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Kadena launches a hybrid platform to connect public, private blockchains

Brooklyn-based spinoff Kadena has launched a hybrid blockchain that can scale horizontally, enabling multiple electronic ledgers to talk to each other via smart contracts – and letting users transfer cryptocurrency between the chains.

Hybrid blockchains combine permissioned chains for businesses to transact in the background while connecting to a public blockchain (via an API) for consumers and others to make money transfers or access information about products moving across supply chains.

“Their hybrid blockchain model looks interesting, mainly because it enables interoperability via smart contracts that run on public chains and talk to/with private chains,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner. “That way, enterprises can keep their private data and transactions limited to the private chain but benefit from the liquidity and cross-chain access available by leveraging smart contracts running on the public chain.”

kadena blockchain Kadena

Kadina’s Chainweb architecture depicted in a graphic.

Kadena is being piloted for interoperability, scalability and increased security across industries, including financehealthcare and insurance, according to Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino. For example, Rymedi, a North Carolina medical technology firm, plans to test the platform this year as part of an FDA-backed pilot of prescription drug tracking via a blockchain supply chain.

Kadena is the first startup to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, a development project started in 2018. Last year, JP Morgan announced it had created its own cash-backed cryptocurrency called JPM Coin, which it plans to pilot with institutional clients for international funds transfers.

Kadena’s Chainweb platform also relies on sharding to increase transactional throughput by creating multiple proof-of-work consensus-based partitions on its blockchain ledger through which multiple parallel chains can operate.

Because a single platform can be parsed, there’s theoretically no limit to the number parallel chains that can be created on the company’s platform, according to Martino.

“We’ve figured out how to horizontally scale this core concept of the ledger found at Layer 1 without needing to centralize any part of the platform,” Martino said. “It’s a major moment for decentralized distributed systems, as horizontal scaling this far down the stack has been a dream of many for at least a decade.”

In Kadena’s blockchain, Layer 1 is the layer over which currency and a state ledger operates. There is infrastructure beneath Layer 1 related to propagation, peer-to-peer communications, storage, cryptocurrency mining and more, but Layer 1 is where cryptocurrency and smart contracts first show up. 

A metaphor for Layer 1 would be one bank account and three credit cards; the  bank account would be the fundamental Layer 1 ledger, and the three credit cards would represent Layer 2 scaling.

Kadena blockchain Kadena

“The cards settle through your bank account, but your bank account doesn’t settle through anything else. Your bank account has a single sequential ledger of transactions, as it has to decide the order of transactions,” Martino said “But, you can do transactions simultaneously on Layer 2 by using more than one card at the same time. Most other blockchain projects are trying to scale via adding cards. Kadena scaled by figuring out how to let you have a bank account at more than one bank.”

So far, the company has gone live with 10 chains on a single platform, but it plans to pilot ones with as many as 50 this year. Kadena’s “braided” blockchain network has so far demonstrated it can process up to 750 transactions per second or 40 terahashes per second (40 trillion hashing operations per second). The higher the number of terahashes, the more difficult it is for someone to attempt to game the system.

“Instead of hashing and mining pointing at a single block, miners can mine blocks for any of 10 chains in a network,” Martino said. “Instead of one chain and one conduit for throughput for transactions, we have 10.”

Gartner’s Litan, however, said Kadena’s technology does have challenges, not the least of which is its permissioned-public hybrid environment. That could complicate challenges that already exist with enterprise blockchain smart contracts.

Those challenges include:

  • Keeping immutable smart contracts current with business agreements, which is already problematic as they represent a shared system of record.
  • Keeping interfaces between off-chain events and data with smart contracts secure and authorized.
  • Maintaining umbrella legal frameworks across network members, as well as clear, documented and agreed-upon governance rules regarding blockchain participation and smart contracts. [Gartner believes] these are needed on top of smart contract automation so that the parties understand exactly what they need to do if things ‘go wrong.’

“Kadena would likely disagree with these challenges, but that’s how we see them,” Litan said.

Kadena’s proprietary smart-contract language called Pact, can also instruct a node (computer) on what the code means, or its purpose. For example, a smart contract coded with Pact can instruct a blockchain ledger to forbid users of cryptocurrency from going into debt, meaning the ledger balance can never go below zero.

“It’s the idea that I can run my code and then write what I intended it to do with it, and the computer can understand both my intent and what code means,” Martino said.

