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Hyperledger Debuts Ursa Cryptography Library

Hyperledger has announced Ursa, which aims to make it easier to build cryptographic functions for use within blockchain verification protocols, a company spokesperson told Distributed.com.

Hyperledger, an umbrella project of open-source tools related to blockchain technology, has been one of the earliest and most significant technology providers in the enterprise blockchain space. This latest announcement could help users all over the world take their distributed applications to the next level.

Why Is Cryptography Important?

If you know how blockchains work in a technical sense, you know that cryptography is key. By performing cryptographic functions, the nodes on a blockchain verify the data stored on the blockchain. For this reason, cryptography is an essential part of the consensus mechanisms on most blockchains.

Plans by some blockchains (such as Ethereum) to shift away from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake consensus protocols could change the role played by cryptography in achieving consensus and verifying data, but no major public blockchain has made such a switch yet. And even if proof of work becomes less dominant, cryptographic functions will still play other important roles in blockchain operations, too, such as securing data in transit.

Standardizing and Simplifying Blockchain Cryptography

The problem with the cryptographic tools available to blockchain developers currently, according to Hyperledger, is that there is little standardization. Instead, to date, different blockchains have implemented their own cryptographic functions.

Ursa reflects Hyperledger’s view that “rather than have each project implement its own cryptographic protocols, it is much better to collaborate on a shared library,” according to the full announcement.

By sharing cryptographic functions (or the tools and architecture for building them) across distinct blockchains, developers no longer have to reinvent the wheel when they go to create a data verification protocol for their blockchain. Plus, standardization will make it easier, in many cases, to share data from one blockchain to another in a reliable way, since the data verification protocol will work the same on both blockchains.

Hyperledger also touts security as a benefit of the new Ursa project. It noted that, by placing the cryptographic code used by blockchains in a central location, Ursa will facilitate better peer-review of the code by security experts. At the same time, it will simplify code maintenance.

Not New Code, Just a New Idea

In announcing Ursa, the Hyperledger project is being up front about the fact that Ursa does not introduce substantial amounts of new cryptographic code to the blockchain ecosystem.

Instead, the new project simply provides “wrappers” for existing cryptographic programming libraries, such as the Apache Milagro Crypto Library. Combined with an API that provides easy programmatic access to the cryptographic functions within the Ursa library, Ursa makes it easier to take advantage of established, tried-and-true cryptographic code for use within blockchain verification protocols.

Which Blockchains Will Use Ursa?

While the Ursa announcement doesn’t mention specific examples of potential blockchains that might make use of the new cryptographic library, it seems likely that the resource will become popular with organizations that are building custom blockchains, rather than with the major public blockchains like Ethereum and Bitcoin. Don’t expect the latter to go changing its cryptographic code anytime soon.

For organizations that already use other Hyperledger tools to create or manage blockchains, however, it’s easy to see how Ursa could come in handy. It will facilitate easier data sharing between different permissioned blockchains within the enterprise ecosystem, for example. It could also provide reassurance to blockchain developers that they can build cryptographic functions on top of well-established and thoroughly-reviewed cryptography libraries, rather than having to write their own code from scratch and hope they don’t make any big mistakes.

Although Hyperledger didn’t mention the potential performance benefits of a standardized cryptography library for blockchains, Ursa might even help speed and optimize cryptographic operations, which tend to be the biggest bottleneck for blockchain performance and scalability.

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