A Beginner’s Guide to Holochain: A Framework for Peer-to-Peer Distributed Apps

Holochain provides a framework for developers to build decentralized applications and aims to change the paradigm of data-centric blockchains to an agent-centric system. In Holochain’s fledgling system, no true global consensus is maintained. Instead, each agent in the public blockchain maintains a private fork, essentially, that is managed and stored in a limited way on the public blockchain with a distributed hash table. This means there are no scalability limits and dapps hosted on Holochain can do much more with less of nearly everything than traditional blockchains.

Holochain

What Makes Holochain Different?

In a traditional blockchain, information is stored via cryptographic hashes across a distributed network. Each member of that network maintains a global consensus. That is, each member independently verifies the network as a whole and maintains its integrity. This is one of the key advantages of blockchain technology over traditional tech.

This system, however, has some inherent weaknesses. Because the entire blockchain must be verified by each member of the network, scalability problems quickly develop. The larger the amount of data being handled, the more restrictive the limit of transactions per second that can occur on the blockchain at any one time. This is part of the reason that some cryptocurrencies, namely Bitcoin, have such long transaction times and low limits.

What Does the Name Mean?

The developers offer several explanations for the name. Holochain’s system resembles a hologram, in that a coherent whole is pieced together from individual components the same way light beams interact to create a 3-D pattern. Additionally, the tech utilizes holistic patterns for its functionality.

How Does the Public Portion of Holochain Function?

In the Holochain system for distributed applications, each member or agent of the chain need not maintain a running record of the public blockchain as a whole. Rather, each agent maintains a singular blockchain that interacts with that agent’s unique cryptographic key. Picture a river, which represents the public portion of that blockchain, being fed by a number of smaller streams, representing the individual agent blockchains.

If one of those agents happens to go offline, they in essence fork away from the main blockchain. The integrity of the data contained within, however, is preserved.

How Is Data from Individual Chains Accessed in the Public Space?

Rather than requiring each agent to maintain an entire copy of the whole blockchain, the central blockchain institutes a series of rules that verify the data on each individual blockchain on a distributed hash table.

What this means in practical terms is that data on individual blockchains is not lost when that agent turns off their computer. A limited copy is kept on the public blockchain and verified according to set rules.

Holochain’s FAQ section likens the system to the way that DNA is stored in living cells or languages are stored across populations.

Holographic Storage

“Where is the English language stored?” the Holochain developers wrote. “Every speaker carries it. People have different areas of expertise or exposure to different slang or specialized vocabularies. Nobody has a complete copy, nor is anyone’s version exactly the same as anyone else, If you disappeared half of the English speakers, it would not degrade the language much.”

How Many Transactions Per Second Can Holochain Handle?

This question needs to be approached a tad differently than it would be on traditional blockchains.

The short answer is “unlimited.” The long answer is that transactions per second are basically meaningless due to Holochain’s nature. Instead of maintaining a single global consensus, Holochain’s distributed hash table maintains a record of the essential type and validity of data contributed by individual blockchains. The developers liken this protocol to a dance style. You can look out over a crowded dance floor and immediately tell who is doing tango and who is break dancing. How many folks can be dancing at one time? As many as the dance floor can handle. There’s no need for a central trusted third party – or even a global blockchain – to keep track of each individual dance move performed.

Holochain

“So, Holochain as an app framework does not pose any limit of transactions per second because there is no place where all transactions have to go through,” the developers wrote. “It is like asking, ‘How many words can humanity speak per second?’ Well, with every human being born, that number increases. Same for Holochain.”

What Kind of Dapps Are a Good Fit for Holochain?

Holochain lends itself to systems that require many individual inputs with a sort of limited copy available to everyone. The most immediate use case is for social media platforms. Holochain also recommends its tech for supply chain management, cooperatives, peer-to-peer platforms, collective intelligence, and reputational or mutual credit cryptocurrencies. This is largely due to the agent-centric nature of the platform.

That said, agent-centric networks are not a good fit for anonymous or private data sets, as each individual agent publishes to a shared distributed hash table. Holochain is also not optimized for hosting large files or running data positivist-oriented dapps, like most cryptocurrencies.

Holochain’s vision incorporates the theory of relativity – there is no absolute truth on the public blockchain, only the individual perspectives of each agent that fit together to form a larger whole.

What Languages Does Holochain Support?

Holochain itself is open source and written in Go. Go was selected for its ease of use and similarity to C.

Dapps written specifically for Holochain can be developed with JavaScript or Lisp, with support for front-end systems using CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

The developers added that Holochain is relatively flexible when it comes to handling new languages, so there is potential for growth on that front.

Is Holochain Environmentally Friendly?

Holochain bills itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional blockchains. Because there is no need for each individual agent to store and validate the global blockchain, Holochain only consumes a fraction of the bandwidth of traditional chains. Holochain also does not have a mining component, so there’s no electricity or processing power spent on proof-of-work calculations.

HOT Token

Holochain recently completed an ICO where they raised 30,202 ETH and 133,214,575,156 HOT tokens were minted during the process:

“Each day’s sales of hosting boxes and developer events expand the supply of tokens according to a fixed formula. This means the total token supply is not determined in advance. Once per day, the newly released amount of HoloTokens will be written to the blockchain enabling further token sales.”

Holochain ICO

HOT is an Ethereum ERC-20 token so can be stored on any Ethereum Wallet including Hardware wallets. It is currently only available to trade on the IDEX exchange.

Where Can I Learn More?

Visit Holochain’s FAQ on GitHub here. You can also read the complete Holochain white paper here.

Useful Links

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Author: Oliver Dale


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