Essentially, the single blockchain platform can host multiple ledgers, each new ledger connected via an API to previous ones. In connecting the ledger, the processing power or hashing capability of nodes is divided among them and cryptocurrency and other data can be shared between the ledgers.

“If one [ledger] gets saturated, it doesn’t affect the throughput of another. You can horizontally scale this,” Martino said.

Kadena is also integrating its digital wallet, Chainweaver, with the Cosmos Network, an inter-blockchain communications protocol that enables multiple blockchains to communicate between one another, enabling cryptocurrency transfers across disparate blockchains.

“Kadena is one of the start-ups that stands out from the crowd,” said Martha Bennett, a Forrester vice president of research. “A key differentiator is the firm’s focus on, and understanding of, the requirements of enterprise-grade systems. Clearly, it’s too soon to tell how much traction Kadena will gain – it’s early days yet. But from a technology perspective, it’s one of the few that I regard as worth watching; the hybrid model is also a differentiator.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Kadena launches Chainweb, a hybrid platform to connect public, private blockchains

Brooklyn-based startup Kadena has launched a hybrid blockchain that can scale horizontally, enabling multiple electronic ledgers to talk to each other via smart contracts – and letting users transfer cryptocurrency between the chains.

Hybrid blockchains combine permissioned chains for businesses to transact in the background while connecting to a public blockchain (via an API) for consumers and others to make money transfers or access information about products moving across supply chains.

“Their hybrid blockchain model looks interesting, mainly because it enables interoperability via smart contracts that run on public chains and talk to/with private chains,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner. “That way, enterprises can keep their private data and transactions limited to the private chain but benefit from the liquidity and cross-chain access available by leveraging smart contracts running on the public chain.”

kadena blockchain Kadena

Kadina’s Chainweb architecture depicted in a graphic.

Kadena is being piloted for interoperability, scalability and increased security across industries, including financehealthcare and insurance, according to Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino. For example, Rymedi, a North Carolina medical technology firm, plans to test the platform this year as part of an FDA-backed pilot of prescription drug tracking via a blockchain supply chain.

Kadena is the first startup to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, a development project started in 2018. Last year, JP Morgan announced it had created its own cash-backed cryptocurrency called JPM Coin, which it plans to pilot with institutional clients for international funds transfers.

Kadena’s Chainweb peer-to-peer platform also relies on sharding to increase transactional throughput by creating multiple proof-of-work consensus-based partitions on its blockchain ledger through which multiple parallel chains can operate.

Because a single platform can be parsed, there’s theoretically no limit to the number parallel chains that can be created on the company’s platform, according to Martino.

“We’ve figured out how to horizontally scale this core concept of the ledger found at Layer 1 without needing to centralize any part of the platform,” Martino said. “It’s a major moment for decentralized distributed systems, as horizontal scaling this far down the stack has been a dream of many for at least a decade.”

In Kadena’s blockchain, Layer 1 is the layer over which currency and a state ledger operates. There is infrastructure beneath Layer 1 related to propagation, peer-to-peer communications, storage, cryptocurrency mining and more, but Layer 1 is where cryptocurrency and smart contracts first show up. 

A metaphor for Layer 1 would be one bank account and three credit cards; the  bank account would be the fundamental Layer 1 ledger, and the three credit cards would represent Layer 2 scaling.

Kadena blockchain Kadena

“The cards settle through your bank account, but your bank account doesn’t settle through anything else. Your bank account has a single sequential ledger of transactions, as it has to decide the order of transactions,” Martino said “But, you can do transactions simultaneously on Layer 2 by using more than one card at the same time. Most other blockchain projects are trying to scale via adding cards. Kadena scaled by figuring out how to let you have a bank account at more than one bank.”

So far, the company has gone live with 10 chains on a single platform, but it plans to pilot ones with as many as 50 this year. Kadena’s “braided” blockchain network has so far demonstrated it can process up to 750 transactions per second or 40 terahashes per second (40 trillion hashing operations per second). The higher the number of terahashes, the more difficult it is for someone to attempt to game the system.

“Instead of hashing and mining pointing at a single block, miners can mine blocks for any of 10 chains in a network,” Martino said. “Instead of one chain and one conduit for throughput for transactions, we have 10.”

Gartner’s Litan, however, said Kadena’s technology does have challenges, not the least of which is its permissioned-public hybrid environment. That could complicate challenges that already exist with enterprise blockchain smart contracts.

