The Hedera Hashgraph platform is a new form of distributed consensus. Like other peer-to-peer platforms, it removes the need for a middleman to complete transactions.
Their website reads: “The platform is lightning fast, fair, and secure and, unlike some blockchain-based platforms, doesn’t require compute-heavy proof-of-work.”
Proof-of-work refers to a piece of data which is difficult to produce but easy for others to verify. In the space of crypto, it is used on blockchains for others to verify transactions as legitimate. It helps ensure that blockchains run as transparently as possible.
The Hedera site notes that the platform can handle “hundreds of thousands of transactions per second” and can “verify over one million signatures per second.”
The platform is thought to ensure that no user blocks the flow of transactions that enter the community. It also claims that no small group of people can influence the consensus order of the transactions, stating, “these features are absent from many distributed ledger technologies, but are a requirement for existing applications today.”
Asynchronous Byzantine fault tolerance
There is a reason why all of this is incredibly promising and why Hedera Hashgraph could potentially revolutionise the way applications work. This is because Hedera uses what’s known as “asynchronous Byzantine fault tolerance,” or “aBFT.”
In a podcast interview with Hidden Forces, founder and chief scientist at Hedera Hashgraph Dr Leemon Baird reveals that, “Byzantine fault tolerance (BFT) means that when you’re trying to figure out the order of transactions, there comes a moment in time when you know that you have reached consensus. Ultimately, Byzantine fault tolerance means three things: 1) we are going to come to consensus, 2) we will know when we’ve come to consensus, and 3) we’re never wrong – you’re mathematically guaranteed to reach the exact same consensus. That’s Byzantine.”
He continues on to state that BFT can either be asynchronous or partially asynchronous. But either way, they are both mathematically guaranteed to produce the same consensus.
Asynchronous Byzantine fault tolerance in the scope of Hashgraph means that it “makes no assumptions about how fast messages are passed over the internet, making it resilient to DDoS attacks, botnets, and firewalls. Hashgraph is mathematically guaranteed to reach consensus and is secure as long as less than one-third of participants are malicious.”
A DDoS attack is a malicious attack that aims to disrupt normal traffic of a targeted server. It achieves this by overwhelming the targeted server/network by flooding it with internet traffic. By preventing DDoS attacks, Hashgraph can, in theory, prevent bad influences from disrupting the platform.
The gossip protocol and other features
Another feature in Hashgraph is their implemented ‘gossip’ protocol. Nodes (computers or other devices) exchange data with other nodes to build the Hashgraph data structure that is cryptographically secure.
The Hedera site notes that “using this (the gossip protocol) as an input, nodes run the same virtual-voting consensus algorithm as other nodes. The community reaches consensus on the order and timestamp without any further communication over the internet.”
The Hedera cryptocurrency is HBAR. Since Hedera has done away with traditional proof-of-work algorithms, the HBAR token will have a high throughput, with low fees and micropayments that are practical. Decentralised application (dApps) developers will also be able to pay for services on the network using HBAR. These services include processing transactions, running smart contracts, and storing files.
The Hedera smart contracts will be written in ‘Solidity’ on their network. Decentralised applications that are built on top of the Hedera Hashgraph platform can use these smart contracts with “greater speed and efficiency than ever before.”
The Hedera Hashgraph project is certainly ambitious in attempting to rival blockchain technology. Whilst Hashgraph is still a form of distributed ledger technology, it isn’t exactly a blockchain either. Originally, Hashgraph didn’t have open source code, since the creators of the Hashgraph algorithm had patented it.
However, in October 2018, Hedera released Hedera SDK in Java. Since the release of SDK, developers have been able to develop Hedera-based applications for use on the platform. It also supports the three services that were on offer beforehand: cryptocurrency, smart contracts, and file storage. SDK can be found on GitHub here.
Hashgraph is still relatively new, and it remains to be seen how powerful it might become. It seems as though all the foundations are there.
However, there are still lingering questions about how decentralised it is. This is because they have a governing council comprised of 39 businesses and enterprises. Hedera believe that governance will ensure “no single member has control, and no small group of members will have influence over the body as a whole.”
Despite the assurance from Hedera, realistically, it isn’t exactly fully decentralised if there is governance overseeing the platform. It’s not as though the council are inherently evil by any means, but it also isn’t exactly clear what role they have and what power they possess. It isn’t that they will do anything wrong, it is more the prospect that they could do. This is a concern shared by others, as Reddit user u/quyhp pointed out back in 2018.
The virtual voting consensus algorithm could have big implications on all future decentralised applications, though. By doing away with proof-of-work, it should enable applications and the platform itself to run quite quickly. Though only time will tell how effective it will be.
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