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A close look at the software running Cardano

Learn about the ‘stack’ of components that interact to run the blockchain platform

8 June 2021 Niamh Ahern 5 mins read

A close look at the software running Cardano

Cardano has been designed in modules, with linked components that can be used in various ways. These components form the Cardano ‘platform stack’. They work together under the hood to support the construction and use of the live Cardano blockchain.

We are currently in the early testnet phase on the way to the Alonzo hard fork, which will bring full smart contract capability to Cardano. This process is highly complex, requiring the steady upgrade of the different elements which make up the Cardano platform, and their careful integration and testing. So, it is a good time to revisit these components, explain some of the terminology, and discover how they interact within the ‘platform stack’.

Elements of the Cardano platform stack

Figure 1. Components that communicate with the Cardano node

The platform stack for Cardano includes these core components:

  • Cardano node (and associated processes)
  • Cardano wallet
  • Wallet command line interface (CLI)
  • DB Sync (synchronizes blockchain data with a relational database)
  • PostgreSQL database (which interacts with GraphQL, REST API, and Smash)
  • Smash server
  • Rosetta API (blockchain communication protocol)

Note that the Daedalus wallet is not part of the core stack, but does communicate with the components (Figure 1).

The node and the networking layer

First, let's take a look at the Cardano node. This software runs on your computer and underpins the network, enabling everyone to participate in the decentralized blockchain. The node integrates the consensus, ledger, and networking sub-components, providing top-level configuration, API, CLI, logging, memory management, and monitoring capabilities that can be used by other Cardano components or by skilled users. Daedalus is a full-node wallet, so if you are running that on your local machine, you are effectively helping to run the network.

The networking layer

Next, we have the networking layer. This links each Cardano node into a distributed system that manages the blockchain and associated services. The network consists of a collection of nodes that communicate with each other to maintain the distributed ledger, support transaction submission, and interact with user wallets and other services. The core of the network is built around the decentralized nodes – the stake pools – that collectively validate blocks, and add new blocks to the chain. They are supported by dedicated relay nodes that manage network connections and establish the structure of the network as a whole. The dedicated consumer nodes that are run by the Daedalus wallet and other services connect to this network to track and submit transactions on-chain.

Cardano nodes maintain connections with their peers. A set of mini-protocols enable communication between the nodes. Each mini-protocol implements a basic information exchange requirement, such as informing peers of the latest block, sharing blocks as needed, or sharing new transactions around the Cardano network. For connection purposes, mini-protocols are determined by the version of the network protocol.

Cardano wallet backend

The Cardano wallet backend component supports the graphical user interface of the Daedalus wallet. It is used to send and receive ada. Behind the scenes, the wallet runs a full Cardano node. Unlike a light client wallet, it loads the entire shared ledger and validates all transactions, thus bolstering the security of the blockchain for everyone.

Wallet command line interface (CLI)

The wallet command line interface (CLI) supports interactions with the actual blockchain. More technically advanced users can use the CLI to work with a collection of tools for generating keys, constructing transactions, creating certificates, and performing other tasks. It is organized in a hierarchy of subcommands, and each level comes with its own built-in documentation of command syntax and options.

DB Sync

DB Sync is a component that follows the activities on the Cardano chain and stores blocks and transactions in PostgreSQL. As a ‘middleware’ component, it powers cardano-graphql. DB Sync stores blockchain data fetched from cardano-node in an intermediate database to enable higher-level interfaces for blockchain exploration. It also provides a number of queries to fetch Cardano blockchain data from the PostgreSQL, and supports services such as the Cardano Explorer, a graphical user interface that reflects the blockchain data in a straightforward way. Cardano GraphQL is a cross-platform API for the GraphQL data query language.

Rosetta API

The Rosetta application programming interface provides a high-level interface that aims to make the integration process easier, faster, and more reliable so that you can build once and integrate your blockchain everywhere. We have created a unique cardano-rosetta implementation to simplify the process of integration with Cardano. This interface is particularly useful for exchanges, since they can interact with the Cardano chain using the same interface that they use with other blockchains.

Looking forward

With smart contracts coming to Cardano soon, this means that Plutus, the native smart contract language, and other smart contract development languages like Marlowe for finance and Glow for DApps will be integrated into the Cardano stack. IO Global’s engineers will provide new and extended components to compile Plutus, Marlowe, and Glow scripts, submit them on-chain, and interact with them (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Plutus, Marlowe, Glow, Solidity, and IELE can all be used to write Cardano smart contracts

The Alonzo protocol upgrade will build on recent token upgrades and is being deployed to the mainnet via several testnets. Our Plutus partners and Plutus Pioneers will help us to test Plutus Core and will be part of the user acceptance phase before mainnet deployment. At this point we will officially add the Plutus and Marlowe components, such as both interpreters, to Cardano’s platform stack.

