The peer-to-peer (P2P) hypermedia protocol, IPFS, is slowly growing into a legitimate alternative to conventional file and site hosting. A key feature of IPFS is its scalability. The IPFS architecture is designed to handle “load balancing, de-duplication, caching, and high availability.” Any computer can act as a server (node), and it elegantly leverages peer nodes to create a distributed content delivery network (CDN) as demand increases. Additionally, the IPFS Gateway and DNS support by Cloudflare removes any remaining concerns one might have regarding delivery, performance, and domain name usage.
IPFS has made it easy for anyone to participate as a node through its freely available Desktop app. The app, which works on Windows, macOS, and Linux, enables people to add files and automatically connect with peer nodes. Files added to the app will get distributed to other nodes, and files from other nodes will be copied locally and served from the computer.
IPFS works so well that it’s possible to host a high-availability site using its desktop app from a home computer, acting as the seed (pin) for free.
IPFS file storage services
It’s not always practical or ideal to rely on a home computer as an IPFS node. Fortunately, there’s a growing number of IPFS storage services that can be used to pin files.
Fission is a web-native app publishing tool that leverages IPFS for file delivery. It supports existing front-end frameworks like React, Vue, and Elm and can host sites or fully interactive web apps with user accounts.
They have an app called Drive that showcases what developers can do with Fission. Drive is meant to be used by developers to store and share their app’s files, but it can also be used as a standalone cloud drive.
The Drive web app is simple to use and has an excellent user interface (UI), but it’s focused more on basic file management for Fission and less on showcasing the unique features of IPFS.
Out of all of the IPFS file storage services I tested, Pinata was my favorite. Pinata doesn’t have the nested folder-based file management UI that Fission Drive has, but it’s still easy to use and has the IPFS features most people will want and expect.
One of the key elements of IPFS is that it’s distributed, and files are immutable. Every file gets a unique content identifier (CID), which can be used to add and pin folders and files to another node.
I recently imported and pinned my Etiquette for Electric Vehicles (EVs) site that was originally seeded and pinned on my home computer using IPFS Desktop to Pinata. All I had to do was copy the CID for the pinned folder that contains the site and then import and pin in Pinata using the same CID.
Pinata instantly imported the folder. Once I verified the site was publicly accessible from their gateway, I unpinned and removed it from IPFS Desktop and removed the app from my home computer. The site experienced zero downtime because of the immutable and distributed nature of the IPFS P2P network.
IPFS services incorporating Filecoin
Filecoin, striving to be the world’s largest and self-sustaining IPFS-based decentralized storage network, has been experiencing explosive growth.
Filecoin uses a cryptocurrency model that enables anyone to participate as a storage provider and earn Filecoin (FIL). The network is designed to be self-sustaining, and it rewards nodes for data storage and performance.
They recently announced a major donation to Internet Archive, which is meant to ensure the longevity of archive.org’s data via the distributed web.
This donation of 50,000 Filecoin is the biggest donation ever to the Internet Archive. And what are we going to do with it? We’re going to invest it in making the Internet Archive decentralized, make it so that the files are available from thousands of computers, not just a few. The idea of making a robust, private Internet that has a history that can’t be erased.Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive
IPFS and Filecoin are separate protocols that are meant to complement each other.
IPFS allows peers to store, request, and transfer verifiable data with each other, while Filecoin is designed to provide a system of persistent data storage. Under Filecoin’s incentive structure, clients pay to store data at specific levels of redundancy and availability, and miners earn payments and rewards by continuously storing data and cryptographically proving it.What is the connection between IPFS and Filecoin?
There are several companies building services that leverage IPFS’s decentralized protocol with Filecoin’s data persistence model. Three prominent services are ChainSafe Files, Space, and Slate.
- ChainSafe Files – An IPFS drive that has a clean and snappy UX but no sharing capabilities.
- Space – An IPFS drive that is similar to Google Drive and has advanced sharing options.
- Slate – An IPFS drive with basic sharing capabilities with a focus on file presentation.
Future of decentralized web file storage and delivery
The most compelling part of IPFS is that anyone with an internet connection can use it without a subscription or significant investment. Like Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006, IPFS further removes cost as a barrier to entry, making it possible for individuals and lean startups to access the same level of content distribution via the web that larger companies are accustomed to having. This will result in new services and apps that would have otherwise never made it to market.
There are several other reasons why IPFS is positioned to disrupt traditional file hosting services.
- There’s no content lock-in with IPFS – Moving and pinning data to another storage network only requires entering unique CIDs.
- It scales across nodes as needed – The protocol is designed to leverage nodes exponentially and intelligently as demand for files increases.
- It supports multiple data persistence models – File pinning services are supported by traditional merchants services, blockchain (e.g., Filecoin), and sharing of services.
- Cloudflare has an IPFS Gateway – Cloudflare has a distributed web gateway for IPFS, making it easy to use custom domains and leverage their network.
- IPFS is cheaper – As businesses learn IPFS is cheaper and just as reliable as their conventional file hosting service, they will switch to IPFS to save money.
Web apps that rely solely on IPFS for content delivery will become more commonplace soon. We should also expect to see more pinning services like Pinata emerge within the next few years, with the tipping point happening when established companies and hosting providers start to migrate to IPFS.