Whether it’s the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 or the emerging growth of Web 3.0, each iteration of the internet brings about an explosive increase in data volume. Currently, the decentralization wave, represented by blockchain technology, is rising, leading to fundamental changes in data storage. The trend towards distributed storage has gradually become a consensus both within and outside the industry.
What is distributed storage? Distributed storage involves dispersing data across multiple independent devices, breaking the monopoly of centralized storage. The network stores data and content in various corners of the world, addressing the bottleneck of storage servers becoming a performance limitation.
Decentralized storage, where multiple nodes participate in storage, eliminates the limitations of centralized storage and geographic location. By leveraging blockchain technology’s hashing algorithms, file sizes are significantly reduced, capacity is increased, and encryption techniques enhance data privacy and integrity.
Why do we need distributed storage? Currently, we lack a powerful, secure, and decentralized content storage and distribution system that can serve today’s applications. With the rapidly evolving internet, continuous innovation in the entire ecosystem, a growing user base, and exponential data growth, existing local storage faces tremendous pressure. Therefore, it is necessary to alleviate this pressure by adopting other distributed storage systems, leading to the emergence of distributed storage and file systems.
In this article, we will explore and evaluate the technology and value propositions of two highly discussed distributed storage projects in the market: Filecoin, the leader in the distributed storage field, and Swarm, the rising star hailed as one of the three pillars of Web 3.0. Which one has a better outlook? Who has the advantage? Let’s delve into the exploration and assessment of Swarm and Filecoin.
Empowering Decentralized Storage Filecoin, an established leader in the distributed storage domain is a decentralized storage network built on blockchain technology. It provides a decentralized marketplace for individuals and organizations to buy and sell storage space, forming a robust and secure storage ecosystem. Filecoin leverages a unique proof-of-replication and proof-of-spacetime consensus mechanism to ensure data integrity and reliability.
Key Features of Filecoin:
- Market-driven: Filecoin operates as a marketplace, where users can rent out their unused storage space and earn Filecoin (FIL) tokens as rewards.
- Incentivized storage: The protocol incentivizes participants to store and verify data accurately, promoting the availability and durability of stored content.
- Secure and encrypted: Filecoin employs cryptographic techniques to ensure data privacy and prevent tampering or unauthorized access.
- Robust ecosystem: Filecoin has a well-established ecosystem, attracting numerous storage providers, developers, and users. It offers a wide range of tools and libraries for seamless integration into various applications.
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A Decentralized Content Distribution Platform Swarm is a distributed storage platform and content distribution service, serving as a native foundational layer for the Ethereum Web3 stack. Its primary goal is to provide decentralized and redundant storage for Ethereum’s public records, DApps, and blockchain data. Swarm allows participants to pool their storage and bandwidth resources efficiently while being incentivized through the Ethereum network.
Key Features of Swarm:
- P2P network: Swarm operates as a peer-to-peer network, where participants contribute resources such as storage, message forwarding, and payment processing to offer distributed digital services.
- Seamless integration: Swarm is seamlessly integrated with the Ethereum stack and leverages the existing smart contract ecosystem, making it easier for developers to adopt and utilize its decentralized storage capabilities.
- Content distribution: Swarm aims to function as a decentralized content distribution network (CDN), allowing efficient and resilient distribution of content across the network.
- Content availability: Swarm uses a counter mode encryption technique and messaging protocol (pss) to ensure efficient retrieval and availability of stored content.
Differences Between Filecoin and Swarm
Despite the hopes that Swarm would become the next Filecoin, the two distributed storage projects have different development paths and technical architectures.
Difference 1: Swarm was primarily created to address Ethereum’s block congestion issues, but currently, Ethereum doesn’t have significant storage demands in the short to medium term, and storage on Filecoin is sufficient.
Difference 2: In comparison to Filecoin, Swarm’s biggest advantage lies in its access to existing Ethereum smart contract ecosystem resources and efficient hot data storage. This allows Swarm to quickly realize the value of its distributed storage. Filecoin’s ecosystem is still in its early stages, with most stored data being garbage data. It will take time for Filecoin to develop a real and effective ecosystem.
Swarm focuses on content distribution on top of storage. It acts as a decentralized content distribution network based on a distributed network. The incentive system of Swarm, compared to Filecoin, differs mainly in technical details and incentive mechanisms.
Since the launch of the Filecoin project, there have been concerns about miners uploading fake or useless data due to the lack of verification by the official team. In contrast, Swarm introduces a checkbook smart contract, which enables offline transfers within the Swarm network. Under the existing incentive system, nodes can facilitate content delivery, and Swarm CDN automatically scales to store and distribute popular data while charging fees for storage. Less popular content gets gradually removed over time. This addresses the issue of Filecoin miners intentionally generating garbage content to increase their earnings. Swarm’s approach enhances file availability and security by penalizing storage of useless data. Filecoin’s focus now is on storing valid customer data, and measures have been taken to reward applications and miners storing useful data rather than junk data.
Difference 3: Currently, Swarm is regarded more as a traffic distribution system rather than a storage system.
In Swarm’s data transmission, a counter mode is used for encrypting and decrypting content. When a user uploads content to Swarm, the uploaded data is divided into 4KB blocks, which are encoded using separate randomly generated encryption keys. The algorithm then pushes each fragment to somewhere in the network. In the process, all intermediate nodes cache a copy of the data. When a file needs to be read, it first retrieves the root of the file from somewhere, and then reads different file fragment information from the root. Based on the fragments, it retrieves the corresponding content from different parts of the network.
This principle is based on Swarm’s messaging protocol called pss (Postal Service over Swarm). With pss, you can send messages to any node in the Swarm network. Pss messages specify the destination in the covering address space, independent of the message payload. If it’s a complete covering address, the destination can describe a specific node. If it’s partially specified, it can describe a neighborhood until the destination is reached. The message is then relayed through devp2p peer connections using Kademlia for forwarding. Once it reaches the target neighborhood, broadcast is used for message delivery.
Swarm’s messaging approach may improve data retrieval performance, but it also leads to the automatic pushing of data to nodes that don’t need to store it, wasting precious storage and bandwidth. This is explicitly avoided in IPFS.
In conclusion, from the above three differences, we can see that both Swarm and Filecoin have their own shortcomings.
Filecoin and Swarm represent two prominent distributed storage solutions, each with its unique strengths and goals. Filecoin has gained significant adoption and offers a marketplace for storage providers and users, ensuring secure and reliable data storage. Swarm, closely integrated with Ethereum, aims to serve as a decentralized content distribution platform. Both projects contribute to the advancement of decentralized technologies, addressing the challenges of centralized storage systems. The choice between Filecoin and Swarm ultimately depends on the specific use case and requirements of individuals and organizations in the Web 3.0 era.