Why Hyperledger wants to be the ‘Linux of blockchain’

Blockchain technology offers many different benefits to enterprise developers — but there’s no cross-industry open standard for how to develop it.

That makes it difficult for vendors and CIO customers to place their bets and begin building it into their technology architecture. Hyperledger, a Linux Foundation project to produce a standard open-source blockchain, wants to solve that problem, and it just got an executive director, Brian Behlendorf, to help it on its way. He founded the Apache Software Foundation, was previously on the board of the Mozilla Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and managed tech VC firm Mithril Capital Management.

The blockchain community is still young and fragmented. Many organizations are trying to build things on top of the original bitcoin blockchain and extend its functionality, capitalizing on the fact that the bitcoin network is secured by its massive base of users.

Others are developing ‘sidechains’ that are independent blockchains with new functionality such as increased speed. These chains are ‘pegged’ to the bitcoin blockchain by exchanging tokens with it.

Then, there are other efforts such as Ethereum, which builds smart contracts into the mix, Chain, which is building its own blockchain for financial services, Clearmatics (which uses the Ethereum virtual machine in its own architecture), Tendermint, and Ripple.

A need for standards

There is no real standard for blockchain code, which is why the Linux Foundation has stepped in with Hyperledger. It is an open-sourced blockchain project designed to be the Linux of the blockchain world. The Foundation just appointed Behlendorf to head up the new project, and he said that there’s still a lot of work to do.

Hyperledger already had submissions or other development contributions from IBM, Intel, financial blockchain firm Distributed Asset Holdings, and sidechains firm Blockstream. The trick is to decide what to keep and how to tie it together.

“We are moving rapidly and trying to get a sense for what it takes to get from here to production-quality code,” Behlendorf said. “There are lots of conversations going on with Ethereum and other distributed ledger projects to see how much code can we share between these projects? How much can we avoid having to reinvent the wheel?”

He hopes to see a technology stack that includes an out-of-the-box experience for technically adept users comfortable with running a command line interface. There is already some code to help people deploy Hyperledger nodes in a Docker environment.

“It’s not pretty, it’s not polished, the documentation still needs work, but to me that’s the sign of a healthy open source community,” he said.

Hyperledger isn’t trying to preserve a particular blockchain, Behlendorf pointed out. Hyperledger will work with all blockchain companies to share code and ideas. “In that future you have a lot more freedom to experiment with consensus mechanisms and protocols and allow people to upgrade or switch,” he said. “We just want people to use as much Hyperledger code in their own projects as they can.”

He envisages a future that has lots of blockchains incorporating some aspect of Hyperledger code. Some of them will be public ones, designed for many anonymous users to participate in, and some will be private (also known as ‘permissioned’) versions designed for more tightly-controlled communities such as banking partners.

Some banks have already taken premier levels of membership in the Hyperledger project, including JP Morgan, Accenture, Deutsche Börse and the DTCC depository and clearing house.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradburyhttp://www.wordherder.net
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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