Home Blockchain What Is the Blockchain and What's it Used For? – PCMag

What Is the Blockchain and What's it Used For? – PCMag

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At this level, most individuals have at the least heard of blockchain, but it surely’s change into one thing of a operating joke how advanced the expertise could be to know. Chances are high you affiliate the expertise with Bitcoin, however whereas that was the primary real-world utility of blockchain expertise, it’s removed from the one use case.


What Is Blockchain?

A section of computing nodes on a circuit board


(Illustration: Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Photos)

Whereas some folks equate the invention of blockchain with Bitcoin’s pseudonymous founder Satoshi Nakomota, the idea has been round since 1991, first coined in a paper by researchers Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta referred to as “How to Timestamp a Digital Document.”

Also called distributed ledger technology (DLT), the blockchain is a file that anybody can add to, that no person can change, and that is not managed by anybody particular person or entity. The core idea is a public ledger with copies unfold out amongst a number of areas referred to as nodes, which often discuss with particular person computer systems with copies of the ledger. 

That is what folks imply once they discuss with the blockchain as decentralized. Nobody particular person or entity has management of the data stored within the file. As a substitute, it’s distributed among the many many nodes that make up the community.

With the intention to change the ledger, these modifications should first be verified by everybody on the community. So long as all copies of the file match, the system is aware of it might replace the data. This will increase the issue of fixing something saved throughout the blockchain whereas constructing belief within the data that’s recorded.

As journalist Mike Orcutt put it within the MIT Technology Review, “The entire level of utilizing a blockchain is to let folks—particularly, individuals who don’t belief each other—share beneficial knowledge in a safe, tamperproof means.”

Blockchain’s decentralized nature additionally means there’s no single level of failure that would take down the whole database. An organization that shops all its shoppers’ data on a server farm in a single constructing might lose that knowledge if the constructing have been destroyed. As a result of a replica of the blockchain exists on each laptop on the community on the identical time, it might maintain working if one and even a number of nodes go offline.

When new data will get added to the ledger, it’s recorded in a bunch referred to as a block. These blocks are strung collectively to make up a sequence of data, therefore the identify blockchain. As soon as the information is recorded, it might’t be modified—you simply need to maintain including new blocks.

The blockchain is type of like a Google Doc that’s distributed amongst members of a workforce. Whoever is granted entry can add to and edit the doc. Everybody may see modifications made in actual time, who made these modifications, and a historical past of all of the modifications made for full transparency. The key distinction is that knowledge is just not saved on Google’s servers. Every contributor has their very own native copy that may talk immediately with the opposite copies.


Not Simply Cryptocurrency

Whereas cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin are the best-known makes use of of blockchain expertise, they aren’t one and the identical. Digital currencies use blockchains as a method of recording transactions and sustaining belief, however they aren’t blockchains themselves. 

In principle, any system that requires transactions or knowledge factors to be recorded can use a blockchain to do it. That features every little thing from agricultural provide chains to land title data. IBM, for instance, is utilizing blockchain expertise for supply chain records and different industries like healthcare and food safety.

Chef Aaron Sanchez talks about using blockchain technology to track foods at CES 2020


Chef Aaron Sanchez talks about utilizing blockchain tech for meals monitoring.
(Picture: David McNew/AFP through Getty Photos)

Any type of knowledge could be saved in a blockchain, not simply monetary transactions. Writing for The Verge, Mitchell Clark explains how he created one which saved the whole textual content of The Nice Gatsby in each block.

A blockchain differs from a typical database in that, as a substitute of storing data in tables, it shops it in chunks of knowledge. As every block fills up, it will get added to the earlier blocks within the chain. As a result of knowledge will get saved on this linear means and comes timestamped, blockchain knowledge can kind a timeline of transactions in addition to a trusted file. 

That’s significantly helpful in instances like land titles, as a result of anybody trying on the blockchain might see when possession of a chunk of land was transferred from one particular person to a different over time. And people data can be continually checked towards the opposite copies of the ledger to weed out inconsistencies, that means it could be a lot more durable to create a false file of possession. International locations like Georgia are already using blockchain-based land titling programs.


