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Blockchain Interoperability: Oracles, Off-Chain Data & RIF Gateways

Blockchain technology is widely considered as one of the key contributing emerging technologies that hold the potential to kickstart the 21st century digital revolution and there is no dearth of reasons to believe so. Today, blockchain technology is disrupting all industries that have not undergone any significant efficiency improvement in the past decades, including industries such as finance, banking, healthcare, supply chain, real estate, entertainment, media and many others.

Economists at PwC estimate that blockchain solutions could boost the global GDP by a whopping $1.76 trillion by 2030 which is roughly 1.4% of global GDP. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in fact, might have only preponed this estimate by a few years given that the pandemic has forced most businesses in the world to embrace digital.

On this context, blockchain interoperability has become a topic of utmost importance for any smart contract platform. On this guide, we will analyze some basic concepts associated to blockchain interoperability and RSK’s contributions to the ecosystem on this regard.

What is Blockchain Interoperability?

As a technology, blockchain offers a plethora of cutting-edge benefits including the ability to verify provenance, enabling secure and transparent payments and financial instruments, developing self-sovereign identities, aiding contract and dispute resolution and enhancing customer engagement. While all the aforementioned points sound promising, there remains one major bottleneck that continues to stall wider blockchain adoption. This bottleneck is known as the interoperability problem.

Blockchain interoperability has been a point of contention and a major problem facing the blockchain industry and it is expected to only grow bigger as more blockchains continue to enter the fray. While in isolation blockchains can function just fine as a distributed ledger, to extract the maximum value out of blockchains, interoperability is a must.  

Simply put, blockchain interoperability is the ability of different blockchains to  exchange information. You could think about blockchain interoperability as the feature that enables communication between different  blockchains.

How Important is Blockchain Interoperability?

Today, millions and billions of dollars are being poured into research for developing efficient blockchain interoperability solutions. Projects like RSK, Polkadot and many others are burning the midnight oil to make interoperability bugs a thing of the past. 

Among other challenges, blockchain interoperability is perhaps the biggest and toughest issue derailing blockchain’s mainstream adoption. Make no mistake, this challenge is not an easy one either otherwise. In terms of technology, interoperability is one of the most complex and complicated challenges and is heavily dependent upon the architecture of the underlying blockchain network. The challenge becomes all the more pertinent considering the fact that a truly interoperable blockchain project would likely be the core of the digital economy of the future.

In 2021, a large number of companies are making blockchains a part of their business considering the wide array of competitive and business benefits the technology offers. Companies are choosing between permissioned and permissionless blockchain networks based on their respective requirements and needs. However, these advantages might not materialize in the absence of interoperability among different blockchain protocols. Today, it is not enough for blockchains to interact seamlessly with traditional legacy software. They must also possess the ability to interact and communicate with other distributed ledgers efficiently.

Let’s go over an example to showcase the importance of interoperability. In recent years, central banks and financial regulators around the world have displayed peculiar interest in leveraging blockchain technology for payments and remittance purposes. Consider for instance the joint pilot undertaken by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Bank of Canada (BOC) to enable cross-chain international payments powered by the blockchain. The two entities collaborated in 2019 to demonstrate the interoperability between two major permissioned blockchains (Quorum and Corda) made possible by Hashed Time-Locked Contracts (HTLC).

In the supply chain landscape too, the benefits of blockchain interoperability cannot be understated. A major problem plaguing the supply chain industry is the lack of common platforms or systems used by supply chain actors. Surely blockchain-based supply chain mechanisms will bring lots of benefits to the fragmented supply chain space, but as more and more blockchains try to capture this industry, the problem of lack of interoperability among different blockchains will become more evident. This makes blockchain interoperability in the supply chain space all the more critical. 

Let’s also think about blockchain based identities. Blockchains promise to give users complete control over their identities in addition to making them usable across platforms on the Web 3.0. infrastructure. However, to achieve such an ambitious goal, blockchain interoperability is a must. For instance, let’s assume John has a Facebook account. Now, he wants to use Twitter so he creates a Twitter account, a YouTube account, a Gmail account and so on. Web 3.0. infrastructure promises users to use one single digital identity across multiple platforms without the user requiring to remember the username and password for every separate platform.

As you can infer from the above example, digital identities cannot be locked in on a single platform. They require compatibility across different platforms which, in turn, is dependent upon interoperability. Today, there are a large number of promising blockchain projects that are working toward materializing the digital identity ambition with RSK’s RIF Identity leading the pack.

