The tech world is never short on bleeding-edge jargon, but one term you’ve probably seen tossed around with increasing frequency lately is “DApps,” short for decentralized applications. DApps are something you’ll often find linked to other emergent concepts like the blockchain and Web 3, but what exactly are DApps, and what will they mean for our online lives?
How Does a DApp Work?
Decentralized computing, as an abstract concept, is easy enough to understand. Computations on a decentralized network are done on individual devices on the network, rather than being sent back and forth to a server. This model is also called a “peer-to-peer” network, a term you might have heard in relation to file-sharing technology.
In today’s modern parlance, concerning DApps and the blockchain, it’s a little more complicated. When we talk about decentralized computing today, we mean that transactions or communications between two devices on a network are not merely computed without the help of a server, they’re then also recorded, verified, and distributed across the entire network so that a secure copy of the transaction is essentially available everywhere, at all times. This is how the blockchain enhances security — there is no vulnerable point in the process for client-to-server communications to be intercepted or otherwise compromised.
Implementing a decentralized network in practice is of course much more complicated than simply describing it. Such a network requires a secure record of every transaction to be retained in perpetuity, and for the record of each transaction to be propagated across the entire network. That necessarily requires a lot of computing power once transaction registers begin to get lengthy.
Today, there are several platforms on which decentralized apps are being built. They include:
- Ethereum (a successful cryptocurrency project, and currently the most popular blockchain technology for building DApps)
What Are the Benefits of DApps?
Our current internet is largely a series of interconnected client-server transactions, so a decentralized, peer-to-peer model would be a major paradigm shift. The benefits of computing using a decentralized model are many:
- Potentially cheaper for both developers and users. By cutting out the need for servers (and server farms, hosting services, etc.) the need for various middlemen is removed, and a software developer can deploy their DApp directly to the end-user.
- DApps are versatile and platform non-specific, just like today’s software. DApps can potentially be developed for use on mobile devices, personal computers, or hosted systems on websites. DApps will consistently perform the same functionality regardless of which front-end user interface calls the function.
- No single person, corporation, or group has control over a decentralized, peer-to-peer network. Each device owner has a stake in the redundancy that makes the network secure and incorruptible.
- Ethereum-based DApps are run inside of a virtual environment called Ethereum Virtual Machine. If any of an Ethereum’s DApp’s back-end contract processes have a fatal bug, the consequences of the error will be isolated to this virtual environment and will not corrupt the greater blockchain or create vulnerabilities for peers on the decentralized network.
So How Long Until DApps Take Over?
The concept of “decentralized” computing has a lot of people excited that Web 3 and its DApps will return us to something more like a Web 1 experience (but faster and with streaming video) where independent content and small developers could leverage the neutral nature of the internet to compete on even footing with large tech companies.
It’s no secret that some users have grown wary of the online hegemony represented by brands like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, and the influence wielded by those companies’ proprietary algorithms. People are ready for the future of the internet today, and overwhelmingly want that future to return to the principles of net neutrality.
Decentralized computing has the potential to help bring that future into being, but how close are we? The reality is that DApps are still far from ubiquitous technology, and there are many challenges for the idea of a blockchain-driven internet to overcome:
- DApps, as they exist today, can be slow and clunky for users. Many DApps are still fairly immature in terms of software development cycles, and user experiences leave much to be desired.
- DApps are notoriously difficult (and expensive) for developers to scale. The nature of blockchain technology — adding and verifying an ever-growing list of records with each transaction made — means that the size of a blockchain-based project can quickly spiral out of control as new features or users are added. The responsiveness and usability of the DApp will of course suffer in turn.
- The overhype may be real. The blockchain simply isn’t the solution to everything that’s wrong with today’s internet. DApps, as they exist today, are not a very good replacement for a lot of what people do online. Aside from cryptocurrency and security implementations, most projects that have attempted to harness decentralized blockchain technology have seen lackluster results.
- There are arguments to be made that blockchain technology, despite offering unprecedented security, is actually a net negative for society. Cryptocurrency, the blockchain’s most ubiquitous use to date, is becoming a dirty word among environmentally conscious segments of society as people begin to understand the immense amounts of energy being consumed through global cryptocurrency mining.
- Today’s most widely used devices, web browsers, and social media platforms (i.e., the way people actually use the internet) still have no built-in integration for DApps or blockchain technology.
Be Ready for the Future of the Internet
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