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Hyperledger Goes to School

Hyperledger, the blockchain reference framework launched by the Linux Foundation, is nearly two years old. It is starting to gain commercial traction, underpinning projects such as Everledger, the blockchain to track the provenance of high-value items like diamonds.

Now that Hyperledger is getting more popular, developers and businesspeople alike will want to get more acquainted with it. To that end, the Linux Foundation has partnered with edX to launch an online course. Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is one of the many Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers on the web.

Now, participants can enroll in “Blockchain for Business — An Introduction to Hyperledger Technologies.” It is an introduction to the Hyperledger ecosystem, which consists of various frameworks. They should expect to walk away with an understanding of common Hyperledger use cases, how to install its various frameworks and how to build simple applications on them. One useful takeaway will be information on how to contribute to the open-source project.

Why was Hyperledger launched anyway and why should you care? The problem with the blockchain is that there are no standards for it. There may be heavily adopted and supported projects, such as the Bitcoin blockchain and Ethereum, but the Linux Foundation, which specializes in reference implementations, wanted code that would effectively be the Linux of the blockchain world.

Companies clearly agreed, because they contributed their own code to it. IBM pitched in some of its own blockchain code, as did Intel, and Digital Asset Holdings (DAH), financial blockchain company, also submitted code. Blockstream, which specializes in side chains, was another supporter.

Brian Behlendorf, who took the helm at the project in spring 2016, measures the project’s success in part by how much interest it garners for its technical steering committee. After all, the more companies that are using it, the more of a hand they will want in its development.

“This year we had 360 non-trivial contributors who then formed the elector pool,” he said. “That grew by a factor of three.” (There were a little over 100 last year.)

The project’s success is also evident in the work it has published. It has produced several frameworks, the major one of which is Fabric. Released as version 1.0 in July 2017, this is the production-ready, open-source distributed ledger platform — the bedrock for Hyperledger — and it uses the IBM and DAH code.

Then there’s Sawtooth: a platform based on Fabric for building business blockchain applications and which has more user-facing services for those developers to take advantage of. Students of the edX course will learn how to create clean installations of both these environments and use them to build rudimentary applications.

Speaking of services, Hyperledger also has Indy, which is its identity management framework. ID management will be an important part of most blockchain-based services, and some use cases stand out. Behlendorf pointed to managing identities for refugees as an example.

Developers following the edX project will doubtless also learn about Burrow, which is a Hyperledger foray into smart contracts. The project already supported smart contracts written in Go, a programming language, directly in Fabric using a Docker container, but Burrow is a smart contract interpreter that tries, in part, to follow the specifications of the Ethereum virtual machine (EVM).

The course began on October 24, 2017. It lasts eight weeks and requires three to four hours of effort each week. The Foundation has brought in trainers from blockchain education firm DLT.Education to steer the course, along with lawyers and fintech entrepreneurs.

edX said that the course is aimed at both technical and non-technical types, meaning that if you’re an entrepreneur, it will give you an idea of how blockchains work and the kinds of use cases that they might support. 

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