemented)


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Blockchain is a type of shared database that differs from a typical database in the way that it stores information; blockchains store data in blocks that are then linked together via cryptography.

  • As new data comes in, it is entered into a fresh block. Once the block is filled with data, it is chained onto the previous block, which makes the data chained together in chronological order.

  • Different types of information can be stored on a blockchain, but the most common use so far has been as a ledger for transactions.

  • In Bitcoin’s case, blockchain is used in a decentralized way so that no single person or group has control—rather, all users collectively retain control.

  • Decentralized blockchains are immutable, which means that the data entered is irreversible. For Bitcoin, this means that transactions are permanently recorded and viewable to anyone.

Why blockchain is important ?

Business runs on information. The faster it’s received and the more accurate it is, the better. Blockchain is ideal for delivering that information because it provides immediate, shared and completely transparent information stored on an immutable ledger that can be accessed only by permissioned network members.

A blockchain network can track orders, payments, accounts, production and much more. And because members share a single view of the truth, you can see all details of a transaction end to end, giving you greater confidence, as well as new efficiencies and opportunities.

WORKING OF BLOCKCHAIN

The goal of blockchain is to allow digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not edited. In this way, a blockchain is the foundation for immutable ledgers, or records of transactions that cannot be altered, deleted, or destroyed.


This is why blockchains are also known as a distributed ledger technology (DLT).

First proposed as a research project in 1991, the blockchain concept predated its first widespread application in use: Bitcoin, in 2009.


In the years since, the use of blockchains has exploded via the creation of various cryptocurrencies, decentralized finance (DeFi) applications, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and smart contracts.


Blockchain Decentralization

What a blockchain does is to allow the data held in that database to be spread out among several network nodes at various locations. This not only creates redundancy but also maintains the fidelity of the data stored therein—if somebody tries to alter a record at one instance of the database, the other nodes would not be altered and thus would prevent a bad actor from doing so.


If one user tampers with Bitcoin’s record of transactions, all other nodes would cross-reference each other and easily pinpoint the node with the incorrect information. This system helps to establish an exact and transparent order of events. This way, no single node within the network can alter information held within it.


Because of this, the information and history (such as of transactions of a cryptocurrency) are irreversible. Such a record could be a list of transactions (such as with a cryptocurrency), but it also is possible for a blockchain to hold a variety of other information like legal contracts, state identifications, or a company’s product inventory.


Transparency

Because of the decentralized nature of Bitcoin’s blockchain, all transactions can be transparently viewed by either having a personal node or using blockchain explorers that allow anyone to see transactions occurring live. Each node has its own copy of the chain that gets updated as fresh blocks are confirmed and added.


This means that if you wanted to, you could track Bitcoin wherever it goes.

For example, exchanges have been hacked in the past, where those who kept Bitcoin on the exchange lost everything. While the hacker may be entirely anonymous, the Bitcoins that they extracted are easily traceable.


If the Bitcoins stolen in some of these hacks were to be moved or spent somewhere, it would be known.

Of course, the records stored in the Bitcoin blockchain (as well as most others) are encrypted. This means that only the owner of a record can decrypt it to reveal their identity (using a public-private key pair). As a result, users of blockchains can remain anonymous while preserving transparency.


SECURITY OF BLOCKCHAIN

Blockchain technology achieves decentralized security and trust in several ways. To begin with, new blocks are always stored linearly and chronologically. That is, they are always added to the “end” of the blockchain. After a block has been added to the end of the blockchain, it is extremely difficult to go back and alter the contents of the block unless a majority of the network has reached a consensus to do so.


That’s because each block contains its own hash, along with the hash of the block before it, as well as the previously mentioned time stamp. Hash codes are created by a mathematical function that turns digital information into a string of numbers and letters. If that information is edited in any way, then the hash code changes as well.

Due to the size of many cryptocurrency networks and how fast they are growing, the cost to pull off such a feat probably would be insurmountable.


This would be not only extremely expensive but also likely fruitless. Doing such a thing would not go unnoticed, as network members would see such drastic alterations to the blockchain. The network members would then hard fork off to a new version of the chain that has not been affected. This would cause the attacked version of the token to plummet in value, making the attack ultimately pointless, as the bad actor has control of a worthless asset.