Those challenges include:

  • Keeping immutable smart contracts current with business agreements, which is already problematic as they represent a shared system of record.
  • Keeping interfaces between off-chain events and data with smart contracts secure and authorized.
  • Maintaining umbrella legal frameworks across network members, as well as clear, documented and agreed-upon governance rules regarding blockchain participation and smart contracts. [Gartner believes] these are needed on top of smart contract automation so that the parties understand exactly what they need to do if things ‘go wrong.’

“Kadena would likely disagree with these challenges, but that’s how we see them,” Litan said.

Kadena’s proprietary smart-contract language called Pact, can also instruct a node (computer) on what the code means, or its purpose. For example, a smart contract coded with Pact can instruct a blockchain ledger to forbid users of cryptocurrency from going into debt, meaning the ledger balance can never go below zero.

“It’s the idea that I can run my code and then write what I intended it to do with it, and the computer can understand both my intent and what code means,” Martino said.

Essentially, the single blockchain platform can host multiple ledgers, each new ledger connected via an API to previous ones. In connecting the ledger, the processing power or hashing capability of nodes is divided among them and cryptocurrency and other data can be shared between the ledgers.

“If one [ledger] gets saturated, it doesn’t affect the throughput of another. You can horizontally scale this,” Martino said.

Kadena is also integrating its digital wallet, Chainweaver, with the Cosmos Network, an inter-blockchain communications protocol that enables multiple blockchains to communicate between one another, enabling cryptocurrency transfers across disparate blockchains.

“Kadena is one of the start-ups that stands out from the crowd,” said Martha Bennett, a Forrester vice president of research. “A key differentiator is the firm’s focus on, and understanding of, the requirements of enterprise-grade systems. Clearly, it’s too soon to tell how much traction Kadena will gain – it’s early days yet. But from a technology perspective, it’s one of the few that I regard as worth watching; the hybrid model is also a differentiator.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft Teams gets private channels, email integration with Outlook

Microsoft Teams users can now converse with colleagues privately after the long-awaited introduction of private channels – one of a variety of updates announced by Microsoft at its Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. this week. The company also highlighted enhanced integration with Outlook and a multi-window feature.

Private channels have been in high demand from Teams users, and are the most requested feature on the Microsoft User Voice feedback page for Teams. The feature had been proposed by Microsoft before the launch of Teams in 2017, with a preview announced earlier this year.  

The new feature allows Teams users to create channels that that are viewable and accessible only by specified coworkers, which can be useful for teams dealing with sensitive or confidential content. 

“Every group, every team, every business has some discussions where they need to maintain some level of confidentiality,” said Karan Nigam, group product marketing manager for Microsoft Teams. “For a lot of companies, it is the financial data. With private channels, the intent is that any team can restrict the membership of that particular channel so that not everyone has access to [it], …only a certain set of people do.”

Teams private channels Microsoft

AUp to 30 private channels are available to each team, and each channel can contain up to 350 members.

“Private channels are important for any collaboration offering, just as a private conference room is required for in-person meetings,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder and president of Moor Insights & Strategy. “I believe it will facilitate more open conversations and engender trust.”

Outlook integration with Teams

Microsoft also unveiled plans to integrate Teams more deeply into Outlook, with the addition of a button in the email client that can send information from an email into the work chat app. The opposite is also possible, allowing messages from Teams to be sent to Outlook. The interoperability is designed to allow users to more easily select the communication venue that best suits them, whether that be real-time chat or asynchronous communications via email. 

“It is a simple construct, but at the same time very powerful, to be able to bridge that gap between different modalities of communication,” said Nigam. 

“Shifting between Outlook and Teams is natural,” said Moorhead. “When workers get into a 50-short-email back-and-forth, it would be better to be a Teams chat as it’s easier to see the information and respond at the right point in the thread. Conversely, a 700-word chat or report over Teams doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and would be better for Outlook.”

The addition of the feature comes as rival Slack also moves to link its platform more tightly with email clients, including Microsoft’s Outlook. Slack is also planning to go one step further and let users reply directly between email and chat.

Tasks in Teams Microsoft

The Tasks in Teams feature is slated to be available early in 2020.

