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The nuts and bolts of blockchain

Having been bombarded with news about the rise of cryptocurrencies and the craze for investing in them during the summer of 2018, I was curious to know what made them so popular. The internet was rife with material on how to invest in these currencies, and the purportedly novel Blockchain protocols that made each one different from one another. Yet there was no resource that served as a comprehensive guide for a layman on the underlying technicalities that made blockchain a good fit for such currencies nor was there any information on what other areas of society, Blockchain could make an impact on. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) course ‘Blockchain Architecture Design and Use Cases’ did just that and much more. NPTEL and IBM created the 12-week course with the target to cover both the conceptual as well as application part of Blockchain.

Transaction

In the first few weeks, I learnt about cryptographic primitives and consensus mechanisms that formed the nuts and bolts of blockchain. While initially, the course dealt with implementations in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, it gradually migrated towards the usage of Blockchain in conducting transactions amongst participants whose identities are known to one another, a use case which is becoming increasingly popular amongst industries that need a means to enforce contracts with its partners and securely track the movement of their goods. A practical glimpse into this world was provided by a series of lectures on the hyper ledger platform that allows businesses to safely conduct global business transactions.

The accompanying IBM blockchain starter plan that was provided free of cost to the students proved to be the cherry on top. It enabled us to set up our own permissioned blockchain networks, invite members and enforce smart contracts in a simulated environment that mimicked the manner in which industries could carry out transactions. The course then concluded by providing us with some food for thought by introducing us to research topics in the area of blockchain; open questions and state of the art work being carried out in academia and industrial research labs.

Strong foundations

All said, the course wouldn’t have been what it was, if not for the dedication shown by the instructors, the teachers assistant’s and the NPTEL team. Doubts posted on the forum were cleared in a timely fashion and extra material was also provided for those interested in diving deeper into the topics. Professors ensured that the students understood the concepts very well with their lucid explanations. The course ended up providing me with such a strong foundation and motivation to pursue research in the area of Blockchain that I decided to work on the topic ‘Proving the Robustness of Delegated Proof of Stake based cryptocurrencies’ for my final year B.Tech project at IIT Tirupati.

The writer is a student at IIT Tirupati who completed the 12-week course on ‘Blockchain: Architecture, Design and Use Cases’.


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