Satoshi is known for being the creator of Bitcoin, but he is less known for his participation in the creation of a second coin: Namecoin. It is quite possible that you have heard this name somewhere before, but that you only considered it as yet another fork of Bitcoin. His story is nevertheless very interesting, and this on several levels: from Satoshi’s participation in the development of the concept, his link with Bitcoin or even the fact that he offers a solution to a problem that was thought then impossible to solve … Namecoin has a number of surprises in store for you!
In this article, we will briefly talk about domain names, then the creation of Namecoin (and the participation of Satoshi ), to finally finish with a small practical guide.
A domain name: what for?
A domain name is an internet domain identifier. The purpose of it is to easily communicate the address of a set of computer servers. They are more digestible than IP addresses and easier to remember. A domain name, therefore, makes it possible to have an identifier that can then be translated into a unique IP address understandable by a computer.
For example, the domain name coindesk.com refers to the IP address 220.127.116.11: this is the IP address of the server that hosts the site of Coindesk.
Today, these kinds of services already exist. We used to use the domain names for access to websites via our web browser. The problem lies elsewhere: it is that we must trust in the central authorities. It is they who will maintain the necessary databases, containing all the domain names and their associated IP addresses. When we want to access an online site, it is therefore to these entities that we must ask for directions. It would, therefore, be desirable to have a decentralized system in place of it.
Which brings us to the famous Zooko triangle. This Zooko had invented a theory that said that communication protocols should have 3 properties: to be secure, decentralized and humanly understandable … but, in practice, it was only possible to fulfill two of these three characteristics at a time.
Indeed, the system described above is very secure and humanly understandable … but not decentralized. There are other systems, like Tor (and its .onion addresses ) which are secure and decentralized. However, they are not humanly understandable in the strict sense. You could say that this is also the case for bitcoin addresses: a series of numbers and letters that is at first glance very obscure.If you have a system with a central authority, it also means that you can fatally observe abuse. Unfortunately, this is very common and it often happens that sites are censored because these central authorities have to bow to pressure from governments.
Note: in reality, the protocol for resolving a domain name is a little more complicated, but the principle remains the same. I recommend this playlist of videos for more details.
The birth of Namecoin
The concept made sense to many people in the community. Indeed, it was composed mainly of crypto-anarchists and computer enthusiasts. Several people had already tried to conceptualize a decentralized DNS, but without much result.
After the launch of Bitcoin, some people saw that we could use the proof of work algorithm to store domain names in a distributed way … and therefore no longer have a central authority!
The idea will also go a long way on the side of Satoshi, which offers to have two different channels and networks but to leave the possibility to a minor to submit a solution for the two services in parallel. This concept is now known as AuxPoW ( Auxiliary Proof of Work ), which is also known as “merged mining”.
This project has materialized in the form of Namecoin, which has been running since April 2011. It is now possible to mine Namecoins as Bitcoin thanks to AuxPow. It, therefore, knows the same resistance as Bitcoin. Today, the project is directed by Jérémy Rand and actively developed by a team of volunteers.
It should be noted that a few months before the launch of Namecoin, Aaron Swartz had also explored the idea . He also wanted to use the proof of work algorithm developed by Nakomoto.
Who is using it?
Namecoin works perfectly with ZeroNet, a system of sharing of content resistant to censorship. Zeronet sites are not identifiable by IP addresses, but Bitcoin addresses. We can, therefore, associate its Bitcoin address with a domain name in “.bit”.
It is also possible to associate the IP address of its server, allowing people using nodes to access it via the namecoin domain name or even via its Tor address in “.onion”.
Namecoin also has its own fork from the Electrum wallet. It allows you to manage your domain names as well as your namecoins, the corner that allows you to buy domain names. It is a wallet with an SPV node, so it retrieves only the necessary information without needing a central authority or downloading the full chain.
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