Open-source protocols are the backbone of web3, providing an accessible infrastructure for anyone to build on. Read on to learn about open-source protocols, how they work, and why they are important in crypto.
What Are Open-Source Protocols?
An open-source protocol has a publicly available code that anyone can access, view, modify, and share its specifications and implementations.
Specifications are the documents detailing how the protocol works, while implementations are the hardware and software that execute it.
Open-source protocols are typically developed by a community of developers and released under an open-source license.
By making the specifications and implementations open source, these protocols encourage collaboration, innovation, and transparency among developers and users. They also promote the values of freedom, democracy, and social good by giving users more control and choice over their digital experiences.
Open-source protocols use two main types of licenses: permissive and copyleft.
Permissive licenses allow anyone to use, modify, and distribute the software without any restrictions. On the other hand, copyleft licenses require anyone who modifies and distributes the software to release their modifications under the same license.
Open Source vs Closed Source Protocols
Closed-source protocols are proprietary; thus, a specific entity owns and controls them, such as a company, government, or institution. You cannot freely access, modify, or share the source codes without proper authorization.
Here is a table that contrasts the open and closed-source protocols.
|Open Source Protocols
|Closed Source Protocols
|Freely available to anyone
|Owned by a company/organization
Advantages and Disadvantages of Open-Source Protocols
Now, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of open-source protocols.
- Interoperability and compatibility: Open-source protocols enhance the functionality, usability, and accessibility.
- Security and reliability: Open-source protocols are subject to the scrutiny and feedback of the open-source community, which can detect and fix bugs, vulnerabilities, and errors faster and more effectively. They are also less prone to malicious attacks, as they don’t rely on obscurity or secrecy to protect their data and functionality.
- Collaboration and innovation: Developers can share, change, and improve the protocols according to their needs and preferences. They can also benefit from the collective wisdom and experience of the community, who can provide support, guidance, and feedback.
- Freedom and democracy: Users and developers have more control and choice over their digital experiences. These protocols also protect their rights and interests as they are not subject to the whims and agendas of the owners of closed-source protocols.
- Complexity and inconsistency: Because they are subject to the variations and modifications of different developers, open-source protocols can lead to compatibility and interoperability issues.
- Quality and performance: Open-source protocols may lack the resources, expertise, and incentives of the owners of propriety protocols as they may not follow the best practices and standards of protocol development and usage.
- Legal and ethical issues: Open-source protocols may violate the intellectual property rights and interests of the owners of closed-source protocols. They may also pose ethical dilemmas and conflicts, as they may be used for malicious, illegal, or immoral purposes.
Open-Source Protocols in Practice
Open-source protocols manifest their influence in various real-world applications. Two widely used examples include HTTP/HTTPS and SSH.
- HTTP/HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol/Secure): These protocols govern the transfer of web pages, ensuring secure and efficient communication between browsers and servers.
- SSH (Secure Shell): SSH provides a secure channel for remotely accessing and managing network devices. Its open-source nature contributes to its widespread adoption and continuous improvement.
Arguably, two of the biggest open-source success stories are Linux and Bitcoin.
- Linux – This open-source operating system now powers most web servers, supercomputers, smartphones, and more. Communal development has made it robust and versatile.
- Bitcoin – The world’s first and leading cryptocurrency is a technological marvel on many levels but also one of the most successful open-source protocols in the world in terms of adoption.
Open-source protocols provide transparency, security, and decentralization, which is why they provide the infrastructure for the crypto industry. Expanding on the Bitcoin protocol, we now have a vast ecosystem of blockchains powered a growing web3 ecosystem that is accessible, inclusive, and breeds innovation.