The examples mentioned above are just some of the numerous reasons why blockchain interoperability is of utmost significance if blockchain has to play a decisive role in the digital revolution alongside other emerging tech such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT).

Fortunately enough, there is no dearth of quality projects working day in and out to tackle the interoperability issue once and for all.

How Is RSK Fostering Blockchain Interoperability?

RSK is a smart contract platform on top of Bitcoin’s network which makes it the safest, strongest and most reliable smart contract platform in the world.  There is no doubt that the future of the digital economy is going to be multi-chain so in that regard, what is RSK’s strategy to remain competitive in this non distant future?

To get a deeper look into the interoperability solutions offered by RSK, we don’t need to look further than RIF Gateways which provides an exhaustive suite of blockchain interoperability protocols developed to foster secure and immutable interactions with the external (off-chain) world. 

What Is RIF Gateways?

RIF Gateways, a set of blockchain interoperability solutions developed by the RSK Infrastructure developers is the one-stop offering to connect the continually evolving RSK ecosystem with the outside world. The functionality of RIF Gateways is not limited to off-chain data points but also extends to other blockchain networks.

As the name might suggest, RIF Gateways is the gateway for developers to develop solutions that would allow the RSK ecosystem to connect with other projects and extract maximum utility out of distributed ledger technology.

At its core, RIF Gateways proposes an interface layer that collectivizes seamless access to oracle services and cross-chain integrations, in addition to providing blockchain networks with an implementation-agnostic protocol for both internal and external data consumption. 

RIF Gateways is designed to create bridges between distributed ledgers and enable data providers and consumers to seamlessly benefit from secure and standardized data transfers, aiding a wide range of data consumption, data subscription models and payments models. RIF Gateways caters to the need for off-chain data for decentralized applications so as to ensure they execute their tasks according to the logic and operations coded in them. 

For instance, today there are a wide variety of applications that require immediate access to off-chain dynamic data such as gaming apps which require smart contracts events to be processed to show the participants the latest stat changes, game changes, etc. Similarly, blockchain domain name services such as the RIF Name Service requires ready-access to off-chain data to notify users when their domain subscriptions are nearing expiration and Payment Services like RIF Lumino which requires alerts and notifications anytime a payment channel is opened or closed.

RIF Gateways provides a blockchain-independent protocol for all the aforementioned types of data-related requirements and much more by providing a simple interface for consumers to interact with Data Service Providers, Trigger Services and Transaction Scheduling.

1 – Data Service

Simply put, a data service provides a specific kind of external-world data that could either come from a single data source or an aggregation of multiple data sources. Depending on the kind of consumption model the users taps (a Pull Model or a Subscription Model) the data providers are required to implement RIF Gateways’ Data Service interfaces in their smart contracts. Additionally, the Data Services protocol’s technical design allows it to be integrated with third-party oracle services such as Chainlink.

2 – Trigger Service

A trigger service essentially offers information from within a blockchain. What’s interesting, however, is that the logic to retrieve any such information can be implemented off-chain. In the RIF Gateways ecosystem, this service is provided by the Trigger Provider.

Trigger Providers can be tapped by users and developers to build their own notification solution. All they need to do is to use the APIs exposed by the Trigger Provider. Further, instead of choosing a single Trigger Provider, consumers can choose to subscribe to a varied set of Trigger Providers to perform an aggregation of the notifications received. 

3 – Transaction Scheduling Services

Finally, the transaction scheduling service is a decentralized solution that enables users to program future executions of on-chain transactions.  RIF Gateways’ offering for transactions scheduling services (called the RIF Scheduler Services protocol), enables users and developers to set up conditions that could self-execute based on the coded logic meeting a certain threshold or trigger point.

Chainlink Integration

In August 2020, IOV Labs announced a major milestone as it integrated Chainlink Oracles into the RSK smart contracts platform as part of its RIF Gateways service. By integrating Chainlink, developers in the RSK ecosystem got ready-access to oracle infrastructure for connecting their smart contract applications to off-chain resources outside the RSK ecosystem. 

RIF Gateways’ integration with Chainlink is a mutually beneficial one, as it not only provides immense value to the RSK ecosystem in terms of ready availability to both on-chain and off-chain data oracles but also to the Chainlink node operators by giving them access to another blockchain avenue to provide oracle services to.

