The InterPlanetary File System

I’m in my mid-20s and I managed to live a small part of the LimeWire and Ares Galaxy paraphernalia. I remember hanging around with a neighbor who had a decent computer around 2004–2005 and who was also an avid Ares Galaxy user.

I remember being in utter awe while watching him download song after song using that magical thing on his computer. A couple of years after that, when my mother built a Franken-PC, I rushed to download Ares Galaxy so I could also download music for free. This, in a short time, caused Windows to nag me all the time about viruses and things that were not supposed to populate its vicinity. This enraged my mother, of course.

Those are the memories I recall when I think of P2P networks. Piracy, malware, shaky files that were not always available. Of course, this is not completely true, but that’s the association my brain makes when thinking about P2P.

To my surprise, Brave decided to integrate a technology called IPFS into its browser and according to this article, they have been working on this for months now.

IPFS, or InterPlaneary File System, is a P2P network. One that has very interesting inner workings and that, I feel, is promising. It basically works as a distributed file system where its users can access content hosted by other users. It uses a data structure called Merkle DAG (Directed Acyclical Graph) that’s based on the Merkle Tree. Each node in this graph is identified by a hash that represents its contents, which is another Merkle DAG itself.

Feel free to visit IPFS’s site here to read juicy details about how it works. I find it fascinating myself.

Brave is adding native support in order to ease server and client functionality within its browser. This means that you could relatively easily host content from your machine so other IPFS users can access it.

This has important implications for many groups of people around the world where internet access is restricted or usually undermined in order to strengthen dictatorships or to simply censor certain websites. Brave mentions the case of Wikipedia, a site that is restricted in some countries.

IPFS URLs look like this:

Far from readable, but certainly usable. As of the current version of Brave, you can paste that URL into the search bar and it will lead you to a version of Van Gogh’s Wikipedia article that’s actually served by an IPFS node.

Brave is not the only way there is to use this technology though. You could install a CLI, a Desktop tool, or a server version of it. Brave is just facilitating its usage by providing its browser as a platform.

In times when censorship is highly debated, I’m expecting this technology to gain some heavy usage. Of course, IPFS could be harnessed as an offensive weapon by radicals and dangerous people, but it could also be a shield for people that suffer under oppressive governments.

Is it a game-changer? Perhaps, perhaps not. It totally depends on how its users decide to take advantage of it. Just like every other piece of technology out there.



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