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Ask CV: What is IBC? Is the Future Multi-Chain?

Much of the debate within the cryptocurrency and blockchain community surrounds the idea of whether there will be one main blockchain or many working in tandem. While pundits of certain networks seem to think their chain will be the overarching one, it’s more likely that many will work in tandem. When thinking about the current landscape of the Internet, while there are dominant entities, overall it’s a network made up of different providers providing different services to whomever needs them. Blockchain is unlikely to be ruled by just one network and its token, as that would go against the very basis of decentralization.

The team behind Cosmos (ATOM) aims to create an internet of blockchains, to avoid the fragmentation that could arise with so many blockchain networks being created separately. They aim to do this with the Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) Protocol.

IBC is the best bet on a multi-chain future.

What is Cosmos (ATOM) and Tendermint?

Cosmos (ATOM) is the first blockchain network to run on Tendermint and was created by the same founder: Jae Kwon. Cosmos is a proof of stake blockchain network and the flagship project of the Cosmos team. The overall network connected by the IBC will be called the Cosmos Network Tendermint is really what allows the IBC to come to fruition.

Tendermint is made up of two parts: a blockchain consensus engine and a generic application interface. Tendermint Core is the consensus engine. It ensures that the same transactions are recorded by every machine running a node in the same order. The application interface, or Application BlockChain Interface (ABCI), enables the transactions to be processed in any programming language, whether Python, Haskell, or Plutus. This means developers can use Tendermint for BFT state machine replication of applications written in the programming language of their choosing.

Overall, this allows developers to easily create a blockchain network with apps using their preferred programming language that is simultaneously compatible with all other networks developed using Tendermint.

What is the IBC?

The Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol allows different blockchain networks to communicate. IBC was the final part in the development of the three major components of the Cosmos technology to be released. The other two components being the Tendermint Core and the Cosmos SDK (software development kit).

To better understand IBC, think of how the Internet works. Protocols such as TCP and IP allow computers to communicate with centralized servers. This communication creates the Internet we know and use. The IBC will connect entire blockchain networks, rather than huge servers. Users of the IBC will be able to create an interchain account that works across all IBC blockchain networks, meaning you can stake, trade, and participate in DeFi for multiple chains from one place.

To fully explain how that will all work is another article in itself, but we’ll try and summarize it quickly here. Essentially, all the networks connected to the IBC have a Tendermint Core. As we saw in the section about Tendermint, this is the underpinning of the network. All the networks that are developed using Tendermint and the Cosmos SDK have that same common underpinning, with the differences being on the application interface level, meaning front end consumer interfaces. Since the back end is essentially the same, these networks can connect and communicate with each other using the IBC. The IBC is able to take the data from one chain and package and unpack it on the other in the correct format, allowing them to communicate despite potentially being written in different programming languages.

What Blockchains are Compatible with IBC?

There are a ton of projects compatible with IBC, many of which you may not even realize were developed using the Cosmos SDK. Some of the most notable blockchains that are compatible with IBC are the Binance Smart Chain, Terra, Chain, Celer, Kava, Oasis, and Secret. Even Polygon, a popular Ethereum scaling solution, was built using Tendermint and could theoretically enable IBC. For a full list of apps and services in the ecosystem, click here.

Closing Thoughts: The Internet of Blockchains

The creation of the Cosmos SDK has allowed many blockchain projects to get off the ground in a much easier manner than before.

The final piece of the puzzle, the IBC protocol, launched in 2021, with interchain accounts still on the way. Once interchain accounts have gone live, it will be incredibly interesting to see what sort of ecosystem develops between all of the blockchains that will be able to be connected. The internet of blockchains is coming soon.

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About the Author

Evan Jones

Evan Jones was introduced to cryptocurrency by fellow CryptoVantage contributor Keegan Francis in 2017 and was immediately intrigued by the use cases of many Ethereum-based cryptos. He bought his first hardware wallet shortly thereafter. He has a keen and vested interest in cryptos involving decentralized backend exchanges, payment processing, and power-sharing.

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