Elastos Blockchain: The return of the P2P protocols – an interview with Rong Chen, founder of Elastos

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We (joint work with Julian Hoelz) visited Rong Chen, founder and chairman of the Elastos foundation, and his development team in Shanghai in November 2017. We sat down with Rong to discuss the next technological frontier that needs to be captured in order to make the distributed web a reality: Operating systems and peer-to-peer protocols for the Elastos Blockchain.

The technology stack for the distributed web is made up of blockchains, smart contracts, peer-to-peer protocols and the distributed applications that run on top of that. While we have seen a lot of progress being made on blockchains and, recently, smart contracts we have yet to see how the peer-to-peer protocol layer will be built. The field, however, is not new at all. P2P protocols became hugely popular in the late 90s with the rise of Napster, eDonkey, and Bittorrent. Information exchange between distributed nodes in today’s blockchain systems (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Neo, etc.) is often limited to settlement information only, large scale data exchange is not yet possible. This is where P2P protocols come into play.

Can you tell us about the motivation behind Elastos?

Rong Chen: I think the internet as we know it today is broken. Broken from a cybersecurity point of view. For example, according to Kaspersky Labs, on peak days we can see about 1500 individual Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDos) attacks every day. Some of these attacks last a whole day. What worries me is that we are now moving to build really safety-critical applications on top of this “broken” infrastructure. Let us take autonomous cars as an example: how can we make sure that our loved ones are not hacked when they are being shuttled in an autonomous car? That was one of the triggers for us to realize that we will need a paradigm shift in networking for this class of applications. Instead of relying on the classical Client – Server architecture, over the past years we have developed an operating system for the distributed web: Elastos

And Elastos will be an operating system that is run by distributed nodes, is that correct?

Rong Chen: Yes, Elastos runs on virtual machines by distributed nodes. Elastos has three fundamental pillars. First, there is the Elastos runtime which allows developers to build truly distributed apps on the one side and on the other side abstracts away any direct access to the network from the application. This is a key concept to make the network secure. There is no need for concepts such as drivers or sockets, apps are prohibited by design to directly access the network. Network access is managed only by the runtime. Second there is the the Elastos Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Network, a set of P2P protocols that will enable efficient data transfer between distributed nodes, such as video and audio streaming or text messaging. The third pillar is the Elastos Blockchain interface to public and private blockchains. This will allow Elastos computers to access services such as settlement or identify verification on blockchains. We are collaborating with the teams of existing blockchains to have interfaces to their systems.

Can you tell us in what stage of the project you and your team are? Were you able to build a prototype of the three pillars that you mentioned?

Rong Chen: Elastos has a long history. I started working on the concepts on Elastos as early as 2000 upon my return from the US. In 2013 Foxconn came onboard as an investor. In 2015 we had a first version of Elastos running on two different devices: An ARM Cortex A7 based Banana Pi and on a home router, we called the Elastos Smart-Router. Last year we were porting it on a Smartphone and the popular Raspberry Pi 3. Our team is currently working on finishing the blockchain integration. Since January 2016 all our code can be found on Github. In 2017 we created the Elastos foundation and we are in the last stages of preparing for an Initial Coin Offering of our Ela token. Tokenizing the foundation will keep it independent and in the hands of the users, thus helping us realize our vision of a truly distributed web?

Since you witnessed the rise of the internet when you worked for Microsoft in the 1990s, what gets you excited about the distributed web when you compare today to the times back then?

Rong Chen: I think we are living in very exciting times. The internet we developed in the past decades is not up for the new challenges that will emerge from the mass-scale deployment of safety-critical applications, such as the autonomous cars we discussed. Blockchains will provide identity authentication and settlement, and now is the time for a paradigm shift to a much more robust network on top of that, a network without DDoS attacks, a network where nodes have no direct access to the communication channel but an operating system will manage that. That new type of network will be distributed and I hope that Elastos will play a key part in this. I would like to invite the international community to come and check out our project. When was the last time you could contribute in building something that big? I was at the first Linux conference by Linus in Seattle in the early nineties, and I remember how excited I felt back then. I feel now is a similar time.

About Rong Chen:

  • Rong Chen graduated from Tsinghua University, Beijing, in 1982.
  • MS degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1987.
  • Rong was a Microsoft veteran in the early days of the internet from 1992 to 2000. He collaborated in the development of a wide portfolio of projects at Microsoft, for example OS research, IE3 ActiveX, Ole Automation, ECOM, .NET.
  • Rong founded his own company Kortide Corp in 2000 following his long-standing dream to create his own operating system: Elastos. After 17 years, Rong believes that the smart-web powered by the blockchain is the future for Elastos. He established the Elastos Foundation with partners in June 2017.
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More information about Elastos Blockchain on the website: http://Elastos.org, Code geeks check out the Elastos Blockchain github at https://github.com/Elastos

About the Author

Dr. Thomas Reinbacher is a computer scientist and management consultant and works as independent adviser in Munich and Beijing. If you want to work with me please find me on http://dr-reinbacher.com/

Interview led by Dr. Thomas Reinbacher and Julian Hoelz © Thomas Reinbacher. Disclaimer: All information presented herein is given strictly on a non-reliance basis and under the exclusion of any responsibility or liability, in particular with regard to loss or damages and/or administrative and regulatory sanctions