To keep up to date with the Alonzo rollout, please check our social channels and blog page.

The essential Cardano list - a new resource for the community

Introducing a new central source for all things Cardano-related

30 April 2021 Niamh Ahern 4 mins read

The essential Cardano list - a new resource for the community

Today sees the publication of the Essential Cardano list – a new GitHub repository which will help you to find out everything you need to know about Cardano. Whether you want to understand what Cardano is and who our partners are, learn about our mission and roadmap, or get stuck in and build on Cardano, this is the place to start.

Inspired by GitHub's well known Awesome lists, the Essential Cardano list provides an outline of our thriving ecosystem, as well as a comprehensive list of resources to help you learn more and get started. As it grows and expands, this new list aims to become the canonical source of material for Cardano, including both official resources and community-generated materials. We are now looking for our community members to help us extend it even more by contributing their suggestions.

A central location of essential resources

We want to have a central location for all things Cardano, to bring everything together and make it easy for people to find what they need. We have provided links to all official sites, channels, and resources, as well as to a collection of material such as explainers, guides, developer resources, glossaries, primers, tutorials, and much more.

On top of that, we have identified assets developed by the community which we think provide great value and complement our own content that we produce. Our aim is that our community will now help us to grow it out and make it even better.

Navigate the Cardano ecosystem

Essential Cardano provides an outline of all the core entities, partner groups, and facets that are part of our growing ecosystem to help orientate you to understand all the existing and new relationships that are being developed.

Initially, our focus has been on curating links and references to what’s going on within our growing ecosystem. As we update the list, or additions are made by community members, the list will also grow. We also plan to add additional visual elements including infographics and ecosystem maps over time. We have included an existing ecosystem map which is currently being refreshed by our team to reflect new relationships and partnerships we have formed recently. We plan to release a May version of this map very soon, so if you would like to help us get this up to date as soon as possible, go ahead and raise a pull request with your suggestion!

We have also included all the Project Catalyst startups that currently exist so you can understand some of what is being planned for future development.

How do I contribute?

We are looking for you to help us to grow out and evolve this essential Cardano list. This list is fully open source so if you know of new content that is being produced by members of the community, new relationships that are not included, or new innovations, please let us know so that we can add them all to this list and promote them. The easiest way to do this is to raise a pull request on the repository. We’ll evaluate these regularly and provide feedback within each pull request.

Growing this list

2021 is already a very active year for growth and engagement on Cardano. Following on from yesterday's exciting announcements about our vision for Africa, and with upcoming smart contracts and other new products on the way, we expect lots of new and exciting additions. We have already included some contributions from our active Plutus Pioneers course, which are very welcome, and we anticipate many more users, developers, and enterprises jumping on board in the coming months. We are happy to see the new Cardano Q & A Stack Exchange being developed and would encourage our community members to submit their questions to help build this out. Stay tuned for announcements and updates here on our blog, social channels, and within the Essential Cardano repository itself.

Everything you need to know about our new Plutus Pioneer Program

Learn Plutus and become a certified Plutus Pioneer with our new series of interactive training courses – starting next week

1 April 2021 Niamh Ahern 5 mins read

Everything you need to know about our new Plutus Pioneer Program

Next week sees the start of the first in a series of our Plutus pioneer training programs where participants can learn the fundamentals of Plutus and help to test the code before the official release of our new smart contract language. This new innovative program aims to recruit and train developers within the ecosystem so that they are fully prepared when Plutus is deployed to the Cardano mainnet later this year.

Since we announced this new course on March’s Cardano360 show we have had a huge expression of interest from our developer community, both from developers who want to create decentralized applications (DApps), and smart contract programmers who want to work with Cardano’s principal development language. This week we have contacted everyone interested (over 2,000) to get a better idea of their experience and expertise. Those of you who have been selected for the first round of this program will hear from us very soon. If you don’t receive an invitation at this stage, don’t worry as we will be running several rounds of this program, so please do stay in touch!

Course structure

The first iteration of the new program starts next week. The cohort joining this program will be true pioneers. As well as being part of a group that will have early access to a set of learning modules, your feedback will help us develop and iterate the overall learning experience.

The course will teach you the core principles of how to code in both Haskell and Plutus. The course modules will cover the building blocks of Haskell and Plutus, including functions and data types, type classes, monads, template Haskell, using the Plutus Playground, the Extended UTXO model, working with Plutus on and off the chain, minting policies, state machines, the Plutus application framework, as well as some case studies and practical exercises.