Microsoft has also rolled out a unified view of assigned tasks within Teams. That allows tasks assigned to a user across a range of tools within Office 365 – To Do, Planner, Outlook and Teams – to be visible on a single page and accessible as lists, charts, boards or schedules. The single-window view is due out early in 2020.

Also new: multi-windows, Yammer integration and frontline worker features

Other Teams announcements at Ignite include:

  • Pinned channels to keep track of important conversations.
  • A pop-out multi-window feature to make it easier to access information within Teams from   separate chats, meetings, calls or document windows. 
  • Updated features for frontline workers, including the ability to sign in using a mobile phone number for authentication (a public preview will come early next year) and Global Sign-Out to ensure that all apps are exited on shared mobile devices at the end of a shift. (A public preview for  Android devices is expected early in 2020).
  • Messaging extensions such as polls and surveys for chat and channel conversations that should be available later this year. 
  • Power Apps that can now be published as custom Teams apps, accessible via an organization’s app library or pinned to the left-hand navigational bar. 
  • Features for IT admins, including Advisor for Teams to offer recommendations when deploying Teams teams; a certified app catalog that offers details on available app; and policy packages that let admins assign predefined policies to users with similar roles.
  • Access to Microsoft’s Whiteboard “digital canvas” from Teams.
  • A Linux client for Teams, with a public preview later this year.

The full list of this week’s Teams announcements is available here. 

In related news, Lori Wright, the general manager for Teams, has moved to become general manager for Microsoft’s Xbox division. Microsoft declined to comment on the change or her replacement. 

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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How to Create Your Own Private Self-Hosted Read-It-Later App

The internet is a vast treasure trove of knowledge. But it is fleeting and there are no guarantees that the content you like will be there in the future. If you can’t afford to lose that content, you can use a web archiving tool to store a copy of the web page.

Many people use read-later services for saving web articles. These apps work best with text-based content and do not handle complicated webpage designs or media properly. Want some more control?

Let’s see how you can create a clone of Instapaper or Pocket in your computer without losing any web page asset.

Introducing ArchiveBox

ArchiveBox is an Open Source solution that can help you host your own alternative to an archiving service like the Wayback Machine. You don’t give up your privacy or stay locked in a service you cannot control.

It takes the list of URLs you want to archive and creates a local, browsable HTML clone of the content in multiple formats. It includes local copies in HTML, a screenshot of the page, a PDF file, and WARC (Web ARChive).

These copies stay with you even if the original webpage disappears in the future.

ArchiveBox is written in Python 3. It also uses dependencies like Wget, Headless Chrome, Youtube-dl, and other Unix tools to save the webpage. You don’t need a constantly running backend server. Just run it each time you want to import new links and update the static output.

Once the archiving completes, you can open the generated output/index.html in your browser to view the archive.

ArchiveBox

Advantages of ArchiveBox

  • It archives the links in several file formats that work as backups.
  • It tries to retain the original webpage using sophisticated capturing methods.
  • Has the ability to automatically extract the content and save them to a single folder.
  • It also provides a simple, command-line interface to deal with multiple links, feeds, and bookmarks. You have to set it once and run it on a schedule to archive newer links.

Disadvantages of ArchiveBox

Supported Operating Systems

ArchiveBox officially supports the following operating systems:

  • macOS: 10.12 Sierra with Homebrew.
  • Linux: Ubuntu, Debian (with APT). The app may (or may not) work in distros like Fedora, CentOS, SUSE, Arch, and more.
  • BSD: FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD (with pkg).

Dependencies

ArchiveBox is a flexible web archiving tool. You must install the following dependencies and meet the minimum requirements.

  • Python 3. Don’t use the default Python 2.0 that comes with macOS.
  • Wget 1.16
  • Chromium 59. If you already use Google Chrome, don’t install Chromium.
  • Youtube-dl (Optional): Media resources need a lot of storage space. Give it a detailed thought before archiving your bookmarks.

Set Up ArchiveBox

There are two ways of setting up ArchiveBox—Automatic and Manual.

In the automatic method, a helper script will install the app and their dependencies. But you won’t be able to troubleshoot the problem if any error arises. It’s better to install the app manually.

For the purpose of demonstration, we’ll use macOS 10.14.6.

Installing the Dependencies

The best way to install dependencies is through a package manager called Homebrew. To understand its basics, check out this article on how to install Mac apps with Homebrew.

