Holochain’s potential to replace Ethereum as the preferred chain for DApps

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Holochain has gained the attention of the crypto community in the last few months. This week HOT token gained more than 80% in this bear market. This led to a greater interest in the project. What is Holochain and how is it different?

Holochain

First thing to note is that Holochain is a not a blockchain project. It is a framework and a protocol for sharing information to a network. It is an agent-centric ecosystem that doesn’t rely on any consensus mechanism. Blockchain projects like Bitcoin and Ethereum are data-centric where every node is downloading all the data and providing consensus. They keep track or data while Holochain keeps track of agents on the network.

Holochain tracks hashes on the network by every agent. Every node on Holochain network is creating its own version of data like repositories or branches in git version control. Everything on this network is signed by the previous commit so it can be verified historically. Each node is in a private space. But the data that is stored on a private node is also broadcasted on the larger network via a Distributed Hash Table (DHT) which is the public space. It provides redundancy but it doesn’t validate all the data.

Validation rules are defined by each app and not by Holochain itself. These are called the DNA. Public nodes accept data by running it against these sets of validation. The way network security is protected is that the public nodes keep talking to each other and identify ‘bad actors’ who come at the network with broken rules or rules that do not match the validation provided by the app, the network will essentially fork that application. They have named this the ‘immune’ system.

This framework provides the flexibility to create apps that can work like private blockchains or a completely decentralised blockchain project. They can also define their own consensus mechanisms.

Traditional blockchain’s scalability challenge comes from the fact that is a completely synchronised ledger and the same information is duplicated and verified by the whole network of nodes. This limits its ability to process certain amount of data per second.

Flexibility vs. Security

You can program your own consensus rules. Depending on a particular app’s requirement, developers can choose their security and scalability trade offs. While Holochain doesn’t validate the data and leaves the important decentralised security and scalability trade off to individual app developers, it still remains to be seen how it can scale a network of public nodes that are largely decentralised like Ethereum.

One of the reasons for Ethereum and many blockchain project’s popularity is that they provide consensus mechanism and security by default. But the last challenge of scalability might tempt developers to this new protocol / framework even though there are risks.

Sybil attack

Their literature doesn’t really specify how the network will protect itself against brute force attacks. It seems that they have left this to the app developers — which is dangerous to say the least. Effects of such an attack are yet to be seen.

Programming language

Ethereum requires a developer to learn Solidity, which is a new language whereas anyone who is familiar with Javascript or Lisp. This is a big plus for Holochain and may attract more developers to start building apps on their platform.

Ecosystem

Ethereum ecosystem and DApps are at a much mature level. It is widely known that Ethereum Dapps are not being used with the exception of Idex, but it does have a functional blockchain and ecosystem that can be used to fire up an app quickly. Holochain ecosystem, however, is very complex and requires hosts — who currently require buying a hardware box to run nodes — and hosting which will then enable a network that a developer can build DApps on. This is an uphill task.

Conclusion

A lot of things need to align for Holochain to become a preferred protocol for DApps. While the team and the framework looks promising in theory, Holochain’s app security and scalability needs to be tested at least at the scale of Ethereum before it can even be touted as an Ethereum killer. In my opinion, it is nowhere near being an Ethereum killer.

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