Content delivery network service provider Cloudflare announced September 17, 2018, their new Interplanetary File System (IPFS) gateway in a blog post. The gateway is the first product part of their Distributed Web Gateway project, which is their initiative to support the emerging distributed web.
Traditional vs. IPFS
IPFS was a project first designed by Juan Benet but is now an open-source networking protocol on which a large community of developers works. Many storage coins such as Storj and Filecoin rely on the IPFS for their blockchain platforms to work, but this is the first time a company of this size has implemented it.
Traditionally, content on the internet is addressed based. When a user types in an address, say Google.com, they really are asking “show me the content at this address.” Domain names are human-readable versions of the actual locations, which are conveyed via IP addresses.
The IPFS works differently, though. Instead of requesting a server to show content from a specific location, the user is asking the network “who has content matching this description?” So, in this scenario, the network is like a search engine with the user telling the network what they want, and the network looking for where it’s located.
This has several advantages for the network and the user. The first is the lack of centralization.
In the traditional web, companies have massive servers that host all the content and push them to visitors when requested. This saves on costs and lowers the barriers of users posting and seeking content.
IPFS is not just for static, non-interactive sites. To prove this, we set up a searchable mirror of Stack Exchange, purely on IPFS powered by the Distributed Web Gateway.
— Nick Sullivan (@grittygrease) September 17, 2018
Another significant advantage is resilience. Instead of one central server hosting the content, users are free to become a node and support the network. This distinction also allows for multiple copies of the same piece of content, preventing content from being geo-restricted or from being censored. Since content is also distributed geographically, this can also lead to faster access times for the end user.
The IPFS system also has the crucial characteristic of making sure content hasn’t been tampered with. Without getting too technical, each piece of content is identified with a hash, the IPFS’s version of an IP address.
Since hashes are unique to content, even changing a single value will give you an entirely different hash. This means that if you receive content based on a hash that you request, and you rehash the content and end up with a different value, you know that your data has been tampered with.
While CloudFlare isn’t the first company to embrace IPFS technology, it’s undoubtedly one of the largest. Its support allows for specific ideas and concepts that were once reality, into a feasible action. Dieter Shirley, CTO of Dapper Labs and co-founder of CryptoKitties, said the following:
“We’ve wanted to store CryptoKitty art on IPFS since we launched, but the tech just wasn’t ready yet. Cloudflare’s announcement turns IPFS from a promising experiment into a robust tool for commercial deployment. Great stuff!”