libp2p: the modular P2P network stack by IPFS for better decentralized computing

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libp2p is a P2P Network stack introduced by the IPFS community. libp2p is capable of discovering other peers and networks without resourcing to centralized registries that enables apps to work offline.

In July 2018, Davis Dias explained that the design of a ‘location addressed web’ is the reason for its fragility. Small errors in its backbone can lead to shutting down of all running applications. Firewalls, routing issues, roaming issue, and network reliability interfere with users having a smooth experience on the web. Thus came a need to re-imagine the network stack.

To solve all the above problems, the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) came into being. It is a decentralized web protocol based on content-addressing, digital signatures, and peer-to-peer distribution. Today, IPFS is used to build completely distributed (and offline-capable!) web-apps which are also available offline. IPFS saves and distributes valuable datasets, and moves billions of files.

IPFS spawned several other projects and libp2p is one of them. It enables users to run network applications free from runtime and address services while being independent of their location. libp2p solves the complexity of dealing with numerous protocols in a decentralized environment. It effectively helps users connect with multiple peers using only a single protocol thus paving the way for the next generation of decentralized systems.

Libp2p Features

#1 Transport Module

libp2p enables application developers to pick the modules needed to run their application. These modules vary depending on the runtime they are executing. A libp2p node uses one or more Transports to dial and listen for connections. These transport modules offer a clean interface for dialing and listening which is defined by the interface-transport specification.

#2 No prior assigning of ports

Before libp2p came into existence, users would assign a listener to a port and then assign ports to special protocols. This was done so that other hosts would know in advance which port to dial. With libp2p users do not have to assign ports beforehand.

#3 Encrypted communication

To ensure an encrypted connection, libp2p also supports a set of modules that encrypt every communication established.

#4 Peer Discovery and Routing

A peer discovery module helps libp2p to find peers to connect to. Peer routing finds other peers in the network by intentionally issuing queries, which can be iterative or recursive, until a peer is found. Content routing mechanism is used to find where content lives in the network.

Using libp2p in IPFS

libp2p is now refactored into its own project so that other users can take advantage of it and be part of its ecosystem as well. It is what provides IPFS and other projects the P2P connectivity, support for multiple platforms and browsers and many other advantages.

Users can utilize the libp2p module to create their own libp2p bundle. They can customize their bundles with features and default setup. It also takes into account a user’s needs. For example, the team has built a browser working version of libp2p that acts as the network layer of IPFS and leverages browser transports. You can head over to GitHub to check this example.

Keep Networks has also demonstrated the use of libp2p. Since participants need to know how to connect to each other, the team has come up with a simple example of peer-to-peer discovery. They have used a few pieces of the libp2p JS library to create nodes that discover and communicate with each other. You can head over to their blog to check out how the example works.

Another emerging use for libP2P is in blockchain applications. IPFS is used by blockchains and blockchain applications, and its subprotocols (libp2p, multihash, IPLD) can be extremely useful for blockchain standardization. A good  example of this would be getting the ethereum blockchain in the browser or in a Node.js process using libp2p and running it through ethereum-vm. That being said, there are multiple challenges that developers will encounter while using libP2P for their Blockchain examples. Chris Pacia, the backend developer for OB1, explains how developers can face these challenges in his talk at QCon.

With all the buzz around blockchains and decentralized computing these days, libp2p is making its rounds on the internet. For more insights on libp2p, you can visit their official site.

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