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by Christopher Tozzi, Oct 11, 2018

What the Hyperledger and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance Partnership Means for Enterprise Blockchains


Ethereal Summit

Earlier this month, Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) announced that they are becoming members of each other’s projects. Specifically, each organization is signing on as an associate member of the other’s.

The consortia already count many dozens of companies and projects within their respective membership lists. They are both dedicated to spreading the adoption of blockchain technology and putting decentralized solutions into the hands of member organizations. 

Open Standards and Open Source 

Though Hyperledger and the EEA already shared similar missions, this announcement represents the convergence of two related but separate initiatives within the enterprise blockchain space. 

EEA’s mission is centered around open standards. The group’s goal, according to its website, is “to deliver an open, standards-based architecture and specification” to speed adoption of Ethereum. It describes itself as the first standards organization in the Ethereum ecosystem.

If you know much about the history of open standards, you’ll understand why they are a big deal for the Ethereum community — and, for that matter, for the blockchain industry as a whole. In most technological ecosystems, it’s hard to get all stakeholders to agree on a common set of software standards and architecture specifications, which are necessary for ensuring that software or hardware built by one organization is compatible with the products of another.

In the blockchain industry, however, universal standards are even harder to achieve, since most blockchain communities by their nature are highly decentralized. The purpose of a standards organization like the EEA is to solve this challenge by creating a universal set of agreed-upon practices that everyone will follow when designing blockchains and blockchain applications. Open standards help to ensure that, say, a DApp created by one project is compatible with the blockchain built by another. 

Hyperledger, meanwhile, oversees several open source projects that help developers create blockchains or blockchain applications. Its mission is to promote open source code within the blockchain space. It’s a safe bet that Hyperledger, which is itself overseen by the Linux Foundation, believes in the importance of open standards, too. But open standards are not a core part of its mission.

By joining forces, then, the EEA and Hyperledger are helping to ensure that open standards and open source code can develop side by side in the blockchain industry. That’s significant, because it’s possible to have open standards without open source software, or vice versa. 

For example, TCP/IP, which is central to the internet as we know it, is an open, universally accepted networking standard. But there are plenty of networking applications that follow the protocol without themselves being open source. Likewise, you could build an application whose source code is available to anyone who wants to see it or modify it, yet have that application rely on proprietary protocols (although, in practice, this scenario is rare).

What this means is that if the folks working on open standards for blockchain technology were to remain isolated from those focused on promoting open source blockchain software, we could end up with a blockchain ecosystem that is open in some ways but closed and proprietary in others. The partnership between the EEA and Hyperledger will help promote openness at all levels — within the protocols as well as software code. 

That’s not to say, of course, that the partnership means everyone will adhere to the standards and source code promoted by these organizations. There’s no law that says you have to abide by the EEA, Hyperledger or anyone else when you build a blockchain protocol or app. Still, the partnership will help to encourage more openness at all levels.

Hyperledger: Learning to Love Ethereum

Also worth noting is what the partnership says about Hyperledger’s stance toward Ethereum.

For much of its history, Hyperledger’s main focus has been on building software that helps enterprises create their own blockchains. That’s pretty different from encouraging enterprises to adopt the public Ethereum blockchain. 

Now, however, it seems clear that Hyperledger is warming up to Ethereum, and sees value for enterprises in the Ethereum blockchain as well as in other blockchains that they might create using software from one of the Hyperledger projects.

For the record, that trend has been clear for some time. One of Hyperledger’s projects, Burrow, adheres to the Ethereum Virtual Machine specification. Hyperledger is also building software to help make Ethereum smart contracts compatible with other blockchains created using Hyperledger tools. So Hyperledger has been working to close the technical gaps between its own projects and Ethereum for some time.

With the new partnership, however, Hyperledger’s enthusiasm for Ethereum seems clear. So does its commitment to integrating more standards from the Ethereum community into Hyperledger projects.