The community behind privacy-focused cryptocurrency Grin has recently decided to fund its third full-time developer.
“[I’m] very much waiting for you guys to finish in a sea of shitcoins.”
With that, pseudonymous forum user ‘Monkeyyy’ just might have summed up the sentiment surrounding a forthcoming cryptocurrency called “grin.” Rising to renown last year as the first software implementation for a code proposal known as MimbleWimble, the idea is to start a new blockchain that has better scale and privacy than bitcoin.
That concept has won praise from developers who are normally wary of new ideas, namely because many of them don’t turn out as great as promised (or otherwise devolve into get-rich-quick-schemes). But rather than coding their own solutions, grin’s contributors are all about adopting technology that’s been reviewed and approved by a circle of experts.
As the team wades into their second test stage, preparing to launch a working payment system, they’ve been among the first to implement Schnorr, Bulletproofs and Dandelion, all promising technologies originally intended to improve bitcoin’s scale and privacy, but that just haven’t made it into the hard-to-change cryptocurrency just yet.
Lead grin developer Igno Peverell, named after an obscure Harry Potter character, told CoinDesk:
“Testnet 2 was and is likely to stay our largest release in terms of new technology.”
It’s also ambitious. In turning MimbleWimble into a real, working software for payments, the developer team behind grin has added features that have been years in the making.
“Signature aggregation,” for instance, has been in the works for bitcoin since 2014 and is one of its most highly anticipated code changes. Pioneered by Bitcoin Core contributor Pieter Wuille, the project “MuSig” has the potential to lump signature data together and free up space in the blockchain.
A working prototype has already been implemented, though it’s unclear when it will be added to bitcoin and if the community will ultimately embrace the change.
Therein lies one advantage of grin, which is more quickly putting such ideas to the test with real value.
Bitcoin is a living payment system, so developers and the community are particularly cautious when making changes that could be dangerous to its users.
“Bitcoin developers have working implementations of MuSig, but deploying it on the mainnet will take time. Actually, it must absolutely not be rushed,” said cryptography expert Yannick Seurin, who’s been helping with the cryptography behind MuSig at cybersecurity agency ANSSI.
But grin is launching a blockchain from scratch, so it’s easier for the developer team to adopt sweeping changes – at least while the blockchain is still small.
“Since Grin is more experimental, they can afford testing newer primitives such as MuSig,” Seurin continued.
It’s worth noting though that in grin, signature aggregation plays a much more fundamental role. Unlike bitcoin, grin uses signature aggregation by default in transactions to remove data bitcoin normally has to keep to preserve the security of transactions.
Then there’s bulletproofs, a breakthrough privacy technology unveiled by bitcoin developers late last year.
Though bitcoin developers are worried about cryptocurrency privacy, and bulletproofs could help significantly with that, there are still major drawbacks. Bulletproof transactions are still too big. Even though the tech is more scalable, bulletproofs require a lot more room on the blockchain than normal transactions. And with users already very concerned about how big existing blockchains are getting, it would probably be pretty difficult to get agreement from everyone to make the change.
Other blockchains might not care about these downsides though. Privacy-minded monero and litecoin both plan to add this technology soon. And so does grin. Its developers are testing bulletproofs to help with its other main feature: enhancing privacy.
And while bulletproofs might be contentious in bitcoin, grin is a different story. For one, because of the above reliance on signature aggregation, grin is more scalable. So, bulletproofs increasing the size of transactions is not as big of a deal.
In fact, MimbleWimble was one use case that drove the innovation.
“Confidential transactions and Mimblewimble were one of the motivating applications for bulletproofs,” Stanford University PhD student Benedikt Bunz, who pioneered bulletproofs, told CoinDesk.
That’s not the only privacy technology they’re adding, however. Peverell contends grin is the first cryptocurrency to adopt Dandelion, a long-proposed privacy addition to bitcoin.
Once someone sends cryptocurrency to someone using most blockchains, the transaction is sent to all nodes, without trying to hide where it came from. Because of this, it’s easy to glean the IP address of whoever sent the transaction.
Dandelion introduces a second phase here called “fluffing” the transactions, which “makes it a lot harder to identify where transactions originate from,” Peverell said.
Though, Bitcoin Core contributor Jonas Schnelli told CoinDesk he’s optimistic bitcoin will eventually adopt the change, calling it a “pretty important” privacy feature. The reason it hasn’t been implemented in bitcoin is no developers have had time to pick up the task just yet, he argued.
That’s not to say there won’t be significant hurdles.
One rather huge drawback of MimbleWimble’s approach is that in order to get the scalability and privacy benefits, transactions are much simpler than bitcoin’s. That means, it makes it harder to do more complex types of transactions, like requiring two or three people to sign off on a transaction before it can be sent, or to build more scalable infrastructure, such as lightning network, on top of it.
There’s still hope, though.
Peverell is excited about signature aggregation because it can pave the way for still other future technologies, such as scriptless scripts, a technology that could reintroduce a way for users to do these types of complex transactions using grin.
According to Peverell, most of the technical heavy lifting will be out of the way once they finish their second testnet.
But there are a number of steps left before they can be sure there aren’t any problems with the payment system and they’re ready to launch. Peverell noted grin is launching yet another testnet (their third) to finalize some changes and stomp out as many bugs as possible.
The loose volunteer team also wants to build out the wallet to be more “user-friendly,” since being easy to use is something cryptocurrencies tend to struggle with. And finally, they want a third party to audit Grin’s code.
This sounds like a lot, but Peverell hopes they’ll be able to launch the payment system for real by the end of the year, at which point the team can put the experimental concepts its trial to test in a live environment with real funds.
“I’m still optimistic for this winter.”