Open Terminal and type in

brew install python3 git wget curl youtube-dl
brew cask install chromium 

(Skip this if you already have Google Chrome/Chromium installed in Applications)

Check the Version Number of All Dependencies

To check the version number of all dependencies, type in

dependency app --version

(Replace the dependency app with python3, wget, youtube-dl, and more)

check the version of all dependencies

Download Your Bookmarks Export File

All the read-later services and browsers can export your bookmarks as an HTML file. Follow the instructions in this article on how to export bookmarks from your browser


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. You can also save a single link or the list of URLs in a text file.

Install ArchiveBox

Clone the repo from the GitHub. Open Terminal, and type in

git clone https://github.com/pirate/ArchiveBox

Then,

cd ArchiveBox/

When you clone this repo, the installer will create an ArchiveBox folder in your Home directory. This folder contains all the main application and configuration files.

install ArchiveBox

Add Your URL to the Archive

If you want to archive a single link, then type in

echo 'https://example.com'| ./archive

archiving a single link

Navigate to your ArchiveBox folder to see the newly created output folder. In here, you’ll see an index.html file.

ArchiveBox output folder

Adding Multiple Links to the Archive

When you want to save multiple links (dozens or more), it’s better to add your links to a text file. The app will parse the URLs inside the file and archive them. Open Terminal and type in

./archive [Path to Your File.txt]

If your file is located in the Downloads folder, your path will look like

./archive /Users/(Home directory name)/Downloads/links.txt

Wait for a few minutes/hours to complete the process. To access your archive, open the output/index.html in your browser. You can sort by column, search title using the box in upper-right section, and see the total number of links at the bottom.

archived links through ArchiveBox

Click the favicon under the Files column to visit the details page. You’ll find links to individual file format as seen in the screenshot. The same link also gets uploaded to archive.org.

detail page of each archived link

In the same way, export your Instapaper or Pocket links as an HTML file. Then, type in

./archive ~/Downloads/instapaper-export.html

You can also import a list of links from the feed URL. But remember you might encounter too many failures or session timeouts. If there are thousands of URLs, it’s better to break them into smaller files to increase the success rate.

Configure ArchiveBox

The default settings work in most cases, but there are certain important parameters you can tweak to get more features. The configuration file lives in

~/ArchiveBox/etc/ArchiveBox.conf.default

Note: Do not modify this file, because they’ll get erased whenever you update the app. To create a persistent config file, type in

cp ~/ArchiveBox/etc/ArchiveBox.conf.default ~/.ArchiveBox.conf

The cp command will create a duplicate copy of the configuration file in your home directory. By default, the file is not visible in your directory. To unhide press Cmd + Shift + Period. Open the config file in TextEdit.

copy of the ArchiveBox config file

Parameters

ArchiveBox offers you many options. Here are some important ones;

  • ONLY_NEW: Set this to True to download the archive for newly added links. Comes useful if you regularly bookmark links.
  • TIMEOUT: Possible values are 60 or 120 seconds. If you see frequent timeout errors increase it to 120 seconds.
  • URL_BLACKLIST: You can use regex expression to exclude certain domains, extensions, or URL patterns from the archive.
  • FETCH_MEDIA: Fetch all audio and video files using youtube-dl. Set this to True only when you have enough storage.
  • WGET_USER_AGENT: Use it to change the user agent during archiving. If you’re getting blocked by certain servers, this option comes useful.

To know more about the configuration details, visit the ArchiveBox Configuration for more information.

Publishing Your Archive

The archive produced by ArchiveBox is compatible with any provider that can host static HTML. For example, GitHub pages.

You can also serve it from a home server or VPS by directly uploading the output folder to your web directory.

Make sure you’re not running any content as CGI or PHP, you want to host only static HTML files.

Hosting your archive has both pros and cons. When you download links from random sites, you must understand the dangers of hosting malicious CSS and JS files in your shared domain. You may also want to blacklist your archives in robots.txt file to remain private.

Download Entire Websites Offline

Web archiving has attracted attention over the past few years. They record the entire contents of a web page, including source HTML, embedded images, stylesheets, and JavaScript code. ArchiveBox fits right into the broad category of web archiving tools and services.

If you’re frustrated with Instapaper or Pocket, then ArchiveBox is an excellent alternative. Apart from web articles, you might want to archive entire websites to access them offline or to preserve their knowledge. If this interests you, read this piece on how to download any website for offline reading


How to Download an Entire Website for Offline Reading




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.



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