The course will follow a modular approach and will be highly interactive – each week we will be releasing new teaching videos from our director of education, Lars Brünjes, along with a set of practical exercises to complete during the week as part of each module. We will also be holding regular Q&A sessions and you will have access to a dedicated community channel on Discord, created especially to help you to connect with other course participants as you learn.

Outside the exercises and videos, students will be encouraged to learn at a pace that is right for them and to collaborate with fellow students. As with all learning experiences, the more you put in the more you will get out! We encourage all participants to engage with each other and work collaboratively to answer questions and solve problems.

We will have a small team of moderators who will check in from time to time to help facilitate and assist. They can also help triage issues or questions that may come up in your learning during the week. These moderators are all graduates of the Mongolia class of 2020 that completed the Haskell MOOC and are well placed to assist with questions and challenges. At the close of each week, Lars will engage directly with the group to resolve more complex technical questions and provide feedback on the subject matter covered that week.

Prior experience

As Plutus is based largely on Haskell, having some prior experience with Haskell (or another functional programming language), will be very helpful. At a minimum, you should have some programming experience and a mathematical and technical mindset. You should be as keen to learn as to help us; while we have run a number of successful courses already, this is the first time we have challenged ourselves to teach at this scale. So be prepared for road bumps along the way as we learn and improve, too!

Bear in mind that this course is not for coding beginners. While you do not need to be an expert in formal methods, programming experience and a general aptitude for logical and mathematical thinking are highly desirable. The course will include advanced features like Template Haskell, type-level programming, and effect systems. If you need a refresher or get an introduction to Haskell, we recommend that you read the Learn You a Haskell guide before you participate in the course. We’ll open several new cohorts this year, so you won’t miss out.

When does the course start?

The course starts next week and will run concurrently for ten weeks through to mid June. It will involve approximately ten hours a week of your time and effort each week.

Will there be other pioneer programs?

Yes, we are keen to be as inclusive as we can on our path to rolling out smart contracts. We are also developing education programs for both Marlowe and Glow, so don't feel like you have missed out if this Plutus course is not for you. We’re still keen to have you onboard, so do watch this space for details of these other courses!

Certification

We will reward participants for their efforts in participating in this course and certify those pioneers that complete the entire program and are successful. These Plutus pioneer certificates will be represented as non fungible tokens (on the testnet) and locked by a Plutus contract. Pioneers can demonstrate their knowledge and qualification by constructing an appropriate transaction to unlock their individual token.

Ready to start

We are excited to have so many developers from our ecosystem on board and ready to get started and learn Plutus. You’ll not only be learning yourselves, but acting as a pioneer to help us determine the best way to teach and deliver this course – truly helping pave the way for future cohorts who enroll! We look forward to bringing you on this learning journey before we launch Plutus to the world!

The new Mantis: Bringing security and stability to the Ethereum Classic ecosystem

We’re committed to bringing innovation and fresh life to ETC and this is just the start

9 December 2020 Niamh Ahern 6 mins read

The new Mantis: Bringing security and stability to the Ethereum Classic ecosystem

IOHK has a long association with Ethereum Classic (ETC) and its community, which preserves an untampered history free from external interference and subjective altering of transactions. Serving as the next-generation digital currency platform, ETC is built as an intuitive programming platform, which allows developers of all skill sets to build the next wave of market disrupting decentralized applications (DApps).

The goal of ETC is to securely and methodically establish a strong ecosystem underpinned by solid foundation and core immutability. However, recent 51% attacks have put the ETC ecosystem into a precarious position, denting its confidence and challenging the community’s ability to address this issue, while representing an existential threat to its future viability.

Driving innovation & future growth for ETC

New Mantis is the only client that is written natively for Ethereum Classic and it offers unrivalled levels of assurance, security, and usability. IOHK has relaunched the Mantis project to mitigate against the recent attacks, provide enhanced security, and establish a robust means of interacting with the ETC chain. A commitment to fostering innovation and sustainability lies at the heart of the project. We are aiming to provide a steady funding income with the establishment of a proto-treasury to nurture future development and growth. This Mantis re-launch represents the culmination of a project that we've been working on for some time. Over the past few months, we have resurrected our code base, and gathered a dedicated Mantis team together who have worked hard to refine and improve the code and deliver important new features.

What is the Mantis project?