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The experimental blockchain network mimblewimble has launched on testnet.
Known for its creative use of Harry Potter references, the project was proposed last year by a cryptographer going by the pseudonym “Tom Elvis Jedusor” (French for Harry Potter’s archnemesis Lord Voldemort). And while such trappings may make it silly to some, developers are serious about the tech – arguing it improves scalability and privacy with cutting-edge cryptography.
Now, the team behind the effort is taking its first step toward putting the code to the test.
As explained by lead developer Ignotus Peverell, the testnet will offer a workshop of sorts for developers, complete with fake coins that allow them to detect (and correct) issues before launching a version with real money on the line.
The developer went on to explain that with the testnet (called testnet1) up and running, a few developers are mining and running the nodes that follow the cryptocurrency’s unique rules.
He told CoinDesk:
“There’s still a lot of work, but it’s a big milestone for us.”
Users can now operate a node and connect to the Grin network by “building” the software through a process described on GitHub. They can also send cryptocurrency tokens (also called ‘grin’) to other testnet users with the aim of helping plot out issues.
“We hope to have as many bug reports as possible, so we can start fixing issues we’ve overlooked,” Peverell said. “At this point, one can still expect failures that would be a complete nightmare on a mainnet.”
Transactions and beyond
In short, Peverell anticipates there will be many versions of the testnet.
“This is our first testnet, so we’re testing everything that has been developed so far. That includes the peer-to-peer network, the core consensus rules, the cryptography required to run a mimblewimble chain, the wallet software,” Peverell added.
Later versions, he suggested, will include more advanced features such as so-called “scriptless scripts” that would add other functionalities, such as Lightning Networks, to Grin.
Still, it might not be too long before the cryptocurrency goes live. According to Peverell, the team is aiming for launch “sometime in 2018.”
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It’ll take more than the flick of a wand to carry out, but MimbleWimble developers now seem set on creating a new cryptocurrency.
The blockchain project, named after a spell from the Harry Potter book series, has been looking for ways to attach itself to bitcoin since 2016, but with its platform getting closer to being ready (and options like sidechains still in development), developers now argue launching a new cryptocurrency is simply the easiest way to test MimbleWimble with real users.
But while the project touts itself as a more scalable, more private blockchain, launching new cryptocurrencies has historically been seen as controversial.
With hundreds (if not, thousands) of so called altcoins launching and fading into obscurity over the years, some have gone so far as to label the practice an elaborate fraud. But, according to one MimbleWimble developer, the project doesn’t intend to follow models that have proven problematic or harmful to investors.
Igno Peverell, the project’s pseudonymous lead developer, said:
“No ICO, pre-mine or funny business.”
Instead, Peverell said money for project development will likely depend on voluntary donations, though the team has not ironed out the details just yet.
Sidechain or new chain?
Stepping back, MimbleWimble’s open-source team has continued to grow larger and become more active with time, and because of that, the project has made significant steps forward. Still, the original goal of launching it as a sidechain of the bitcoin network has remained a challenge.
Since MimbleWimble requires bitcoin’s existing scripting system to be stripped out, the project has long been considered all but impossible to incorporate into bitcoin itself.
Indeed, Blockstream mathematician Andrew Poelstra, one of the earliest advocates for MimbleWimble, and arguably its most visible proponent, agreed that launching a new cryptocurrency is the “simplest” option.
“It’s a very reasonable attitude and I’m glad that they’re pushing the research and design of MimbleWimble forward,” he added.
Yet, Poelstra mentioned it might be possible to peg the network’s cryptocurrency, called grin, to bitcoin later on, using a mechanism he’s currently developing.
He told CoinDesk:
“Although grin is starting from a different place than I would have preferred, it’s still moving in the right direction: toward improved privacy and scalability for bitcoin.”
But as for how those features are developing, things are still taking shape.
Because it isn’t able to use bitcoin’s scripts, it seemed at first as though MimbleWimble wouldn’t be able to support more complex transaction types like Schnorr signatures and Lightning Network, both of which could boost capacity even further.
So, if grin has better privacy and scalability, and might be able to support many of the same features bitcoin has, does bitcoin still have any advantages?
To this question, Peverell responded with sarcasm, acknowledging that bitcoin still has the “largest market,” “most known brand” and “most active ecosystem,” making the prospect of competing difficult.
Further, Peverell noted that since bitcoin was upgraded to support Segregated Witness in August, it now allows more advanced transaction types, something that’s likely to keep developers busy with new innovations.
All in all, the developer doesn’t see it so much as a competition. Instead, Peverell argues that there are tradeoffs between the different approaches.
“We’re not here to ‘kill bitcoin.’ We’re here to provide a radically different, private and scalable alternative that plays well with it,” he said.
Next steps on a testnet
Developers have been working on a code version of MimbleWimble, also called grin, since October of last year. And that implementation has seen plenty of progress, especially with a new cast of Harry Potter-themed developers (including Antioch Peverell, Luna Lovegood, Seamus Finnigan, and Percy Weasley) joining ranks.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done before the team can launch the grin cryptocurrency, Peverell continued, including multiple rounds of testing. First, the current code still needs to be fleshed out, reviewed and tested.
“We now have a blockchain implementation that, while still naturally immature at this point, doesn’t have gaping holes anymore,” Peverell said.
Second, by testing and bulletproofing the code, they will crystallize an “alpha” release, with which they will launch a testnet, a big step toward showing the cryptocurrency community the underlying ideas really work.
Setting up the testnet means producing a first block, known as a “genesis block” (in bitcoin, this block was hardcoded by the technology’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto). After that, volunteer testers will be able mine the network and make test transactions.
“I’m hoping we’ll be ready before winter,” Peverell said.
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstream.
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