Frequently Asked Questions

What is DFINITY?
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DFINITY is a public network of client computers providing a "decentralized world compute cloud" where software can be installed and run with all the usual benefits expected of "smart contract" systems hosted on a traditional blockchain. The underlying technology is also designed to support highly resilient tamperproof private clouds that provide the added benefit that hosted software can call into smart contracts on the public cloud.

DFINITY is an Ethereum-family technology and is fully compatible with the public Ethereum network - if you can run a Dapp on Ethereum, you can run it on DFINITY too. There exist several fundamental differences between the networks however, and they are really sister systems offering different things. DFINITY introduces new crypto:3 protocols and techniques that aim to deliver extreme performance, unlimited scalability, interoperability and other benefits. Another difference is that whereas in Ethereum "The Code is Law", DFINITY introduces governance by a decentralized intelligence called the Blockchain Nervous System. These differences involve tradeoffs, and DFINITY is best understood as an exciting new extension of the Ethereum ecosystem that will make it much, much stronger.

When will DFINITY be live?
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Technology components used by the DFINITY project are being released into the public domain for those interested in decentralized technology (for example, software related to a crucial technique known as Threshold Relay is already in the public domain). A beta network created using the "Copper Release" client software is expected towards the end of Q1 2018. The expectation is that the Copper network will launch end Q2 2018. A supporting foundation, DFINITY Stiftung, has been created in Zug, and will assist with work.

Is DFINITY an Ethereum competitor?
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DFINITY is conceived as an extension of the Ethereum ecosystem - a sister world computer network that prioritizes performance and scalability and where smart contracts are subject to a decentralized intelligence, which is very different to "The Code is Law". This will bring people into the ecosystem that have different needs that performance and decentralized governance by a distributed AI can solve. Of course, the features we provide involve some design tradeoffs. The ecosystem will be broader and more attractive because users can choose whatever suits them better. All our engineers and researchers care deeply about Ethereum and open source. We will maintain the maximum possible level of compatibility and Stiftung DFINITY will contribute funding and effort to Ethereum projects.

How does DFINITY strengthen Ethereum?
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This is not a zero sum game. Right now numerous decentralized platforms are vying for dominance. The Ethereum ecosystem can win by eschewing monoculture. For example, during the 1990s many different hardware platforms vied for dominance. These included the PowerPC, SPARC and 8086 family architectures. In the end 8086 won largely because it was a more diverse ecosystem that provided more options. Dell, HP and many other operations became much bigger individually than dominant/monopoly operations on the others, which eventually disappeared or switched to 8086. This is the vision we have for the EVM ("Ethereum Virtual Machine") and systems that run on it. We believe that DFINITY will drive the value of the Ethereum network upwards.

Why introduce governance by a distributed AI?
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DFINITY's Blockchain Nervous System (or "BNS") solves a bunch of critical problems for certain people, and it will also allow us to accelerate development far beyond what limitations of current architectures allow. With respect to business, many organizations cannot easily move significant systems and assets onto the decentralized cloud when, if their systems deadlock or they are hacked, "The Code is Law" approach prevents them finding a solution. In many impactful potential consumer applications, arguably it is also unfair to hold users responsible for flaws in smart contract code they cannot read themselves. The BNS can address and often resolve such situations by executing arbitrary privileged code. Generally speaking, the BNS will tend to make decisons that maximize the value of "dfinities" and we expect this will result in it maintaining an initial "genesis" constitution that declares systems whose primary purpose is vice or violence should be frozen since this will make its appeal broadest. There is no concept of a hardfork - traditional client software client such as geth or parity (the two main Ethereum clients) is wrapped in a proxy that is BNS aware. It can continuously upgrade the inner client without interrupting dependent applications and users.

Are you serious about hosting decentralized versions of massive online services like Gmail?
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Yes. DFINITY protocol research began with the assumption that the network must contain a million or more mining computers, and that together these will be required to provide a massive virtual compute capacity (i.e. scale out). Research objectives also include considerations regarding how the network can meet different kinds of computational requirements. For example, Web search is in many ways very suited to vast decentralized networks, but the need for results to be returned quickly requires engineers are given flexibility in how they schedule validated computations. These kinds of considerations are baked into DFINITY's thinking.

Where does the inspiration for DFINITY come from?
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Unsurprisingly, DFINITY can be traced back to cypherpunk and decentralization thinking, but there are some twists. Back in 1999 Dominic Williams was using Wei Dai's crypto++ library and came across his bMoney proposal. The idea struck him as important, although he was consumed with working on a Dot Com era technology and had no time to follow up. He independently developed deep interests in distributed computing and scalability - he launched an MMO game in 2010 that grew to 3MM users that relied heavily on technology he created. In 2013 Dominic abandoned everything he was doing to concentrate on decentralization technology, working through 2014 on theory. DFINITY came out of an earlier project called Pebble that was involved scaling needs.

How did DFINITY start growing?
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In 2015 Dominic teamed up with Tom Ding, a crypto entrepreneur, and co-founded a crypto studio, incubator and investor in Palo Alto called String Labs. Due to extensive theoretical groundwork already existing, and pressing demand for the functionality only an AI-governed world compute "decentralized cloud" can easily deliver, String Labs decided DFINITY would be the first protocol it helped incubate to production. The core team was later joined by Timo Hanke, a cryptographer who had previous designed ASIC Boost. Stiftung DFINITY has been formed to take the project to the next stage.

Is DFINITY linked to academia?
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We stay carefully in touch but are only indirectly linked. We are located near Stanford University and Dominic's designs rely heavily on applying the BLS algorithm to create randomness, which was designed by Dan Boneh and his PhDs. Dominic attends events and occasionally talks on campus. There has been cooperation with the Decentralized and Distributed Systems (DEDIS) Group at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which had two members working full time on DFINITY. Before DFINITY in 2014 the Pebble project included several academics now well known for their interests in crypto including Andrew Miller, Elaine Shi, Steve Omohundro and Ferdinando Ametrano. Although DFINITY uses very different systems, Honey Badger is closely related to an approach to distributed consensus originally used by Pebble. The DFINITY project counts several academics as contributors - and interested parties should contact us to see how they can help.

How can I meet DFINITY people in person?
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We can be found in Silicon Valley and all around the world, especially at crypto conferences!!! Feel free to drop us a line [email protected]

Does DFINITY have release schedule?
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Yes. The first three client releases are:

  • Copper (in progress) Using the DFINITY "Threshold Relay Chain" system that drives the network using an incorruptible, unpredictable and unforkable source of endogenously produced randomness as a foundation, Copper will finalize computations at least 50X faster than on Ethereum and maximum throughput is expected to be significantly higher. A fully functioning Blockchain Nervous System will ease future protocol upgrades. The client will interact with the network via a dynamically loaded "protocol library" whose hash is specified by the BNS, allowing the BNS to orchestrate minor protocol changes and optimizations on the fly without interrupting users.
  • Zinc Software on DFINITY private networks can make atomic calls into software on the public/open DFINITY network.
  • Tungsten Building on the randomness created by Threshold Relay, Tungsten introduces DFINITY systems that enable the network to scale out with miners: USCIDs, Validation Towers, Validation Trees and micro-shards (mining computers belong to many shards). The main chain will become a "legacy shard". Software automatically deployed to new faster shards must adopt an asynchronous message-passing model to interoperate with software on other shards seamlessly. Basic legacy limitations that constrain transactions/computations to a single block will be removed, allowing creation of daemons or other useful new forms of autonomous systems.