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Blockstack: A Global Naming and Storage System Secured by Blockchains

Author(s): Ali, Muneeb; Nelson, Jude; Shea, Ryan; Freedman, Michael J

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Abstract: Blockchains like Bitcoin and Namecoin and their respective P2P networks have seen significant adoption in the past few years and show promise as naming systems with no trusted parties. Users can register human meaningful names and securely associate data with them, and only the owner of the particular private keys that registered them can write or update the name-value pair. In theory, many decentralized systems can be built using these blockchain networks, such as new, decentralized versions of DNS and PKI. As the technology is relatively new and evolving rapidly, however, little production data or experience is available to guide design tradeoffs. In this paper, we describe our experiences operating a large deployment of a decentralized PKI service built on top of the Namecoin blockchain. We present various challenges pertaining to network reliability, throughput, and security that we needed to overcome while registering and updating over 33,000 entries and 200,000 transactions on the Namecoin blockchain. Further, we discuss how our experience informed the design of a new blockchain-based naming and storage system called Blockstack. We detail why we switched from the Namecoin network to the Bitcoin network for the new system, and present operational lessons from this migration. Blockstack is released as open source software and currently powers a production PKI system for 55,000 users.
Publication Date: 2016
Citation: Ali, Muneeb, Jude Nelson, Ryan Shea, and Michael J. Freedman. "Blockstack: A global naming and storage system secured by blockchains." In USENIX Annual Technical Conference (2016): pp. 181-194.
Pages: 181 - 194
Type of Material: Conference Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: USENIX Annual Technical Conference
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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