Cloud provider Xunlei recently launched the ThunderChain File System (TCFS) which is a distributed file system, similar to InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), an open-source project. TCFS is designed by Xunlei after a business pivot into blockchain technology. The company has launched the high-performance blockchain ThunderChain in April, which is designed to process over 1 million transactions per second.
Both TCFS and IPFS are distributed file systems for storage of digital files (in the form of documents, images, videos, web pages and programs). Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) has been widely used for file storage and downloads. However, HTTP itself has many problems – When a user wants to go to a website, the browser will be directly connected to the computers that are serving that website, even if their servers are remotely located and the transfer process costs a lot of bandwidth and other computing resources. HTTP is not reliable either. If one link in a HTTP transfer was cut for whatever reason, the whole transfer halts.
That’s why developers seek to replace HTTP’s centralized protocols with distributed protocols. A distributed protocol, as the name suggests, is designed to store files across multiple nodes instead of centralized servers.
IPFS was born in 2014 to address those challenges. IPFS provides a high-throughput, content-addressed block storage model, with content-addressed hyperlinks. Indeed, there were high hopes for IPFS, but it has shown some drawbacks when it comes to blockchain. Although TCFS is a new comer, it has an edge in technical features tailored to blockchain-related applications.
First of all, data storage. IPFS relies on file access to keep files from missing. The more popular a file is, the greater number of storage nodes are involved and the less likely such file will be gone. However, it’s a different story with rarely accessed files. Such files could disappear eventually with limited number of nodes hosting the content, such as family photos.
The second issue is privacy. IPFS is currently open to everyone. Restricted access is necessary for confidential files even when they are shared within certain groups like corporate emails. The third is efficiency. IPFS files are stored across nodes as duplicates. Duplicate data increases with the number of nodes serving the file, resulting in low storage efficiency levels and potentially leading to a waste of computing resources, including storage space and bandwidth.
Finally, IPFS itself is unable to delete and block illegal content. Some IPFS developers has already realized the above issues and started to tackle these problems. Meanwhile, TCFS is designed to provide alternative solutions to distributed file management on blockchain platforms.
TCFS combines the futures of IPFS and Filecoin (which has not been live yet) with an incentive mechanism to maximize storage efficiency. It has improvements in other aspects: i) availability – Slice storage based on Forward Error Correction (FEC), plus a file self-healing mechanism, ensures high availability and storage efficiency i.e. reduce duplicated files; ii) performance – leveraging Xunlei’s 15 years of experience in cloud acceleration technologies, TCFS can help users with much faster data transmission; iii) security – Only data owners and authorized users can access secured files; and iv) flexibility – developers can use LinkToken, a virtual token on ThunderChain, as an incentive or create their own incentive mechanisms that encourage users to share their redundant storage.
Both TCFS and IPFS are originated to solve issues impacting internet user experience. IPFS is still an unproven and work-in-progress technology. Though TCFS is a newly released solution, it has emerged as a perfect fit to blockchain technology. TCFS has the potential to help the blockchain industry to scale by providing the peer to peer and distributed file system that is needed as a foundation to support large use base applications.
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