In terms of how RIF Gateways will leverage the integration, it will use the Chainlink oracles to develop a bridge between its smart contracts and off-chain data providers, web APIs, Internet of Things (IoT) networks, payments systems, and much more. This way, RIF Gateways will be equipped to aid the wider RSK smart contracts ecosystem to provide offerings and solutions across a wider range of industries such as supply chain, finance, banking, entertainment, media, insurance, etc.

The Chainlink integration brings a plethora of robust benefits to the RSK ecosystem including:

1) Access to Sybil Resistant Node Operators

The integration with Chainlink brings a vast collection of independent, security reviewed and Sybil resistant node operators to the RSK ecosystem. This enables the RSK developers to leverage the existing node infrastructure to develop their own customized oracle networks.

2) Seamless Access to High Quality Data

The integration of Chainlink oracles into the RSK ecosystem means Chainlink Nodes can now handle credentials, a prerequisite for retrieving data from any premium API that requires a paid subscription or authorized access.

3) Complete Decentralization

RSK ecosystem developers can tap an aggregation of multiple oracles (nodes) and data sources to ensure data delivery and data sourcing is available at all times and resistant to any sort of possible manipulation. This means that the ecosystem is decentralized at both the oracle and data source level.

4) Facilitating TLS Verification Techniques

The integration enables advanced cryptographic technologies to be a part of the RSK ecosystem. This means that complex cryptography can be used for enterprise applications that need data privacy and data integrity guarantees from single-source data.

The Token Bridge

A major interoperability solution offered by RSK is the cross-chain interoperability bridge with Ethereum that allows users to convert their tokens from RSK to Ethereum and vice-versa.  Named the RSK-ETH token bridge, the interoperability solution enables users to transfer ERC-20 tokens back and forth between both the networks. Users can avail the RSK-ETH bridge via the dedicated decentralized application (dApp) or via the bridge powered by smart contracts on the original chain. 

Conversely, users also have the option to use the token bridge dApp via the Nifty Wallet or Metamask with a custom network to freely exchange or transfer tokens between the two networks.

The Future of Blockchain Interoperability on RSK

Now that we have discussed in detail about the significance of blockchain interoperability to bring about the digital revolution, it is worthwhile to spare a few moments to speculate what the future of blockchain interoperability might look like. 

RSK leads the race when it comes to true, decentralized, trustless blockchain interoperability as is evident from the RSK-ETH bridge which lets users swap tokens between the two public blockchains without having to custody the token with any third party. The absence of any intermediary or middleman helps users save up on transaction fees while at the same time also guarantees the safety of the transactions.

It should also be recalled that the RSK Mainnet is secured by the Bitcoin network which guarantees that hackers would have a real tough time trying to assault the network unlike many of the newly launched blockchain interoperability protocols in the Ethereum DeFi ecosystem that constantly find themselves at the receiving end of cyber assaults from nefarious elements.

There is no denying that the future of the global blockchain economy is going to be multi-chain. With a vision of enabling a multi-chain blockchain interoperability ecosystem, RSK is committed to developing simple plug-and-play solutions that can be connected with new blockchains to enable seamless smart contract interactions.

RSK’s roadmap for 2021 promises to bring lots of innovative and robust features to the RIF Gateways ecosystem. For instance, the latter half of 2021 will see full node rewards come to fruition. Along the same lines, the already available RSK/ETH token bridge will transition into the RSK/ETH trustless token bridge, thus bringing in a higher degree of decentralization to the bridge linking the two open blockchains.

Conclusion

Summarizing, RIF Gateways has literally opened the floodgates for wider adoption of blockchain interoperability solutions and the pace of integrations it has been bagging since its inception is a testimony to its unparalleled utility.

In essence, RIF Gateways leverages the existing research on different data point vectors such as blockchain oracles, triggers and scheduling solutions and compresses all of it into one comprehensive API that can easily be used by any entity into its business infrastructure. The API solution enables users to discover gateway services, consume them directly or through subscription models by paying the correct consumption fees. This way, RIF Gateways functions as the cornerstone for any developing blockchain economy and with wider adoption, the economy is only going to snowball into a bigger one.

In addition to just enabling cross-chain communication and exchange of important data, blockchain interoperability can also help tremendously across different industries in the form of preserving user privacy, verifying the ownership of data, enabling enhanced security and verification protocols and providing lower transaction fees to users which will enable mainstream adoption.