Extra Safety on the Blockchain

blockchain security


(Credit score: N. Hanacek/NIST)

By its very nature, blockchain acts as a safeguard towards tampering and system failure. If one node on a community will get hacked and somebody modifications or deletes transaction knowledge on that laptop, the opposite nodes on the community will reject the corrupted file as a result of it does not match their copies of the ledger.

Safety may even be elevated by limiting who has entry to the information. Personal blockchains, like those IBM makes use of, solely give sure folks entry to the blockchain community.

Since knowledge written to the blockchain is immutable and timestamped, it supplies a clear file of every little thing added to the system. Anybody with a node on the community can see each transaction. Blockchain explorer packages let even individuals who aren’t a part of the community see transaction knowledge in actual time to extend transparency. So, even when somebody stole your Bitcoin, you can hint the way it was spent and see the place it went.

Utilizing blockchain expertise helps forestall duplicate data and renders third-party validation pointless, saving each effort and time. Most significantly, this supplies an answer to digital foreign money’s distinctive concern of double-spending.


The whole lot That Can Go Mistaken

Whereas the safety of blockchain expertise is fairly strong, there are methods it may be circumvented. Ought to somebody steal the safety credentials of an individual with entry to the community, they might steal knowledge or digital cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

Phishing scams can and have stolen folks’s crypto pockets credentials and used them to wash out accounts. This is the reason we advocate taking further steps to be more secure online.

If a foul actor good points entry to greater than 51% of the nodes on a community and modifications the information, that knowledge set turns into the agreed-upon model of the file, even when it isn’t true. A 51% attack sounds unhealthy, however it is rather tough to perform on blockchains with greater ranges of complexity and huge person bases. The blockchain that Bitcoin is constructed on, for instance, is so massive now that it could take an immense sum of money and computing energy to aim such an assault. 

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Different cyberattacks like Sybil attacks or routing assaults can intercept transactions en route earlier than they’re written into the blockchain, or crash the system with a flood of false accounts. 


Can Blockchain Free the World?

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at the Bitcoin 2021 conference


Jack Dorsey on the Bitcoin 2021 convention
(Picture: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg through Getty Photos)

Many within the tech world, together with Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk, imagine the blockchain could make the world a greater place by decentralizing property like cash and redistributing management to particular person customers. An enormous a part of this concept is offering the unbanked with other ways of accessing cash. International locations with rampant inflation or distant populations with no entry to conventional banks can bypass that system solely with digital foreign money that makes use of blockchain tech and an app on their telephones.

Nevertheless, as good because it sounds to deliver cash to the folks, that is simpler stated than accomplished. These folks would nonetheless want someplace to trade their digital foreign money for fiat cash or purchase items and companies. The growing nations the place blockchain tech supplies the best profit are additionally typically essentially the most weak to defective infrastructure and ensuing issues like energy and web outages.

It is also price mentioning the excessive value of sustaining and including to a blockchain. Within the case of Bitcoin mining, for instance, it takes a tremendous amount of power simply to mine new models of foreign money, not to mention keep the community.

Minto cryptocurrency mining center in Nadvoitsy, Russia


Minto cryptocurrency mining heart in Nadvoitsy, Russia
(Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg through Getty Photos)

Different strategies of mining that depend on renewable energy are being explored to mitigate that useful resource consumption, however present strategies have but to get replaced. Till we will discover a carbon impartial resolution, it is onerous to see cryptocurrencies, or any blockchain expertise, liberating us from the issues of the present world order.

Lastly, the anonymity of transactions on the blockchain can defend a person’s privateness, but it surely additionally facilitates criminality. The dark web marketplace Silk Road might be essentially the most well-known instance of this in motion. Some cryptocurrencies like Monero are designed to be utterly nameless, making it doable for criminals to additional masks their identities. 

With all of the fraud that’s related to blockchain property like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, it is going to take loads of onerous work earlier than most people can settle for them as something greater than a passing fad.


Blockchain expertise is a instrument with myriad purposes within the monetary sector and past. It’s on the fringes for now, however within the coming years we may even see extra widespread mainstream adoption of the blockchain. From cryptocurrency to provide chain inventories to medical recordkeeping, there are real-world use instances for the tech which have utility proper now.

We’re simply scratching the floor of blockchain expertise, its makes use of, and its mechanisms. For extra, take a look at our easy rationalization within the video above. You may also dive deeper with IBM’s in depth guide to blockchain and Investopedia’s exhaustive summary.

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