The vision behind the IOTA Foundation’s distributed ledger protocol, the Tangle, has always been twofold: unlimited scaling and zero fees. Using a unique, non-block based system, the Tangle promises to deliver just that. Since the listing on Bitfinex, the IOTA Foundation has seen incredible growth, both in the form of increases in value as well as striking up several significant research projects to put their tech to the test. Enter the Flash Network.
Pushing the Tangle Forward
The Flash Network is a protocol layer that functions in parallel with the Tangle and is designed specifically to facilitate the volume of transactions IOTA’s network is designed to handle. While it might seem confusing that a network purported to have unlimited scaling ability would need any sort of additional layer to handle transactions, the Flash Network is a support system to allow for instantaneous validation of nano-payments at high-volume, such as paying for each second of charging an electric car, until the maturity of the IOTA network is sufficient to where this can all be done on-ledger. In other words ‘Flash Network’ is a stepping stone towards IOTA’s full inherent potential.
What allows the Tangle to circumvent the scaling and transaction fee challenges faced by traditional blockchain is the use of a direct acyclic graph to process transactions added to the network. Traditional blockchain runs into scaling issues because users transacting and the validation of said transactions are siloed and often at odds with each other. Marrying validation with transacting, the DAG-based system allows for each transaction entering the network to validate previous transactions, thus enabling the throughput of on-ledger transactions to scale in conjunction with the validation.
Validation in a Flash
As Flash Network lead developer Paul Handy explained, if a user wanted to pay someone a nano-payment for each second of a service, the user and the recipient would have to wait for enough additional transactions to be added to the Tangle to validate the high volume of nano-payments per second. Though the math and technology behind the network are significantly more complex, essentially with the Flash Network, users can open parallel channels “prepaid” with the appropriate amount of MIOTA; these channels can encompass significant quantities of transactions and a transaction added to a Flash channel is as good as confirmed, granting near-instantaneous validation. The Flash channels then compress all transactions contained within to a single instance on the Tangle.
At first glance, the Flash Network may invite comparison to the Lightning Network or Raiden, both protocols designed to handle transactions on the blockchain. Flash, however, is inherently different. “From my perspective,” said Handy, “the Lightning/Raiden solution seems to be a "Layer 2" attempt to solve an open scalability problem with blockchain, and higher expected throughput is a result.” Flash, on the other hand, is specifically designed with throughput in mind. “The problem we seek to solve with Flash is high-throughput of transactions, and perhaps we'll see some other helpful side-effects as a result.”
The Future of the Tangle
As the IOTA Foundation and their research partners continue to develop and test new use-cases for the Tangle and the technology becomes more widely adopted, the transaction volume will organically increase as seen in other distributed ledger environments. Eventually, the network will reach a critical mass of users and nodes, establishing a base volume of new transactions that will ensure user transactions, even at a micro-scale, will be validated almost instantly.
Founder of IOTA David Sønstebø said:
We are very happy to unveil the Flash Network as it enables the IOTA project to already now start deploying these real world use cases of high throughput which it was built for leading up to the point where the public Tangle grows to the size where validation is so expedient that all of these transactions can be done on-ledger, or on-Tangle, unlike current blockchains which are forever stuck on ad-hoc, off-chain solutions. Because Flash only defines the relationship between two users in a channel due to the underlying IOTA network has being void of transaction fees, we bypass the focus on routing mechanism that would, amortise costs. This unique aspect of Flash is vital for microtransactions. There is already a lot of corporates preparing to deploy the Flash Channels for upcoming projects, further cementing IOTA as ‘the’ ledger’ for real world usage...
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