Mantis is a project that is built for the community, specifically designed for the developers, wallet users, and infrastructure providers to enable direct interaction with the ETC blockchain. Essentially, it is a place where future development can evolve and be tested by the community. The Mantis release includes the following components:

  • Mantis client - a CLI tool that connects to other clients in a peer-to-peer manner to allow users to communicate with the ETC chain, send and receive transactions, sync the blockchain data, execute and validate smart contracts, and deploy new smart contracts on-chain.
  • Mantis wallet - a node wallet with incorporated graphical user interface (GUI), which connects to both mainnet and the Sagano and Mordor testnets.
  • Mantis faucet - enables developers to receive testnet funds for use on the Sagano and Mordor testnets.
  • Mantis explorer - allows tracking recent activities and transactions in regards to the ETC chain, covering the ETC mainnet, and Sagano and Mordor testnets.

Please visit the Mantis website where you can download the latest version of both the Mantis client and wallet.

Mantis software implements the official Ethereum Classic specification and Ethereum Classic Improvement Proposals (ECIPs) introduced by ongoing efforts and discussed across teams in the ecosystem. The project has undergone a number of enhancements in terms of adding robustness and variety to the client offering, including optimizations and network upgrades that improve network security, sustainability, and performance in the long term. It has been developed from the ground up and built in 100% Scala code, a functional programming language that offers security guarantees that other languages do not. Mantis features include stable peer discovery, pruning, fast synchronization, and newly implemented checkpointing (for 51% attack resistance) and proto-treasury (for long-term sustainability). Let’s take a closer look at these features.

Checkpointing

Persistence and liveness are two crucial properties that a transaction ledger should possess. It is a proven fact that both persistence and liveness suffer when the adversarial mining power in the proof of work surpasses 50%, and in the recent year, ETC has undergone several double-spending attacks prompted by the creation of large chain reorganizations. Considering that persistence and liveness were not guaranteed within the ETC network, we sought to implement protocol changes that will re-establish persistence and liveness under current network conditions, and checkpointing is one of the proposed solutions.

Checkpointing ensures that the protocol is unaltered, by using the k parameter, or depth parameter, where every k block gets irreversibly "checkpointed", meaning that no one can ever drop or revert it. A trusted authority can choose the block on which to issue a checkpoint, which means that they can decide which block becomes the canonical chain that all parties should follow. This trusted authority must run continuously and is responsible for publishing the checkpoint to the network. Checkpointing ensures that the protocol is unaltered with regards to mining. The mining rewards are not affected and the checkpointing federation can only issue checkpoints on blocks that have valid proof of work and cannot mint blocks on its own.

Checkpointing is now implemented within the Mantis project, and according to our recent ECIP comparison for 51% attack resistance, it provides far greater, and importantly formally proven, security against these types of attacks. It is important that any 51% attack mitigation is truly robust enough to give absolute certainty to ETC holders, users, and service providers that their transactions will be secure.

Proto-Treasury

For the longer-term health and success of the ETC ecosystem, we position network growth, sustainability, and innovation as key elements to ensure network security. With that in mind, we are implementing a proto-treasury system within the Mantis project to establish a steady funding income. A well-developed governance strategy will enable effective, distributed funding for the long-term development of Mantis, whereas a decentralized treasury would ensure two important things for the future of the ecosystem:

  • Firstly, it would provide a permanent ongoing source of funding for the ETC network. while increasing the value of the ecosystem and promoting greater developer engagement.

  • Secondly, it would provide a distributed and transparent funding mechanism, which lets the ETC community determine its future growth and enable the sustainability required for innovation and growth.

Establishing the treasury for funding purposes ensures a clear vision of the substantial system maintenance focused to obtain innovation and diversity from other projects, including proof of stake (PoS) and newer blockchains. This solution is straightforward in its optimization for speed and implementation.

The proposal foresees to distribute 80% of existing mining rewards to miners and 20% to the proto-treasury smart contract. The treasury will be controlled by the community and will enable a decentralized, collaborative decision-making process, offering an opt-in type collaboration for those who are interested.

What’s next?

As much as we’re excited about the Mantis relaunch, it should be stressed that its capability won’t be limited to just the features outlined here. Mantis is an evolving project and right now we are establishing its foundational building blocks and running rigorous security audits. Further down the road, it will see more performance improvements in terms of CPU, GPU and ASICs compatibility, a new proof-of-work consensus protocol and algorithm introduction (PRISM consensus, Keccak256 algorithm) and, of course, additional enhancements for better interoperability and speed of transaction processing. You can also find out more by reading the Mantis documentation and joining the Mantis discord to stay up to date on all things Mantis or Ethereum Classic. Check out the Crowdcast launch event for the full Mantis showcase (and a keynote from Charles Hoskinson) and follow the Mantis team on Twitter to get the latest updates!

