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Interoperability Meaning | More Than Making Blockchains Talk

Interoperability Meaning More Than Making Blockchains Talk
Paul L.

What is Interoperability?

Today, there are solutions in place that make it easy to move assets between Bitcoin and Ethereum, for example, or between the dozens of EVM chains that are now operational. But while a degree of interoperability has been achieved at the base level, there is still significant work to be done further up the blockchain stack.

It’s not just protocols that benefit from being inter-connectable, after all: the same holds true of the middleware and decentralized applications (dapps) built upon them. In a world where dapps created by different developer teams are linked, their utility could be significantly extended. Examples include dapps that allow funds deposited in one platform to be used to obtain social credit on another or web3 games in which your character can be ported into other RPGs to undertake new quests.

Interoperability Doesn’t Occur in a Vacuum

Every second of the day, in cramped labs, co-working spaces, sprawling offices, and home studies around the world, developers are toiling away on blockchain projects. Debugging code, accessing libraries, pushing updates, and refining testnets. The majority of these teams and solo devs are working independently of one another, with zero knowledge of their colleagues’ code, preferred protocol, and programming language.

Collectively, these teams are inching the industry forwards, one new network, dapp, and ground-breaking use case at a time. But imagine how much faster that progress would be if instead of working in isolation, these teams were working in tandem, utilizing compatible software and programming languages?

To use an analogy, blockchain is like an automobile assembly plant. Each section is focused on producing a highly specific part in the knowledge that it will slot neatly into that being forged in the adjacent section. It would make no sense for workers to independently create a chassis, wheels, engine, and interior and only check if the parts were compatible after they’d completed their task. Unfortunately, that’s the state of play in many tech industries, blockchain especially.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if instead of laboring to make crypto software backwards compatible, we engineered it to be forwards compatible? It’s not a radical concept, and yet it’s surprising how little focus there is on creating crypto products that work with one another straight out the box.

Blockchain Compatibility as a Service

At present, new Layer1 networks written in “not Solidity” programming languages come to life as follows: they’re VC funded, then privately/publicly funded, then a testnet is created, and then – and only then – are attempts made to onboard third party developers. Usually this is done with the aid of some kind of hackathon or developer fund to spur adoption. Then there’s the obligatory bridge to Ethereum to provide liquidity, or possibly an EVM version of the new network is created to convert the ETH brigade.

While the goal of creating a Layer1 that can outperform Ethereum and overcome Solidity’s many shortcomings is laudable, you would be hard pressed to say that blockchains are becoming more interoperable. If anything, the panoply of new networks and programming languages being introduced is leading the industry towards a Tower of Babel scenario in which the only thing assured is mutual confusion. So what’s the solution?

Well, there are signs that not all developers are looking inwards; in fact there are a few industry areas where progress is being made. One of these is in the realm of data provision, a critical requirement for developers creating decentralized applications. Dapps draw information from a variety of sources, including their native chain, non-native chains, and off-chain. For a developer trying to create their first dapp, this is the stage at which the industry’s endemic incompatibility can hit home.

This hurdle, once a major stumbling block to aspiring dapp creators, has now been surmounted thanks to initiatives such as Space and Time. The decentralized data warehouse, which has partnered with Chainlink, is intent on bringing the same verified data to all developers – whatever and wherever they’re building. It might be a small step for blockchain interoperability, but it’s a giant leap for data verification. A world in which there is verifiable proof that data is accurate, free from tampering, and identical, irrespective of which dapp or chain it’s served on, is to be welcomed.

While this is progress, it is but one layer – albeit a critical one – in the blockchain stack. To achieve full interoperability, the same efforts need to be applied to every subsequent layer as we move up the stack, up to and including consumer-facing applications themselves. We might never reach the promised land in which every crypto product is compatible with every other app, chain, and piece of middleware. But if we can reach a stage at which intra-communication is the norm rather than the exception, crypto will be a lot closer to realizing its full potential.

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Paul L.


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