The same would occur if the bad actor were to attack the new fork of Bitcoin. It is built this way so that taking part in the network is far more economically incentivized than attacking it.


Bitcoin vs. Blockchain

Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, two researchers who wanted to implement a system where document time stamps could not be tampered with. But it wasn’t until almost two decades later, with the launch of Bitcoin in January 2009, that blockchain had its first real-world application.


The key thing to understand here is that Bitcoin merely uses blockchain as a means to transparently record a ledger of payments, but blockchain can, in theory, be used to immutably record any number of data points. As discussed above, this could be in the form of transactions, votes in an election, product inventories, state identifications, deeds to homes, and much more.


Currently, tens of thousands of projects are looking to implement blockchains in a variety of ways to help society other than just recording transactions—for example, as a way to vote securely in democratic elections. The nature of blockchain’s immutability means that fraudulent voting would become far more difficult to occur.


For example, a voting system could work such that each citizen of a country would be issued a single cryptocurrency or token. Each candidate would then be given a specific wallet address, and the voters would send their token or crypto to the address of whichever candidate for whom they wish to vote. The transparent and traceable nature of blockchain would eliminate both the need for human vote counting and the ability of bad actors to tamper with physical ballots.


How Are Blockchains Used?

As we now know, blocks on Bitcoin’s blockchain store data about monetary transactions. Today, there are more than 10,000 other cryptocurrency systems running on blockchain. But it turns out that blockchain is actually a reliable way of storing data about other types of transactions as well.


Some companies that have already incorporated blockchain include Walmart, Pfizer, AIG, Siemens, Unilever, and a host of others. For example, IBM has created its Food Trust blockchain to trace the journey that food products take to get to their locations.

The food industry has seen countless outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, as well as hazardous materials being accidentally introduced to foods.


In the past, it has taken weeks to find the source of these outbreaks or the cause of sickness from what people are eating. Using blockchain gives brands the ability to track a food product’s route from its origin, through each stop it makes, and finally, its delivery. If a food is found to be contaminated, then it can be traced all the way back through each stop to its origin.


Not only that, but these companies can also now see everything else it may have come in contact with, allowing the identification of the problem to occur far sooner and potentially saving lives. This is one example of blockchain in practice, but there are many other forms of blockchain implementation.


Banking and Finance

Perhaps no industry stands to benefit from integrating blockchain into its business operations more than banking. Financial institutions only operate during business hours, usually five days a week. That means if you try to deposit a check on Friday at 6 p.m., you will likely have to wait until Monday morning to see that money hit your account.


Even if you do make your deposit during business hours, the transaction can still take one to three days to verify due to the sheer volume of transactions that banks need to settle. Blockchain, on the other hand, never sleeps.


By integrating blockchain into banks, consumers can see their transactions processed in as little as 10 minutes—basically the time it takes to add a block to the blockchain, regardless of holidays or the time of day or week. With blockchain, banks also have the opportunity to exchange funds between institutions more quickly and securely.


In the stock trading business, for example, the settlement and clearing process can take up to three days (or longer, if trading internationally), meaning that the money and shares are frozen for that period of time.

Given the size of the sums involved, even the few days that the money is in transit can carry significant costs and risks for banks.


Currency

Blockchain forms the bedrock for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The U.S. dollar is controlled by the Federal Reserve. Under this central authority system, a user’s data and currency are technically at the whim of their bank or government. If a user’s bank is hacked, the client’s private information is at risk.


If the client’s bank collapses or the client lives in a country with an unstable government, the value of their currency may be at risk. In 2008, several failing banks were bailed out—partially using taxpayer money. These are the worries out of which Bitcoin was first conceived and developed.


By spreading its operations across a network of computers, blockchain allows Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to operate without the need for a central authority. This not only reduces risk but also eliminates many of the processing and transaction fees. It can also give those in countries with unstable currencies or financial infrastructures a more stable currency with more applications and a wider network of individuals and institutions with whom they can do business, both domestically and internationally.


Using cryptocurrency wallets for savings accounts or as a means of payment is especially profound for those who have no state identification. Some countries may be war-torn or have governments that lack any real infrastructure to provide identification. Citizens of such countries may not have access to savings or brokerage accounts—and, therefore, no way to safely store wealth.