Educating the world on Cardano: initiatives and plans for 2020

Learn more about the education team's plans for the upcoming year

27 February 2020 Niamh Ahern 6 mins read

Educating the world on Cardano: initiatives and plans for 2020

Education has always been a key part of IOHK’s strategy. Our mission is to grow our global community and business through the medium of education, and to share what we have learned. By claiming leadership in worldwide education on blockchain technology, we have the chance to shape the field for generations and to leave a lasting legacy.

A consistent theme from 2019 has been the demand for a broad range of educational content, as demonstrated by the feedback received about the Incentivized Testnet, as well as the steady flow of support requests to our helpdesk. A key focus in IOHK for 2020 is to develop and expand our education materials as we transition fully into the Shelley era and then to the Goguen era of Cardano.

The IOHK education team will be investing significant time and effort this year in broadening our range of materials. We aim to enhance understanding of our technologies using a variety of learning and training assets targeted at a wide range of stakeholder audiences, both internal and external. This will be vital as the use of IOHK technology moves into the mainstream. We also aim to provide knowledge and information to enterprise decision-makers so they know what business problems our technologies can solve. We have lots planned and many projects are underway as we grow Cardano into a global social and financial operating system.

What can you expect?

We started 2020 with lectures, by Dr Lars Brünjes, our director of education, at the University of Malta. The focus of these lectures was on Plutus and Marlowe, our programming languages for smart contracts. The fruits of these sessions will, in turn, form the foundation of some modular training materials that we plan to formalize and develop over the coming months.

Our free Udemy courses on Plutus and Marlowe by Alejandro Garcia have proven very popular, with over 5,000 students signed up. Feedback has been positive and, as a result of what we learned from our students, we’ve been making incremental improvements over the last year. We now want to take this to the next level and are planning to fully update both courses soon to bring them up to speed with the latest development changes and new features. We are also in the initial planning stages for a second edition of the ebook, Plutus: Writing reliable smart contracts by Lars Brünjes and Polina Vinogradova, which we will be publishing later this year. The writing team has started to identify improvements and we are also gathering feedback directly from readers. If you have suggestions, please raise a pull request in our Plutus ebook GitHub repository with your ideas.

An important step in bridging the gap between our academic papers and mainstream understanding of these concepts is to teach people about Ouroboros, the proof-of-stake protocol that powers Cardano and ada. In response to the valuable feedback we have received from running the Incentivized Testnet, we are planning to create varied educational content to help stake pool operators understand Ouroboros and how the protocol works on a practical level.

Broadening our reach

To broaden the reach of our training courses and content, we are also investigating a way to migrate our popular Haskell training course into a massive online course, or MOOC, while also making it more comprehensive with the inclusion of Plutus and Marlowe material. In this way, we hope our MOOC will make the course even more valuable, and provide access to the widest possible global community. In addition, we are planning a comprehensive classroom-based Haskell and Plutus course in Mongolia, details of which will be finalized soon. We plan to use the introductory part of the online Haskell course as a primer for this face-to-face training. This is an example of a core efficiency that we are embracing where we aim to reuse content on Haskell, Plutus, and Marlowe across a variety of stand-alone modular materials that we can use externally and within the company for developing our staff.

We appreciate the value of interactive and meaningful training workshops, so we intend to host many more this year in several locations around the world. These events are in the initial planning stages and the first in the series will take place in Quebec in the spring. We’ll announce more details through our official channels – Twitter, email, here – nearer the time. The IOHK education team are on hand to support and prepare the necessary learning tools for participants to use at these events.

Alongside these materials and courses, we are mentoring an undergraduate student at the International University of Management (ISM), with her thesis on the topic of the power of blockchain in emerging markets. Additionally, Dr Jamie Gabbay has been invited to contribute to the book 'Applications of new generation technology to cryptocurrencies, banking, and finance’ by Devraj Basu.

Internal initiatives

We are also working with our human resources team to build the IOHK Training Academy: a new learning portal for our internal teams to upskill and develop professionally. This new resource is part of our learning and development strategy that aims to improve employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. We want to provide access to a library of assets so our staff can easily find exactly what they need. We will be developing tailored ‘learning journeys’ by function, ready-made content that will help people develop skills in new areas, as well as creating specific onboarding journeys for new starters. This is a vital resource for a fast-growing company with staff and contractors spread across 43 countries and will prove to be an important asset for all our people.

2020 is going to be a pivotal year for Cardano and we are looking forward to playing our part. It is our aim to teach both individuals and organizations how to use the protocol, and how it can help with their everyday lives. We have lots to do and we look forward to sharing all the educational content that we produce with our existing community, as well as those of you who are new to Cardano.