7 blockchain technologies to watch out for in 2017

  1. Bitcoin
  2. ZCash
  3. Ethereum
  4. Ripple
  5. Hyperledger Fabric
  6. Corda
  7. Intel Sawtooth

Let’s start with the “first” blockchain — Bitcoin

Bitcoin

Bitcoin blockchain was first introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto in his white paper back in the year 2008. While Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency has caught the attention of the mainstream media, as a developer, far more interesting is the underlying technology — Blockchain! This is where it all started. Bitcoin was a great innovation, because it solved two fundamental problems in a decentralized manner — preventing double spend and decentralised trust!

  1. Increasing the block size
  2. Payment channels
  3. Decreasing the transaction data size

Segwit (Segregated Witness)

While there were a lot of discussions and debates going on about increasing the block size of the Bitcoin blockchain itself, in a Scaling Bitcoin conference in Hong Kong in December 2015, one of the Bitcoin lead developers, Pieter Wuille, presented the idea of Segwit at that conference. It was an interesting innovation which proposed to remove the signature data from transactions and send it separately, thus increasing the capacity of the blocks to carry more transactions.

Zcash

Zcash is the latest shiny thing in the land of Bitcoin and blockchains. Personally, I have always been fascinated by Zero-Knowledge proofs, and Zcash is one of the best embodiments of this technology. Another non-technical challenge of Bitcoin, and one of the criticisms by users has been the public nature of the transactions. All the transactions can be traced back to an originating address (unless you go through a mixing service or some other mechanism) and this can lead to a lot of problems, like revealing how much assets you own. Also, there’s the issue of using ‘tainted Bitcoins’ — the Bitcoins which have been used for illegal or shady purposes before.

Ethereum

Etheruem is a blockchain which was the brainchild of Vitalik Buterin, and the first public implementation, called Frontier was released in mid-2015. Etheruem has a Turing-complete virtual machine called EVM. The major improvement over the Bitcoin blockchain is the native ability to write Smart Contracts. Ethereum has several languages which can accomplish this — Solidity, Serpent, LLL, etc. although Solidity is currently the most supported language by the community.

Eris

Eris is a platform for building, testing, maintaining, and operating ecosystem applications with a blockchain backend. Eris makes it easy and simple to wrangle the dragons of smart contract blockchains.
- https://monax.io/platform/

Ripple

Ripple is a blockchain technology, which focuses on settlement and financial applications of the technology. It has been built from ground up so that it can integrate easily with banks’ existing infrastructure, without much integration overhead.

Hyperledger

Just to make things clear, Hyperledger project is an incubation project for different Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) by the Linux Foundation. This project currently has three implementations in incubation — namely, Fabric, Sawtooth and recently Corda. While Fabric is the implementation by IBM, Sawtooth is being developed by Intel and Corda by R3.

Fabric

In this section I am going to talk about the implementation by IBM called Fabric. Fabric is essentially a private version of the blockchain, in which the nodes in the network form a private chain and share the data. This blockchain is being primarily used by enterprises for conducting POCs and solve the different problems existing in the enterprise ecosystem. Fabric is an open-source protocol and developers can contribute to the development. It is about to release a v1.0 (mostly Q1-Q2 2017) wherein there will be major changes in the protocol, including the consensus algorithms.

Corda

Corda is an implementation of the DLT developed by a company called R3. While they were developing it independently earlier, they became a part of the Hyperledger project later on. In November 2016, they open-sourced the code of the project. This implementation is based on the UTXO model, similar to Bitcoin as opposed to Ethereum.

Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Lake is an implementation of Hyperledger project being developed by Intel. It is an open source project with an Apache license.

Challenges for Hyperledger implementations

Some of the challenges facing Hyperledger in general are the maturity of the technology itself. Compared to Bitcoin and Ethereum, there is a lesser adoption from the wider community outside the enterprises themselves or their developer community. While protocols like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been around for a few years and survived major changes and attacks on its code, Hyperledger protocols are relatively newer and hence there might be some unknowns when it comes to scalable production grade applications.

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