A new version of Brave browser is rolling out with native support for a decentralized web technology that could significantly impact how the internet functions.
The technology, called ‘InterPlanetary File System,’ or ‘IPFS,’ is an internet transport protocol that promises to improve on the existing (and dominant) HTTP standard. The primary benefits of IPFS over HTTP would be that web content becomes faster to access while also being more resilient to failure or control.
The Verge offers a great short explanation of IPFS: HTTP works by helping web browsers access information on central servers, while IPFS lets web browsers access content spread across several different nodes. TechCrunch offers an excellent overview of how it works, and Vice compares IPFS to downloading something via BitTorrent versus from a central server. Instead of typing in a web address and letting your browser connect to one server with the content, IPFS takes the address and uses the network to find nodes storing the content.
Since data can be distributed across multiple nodes, as well as stored closer to people accessing it, IPFS can help improve speed. Another benefit to IPFS and its distributed approach is that it lowers the server costs for the original publisher of the content. The Verge points out that IPFS has the potential to make web content more resilient to failures, such as server outages, and more resistant to censorship.
IPFS could make it more difficult to censor or control online content
IPFS project lead Molly Mackinlay said IPFS and a decentralized web can help overcome “systemic data censorship.”
“Today, Web users across the world are unable to access restricted content, including, for example, parts of Wikipedia in Thailand, over 100,000 blocked websites in Turkey, and critical access to COVID-19 information in China. Now anyone with an internet connection can access this critical information through IPFS on the Brave browser,” Mackinlay said in a release shared by Brave.
Brave has been an early supporter of IPFS and version 1.19 of the browser will allow users to access IPFS content directly by resolving ‘ipfs://’ URLs. Additionally, users can opt to install a “full IPFS node in one click,” which would make their browser into a node in the peer-to-peer IPFS network.
Brave’s IPFS integration comes at a difficult time for the web, and for the massive tech companies managing huge online platforms. Following the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms banned former U.S. President Donald Trump. Apple, Google and Amazon also took action against Parler, a social network favoured by right-wing extremists and heavily linked to the Capitol attack. IPFS could make that kind of control more difficult in the future.
For now, however, IPFS remains relatively obscure and it could be some time before bigger players get on board.