Blockchain technology has come a long way since 2008 when the Bitcoin white paper was published. Since then, an explosion of blockchain networks have been created, with a huge variety of designs and intended functionality.
One of the key value propositions of blockchain technology revolves around the promise of decentralization — the ability for networks to be “owned” and run by several, sometimes thousands or even millions of stakeholders rather than the conventional, more centralized corporate model of governance.
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But as the number (and often the size) of blockchain networks continues to grow, they remain largely cut off from one-another, like islands with their own communities and economies that can’t exchange information or value with the outside world. The siloed nature of today’s blockchain networks goes against the principle of decentralization and re-establishes the Balkanization of the existing centralized web (often called Web 2.0).
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Not only does the lack of interaction between blockchain networks limit decentralization, it hinders the advancement and relevance of the technology by placing boundaries around innovation, economic growth and free trade. Generally, applications designed for one network only work within that network, limiting their potential for broader adoption.
What Is a Blockchain Bridge?
A blockchain bridge is a connection that allows the transfer of tokens and/or arbitrary data from one chain to another. Both chains can have different protocols, rules and governance models, but the bridge provides a compatible way to interoperate securely on both sides.
There are many different designs for bridges, but they can generally be divided into two camps: more centralized bridges that rely on trust or federation, and so-called “trustless” bridges that are more decentralized. Centralized bridges rely on some type of central authority or system to operate, meaning that users are required to place trust in a mediator to use a given app or service.
By contrast, trustless bridges are those in which users don’t have to place trust in a single entity or authority. Rather, the trust is placed in the mathematical truth built into the code. In a decentralized blockchain system, this truth is achieved by many computer nodes reaching a common agreement according to the rules written into the software. This removes many of the problems of centralized systems, which are open to corruption or abuse of power, by using transparency and incentivization of widespread participation.
Bridges can be created to suit various purposes. They are not only capable of enabling a token on one network to be used on another network, they can also be built to exchange any type of data, including smart contract calls, decentralized identifiers, off-chain information from oracles such as stock market price feeds and much more. For example, a chain anchoring verifiable credentials on Polkadot could be used for KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements by a gaming company built on Ethereum. Bridges allow applications to be even more decentralized, as they are no longer limited by their network of origin.
Building Bridges with Polkadot
Several bridges have already been built or are in development in the testnet stage for the Polkadot ecosystem.
Bridges Supported by Web3 Foundation Grants
Open Interoperability as the Future of Blockchain Tech
Building the future of an open, decentralized web (Web 3.0) requires a spirit of open collaboration and interoperability, with teams across the blockchain space working together to bring about a new paradigm. Blockchain bridges provide a promising way to move beyond the Balkanization of blockchain networks in an effort to promote greater innovation, user adoption and technological relevance. By enabling different blockchain protocols to work together, bridges can help move us toward the next-generation decentralized web, ending the relevance of powerful centralized mediators that don’t have users’ interests in mind.
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