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What is Arweave? (AR)

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When trying to explain Arweave, it’s common to fall into the trap of using terms so complex that a non-technical reader wouldn’t be able to understand with ease. When already embedded in the ecosystem, it’s an easy mistake to make – but we want to make Arweave accessible to everyone, regardless of background. That’s what this article is for; it breaks down what Arweave is and how it works – written to give a user everything they need to know.

Refer to The Arweave Glossary here as you read along, to clarify any terms.

Arweave in a nutshell

In simple terms, Arweave is a tool to help anyone store data permanently. It works by distributing stored information across a network of computers called nodes or miners. This differs from the model we know because the internet today is in the hands of a select few companies whose servers can go down at any time – or editors who can change information silently.

Arweave serves the ‘permaweb’ – a parallel internet – from a wide network of nodes, all of which earn money by providing existing data over a long period of time and storing new data on request.

Like many decentralized storage platforms, Arweave runs services using its own native cryptocurrency – AR. When people spend AR to store data, miners earn it. AR is also stored from these transactions inside an endowment that is able to slowly drip rewards out for a technically unlimited period of time. Through that mechanism, Arweave guarantees infinite permanent storage.

Some novel features that make Arweave stand out are the fact it’s accessible through the traditional web browser. Another feature is that it’s open source, so the community can participate in improving it. The community is a big part in many aspects as Arweave also has a voting mechanism that allows its users to moderate content and flag it as illicit and a thriving ecosystem of new app developers.

How was Arweave created

Back in 2017, Arweave was called Archain. It was rebranded in 2018 when the Arweave team was accepted to participate in Techstars. In 2019, Arweave raised $5m from notable venture capital firms including Coinbase, a16z, and Multicoin Capital.

In 2020, Arweave secured another $8.3m in funding which they’re planning to spend on growing the community of users and developers building on top of Arweave. This includes such projects as Verto, ArDrive and Arweave News.

The creator and founder of Arweave is Sam Williams, “a Ph.D. candidate with extensive experience in decentralized system design and implementation”. He built Arweave while at university, inspired by Orwell’s 1984 and as a reaction to the fake news pandemic. 

How does Arweave work

Unlike the usual blockchain (storing chains of blocks that contain transactions) Arweave stores data in a graph of blocks. This way, each block is linked to two earlier blocks forming a structure called a “blockweave”. 

There are several key aspects that make Arweave unique:

  • Proof of Access Consensus
  • Bundles
  • SmartWeave
  • Vartex Gateways
  • Content moderation

These features make Arweave stand out and we will look at each of them closer to see how they work and why they matter. 

Proof Of Access Consensus

Arweave differs from other cryptocurrencies by the way it checks for the accuracy of transactions. Normally, a “proof of work” system is used where a cryptocurrency asks for the computers to compete to solve a mathematical puzzle (hashing). Arweave uses a different method for this problem, called SPoRA (Succinct Proofs of Random Access).

Arweave asks each node in the network to check that a new block of transactions contains a randomly selected block from earlier as well. If it’s present, then new transactions can be added to the network.

This consensus mechanism helps to verify that new transactions are accurate and confirm that the old transactions have not been tampered with. This method is called “proof of access”, and the node that adds a new block gets AR tokens as a reward.

Bundles

Bundles are a way to guarantee a set of transactions will be eventually mined into a block. It addresses a problem that every blockchain has, which is that transactions can be rejected in cases where other people are submitting transactions that reward miners more.

Bundles became necessary when Arweave caught on as a way to store big NFT projects with thousands of media files that all need uploading at once. Projects might find that a few from the batch they uploaded were dropped, and it’d ruin the project’s upload.

The Solana NFT marketplace Metaplex was the first adopter of bundles and worked with Josh Benaron at Bundlr to develop Metaplex Candy Machine, an application that allows projects to upload bulk batches of NFTs using Arweave as the storage layer. However, it is used commonly for non-NFT based projects too.

SmartWeave

SmartWeave is a smart contract protocol that uses the AR token to enable developers to build smart contract applications using JavaScript. Like most code, it’s run by the users’ computer, not the blockchain itself.

The way it works is unlike the Ethereum method of contract execution where the entire network is called to verify a transaction; SmartWeave relies on the smart contract user to do it themselves, client side.

It doesn’t need as much computing power, making it a greener option, but also it’s safer. If someone uses malicious code, it doesn’t then affect the entire blockchain. This way, it doesn’t need as many safety checks and safety harnesses and can run faster, too.

Another notable feature is that SmartWeave contracts can be the entire backend for an application. That means developers don’t need a server and the whole application can be run from the blockchain. Unlike Ethereum, interacting with SmartWeave contracts costs less than 1 cent.

Vartex Gateways

Vartex is a tool that makes it possible to run your own gateway with just a few commands. While arweave.net is one main way to access all of the data on Arweave via your browser, it’s served by AWS which is a single point of failure. Since Vartex is a way for anyone to run their own gateway, this means more gateways and no reliance on a centralized server.

This is a way to decentralize the permaweb and make sure it doesn’t rely on one major company. It builds upon Amplify – a fork of the original arweave.net gateway. Developers can find the source code on GitHub, simply clone it and follow the readme instructions. 

Content Moderation

Content moderation allows anyone running the mining software to choose what type of data they wish to store. This type of moderation allows the computers on the network to choose what they want to host. 

However, since it’s up to gateways to decide what they block, it might be that the content isn’t as important as the size of the data. For example, someone might want to store only images or only audio files. When a new file is uploaded to the network, Arweave asks each computer if it will accept it. However, people are incentivized to accept it, especially if it’s a bigger file because simply put, the more you store, the more reward you get.

Also important to note is that it’s quite early for this incentive to have kicked off as no one really has got a good master list of files they would or more so wouldn’t want to support. Arweave is pretty new; at the same time, the volume of uploads is massive, and going through all of it would be fairly difficult. 

Nevertheless, we’ve added this feature as one of the ways content moderation can be ensured. Here, it’s not about political leaning or preferences of content as much as the very thing Arweave was trying to get away from when invented. 

About the token

Arweave has its own currency – the AR token. Users who want to store data must buy it to pay for storage. In turn, computers providing storage must accept AR tokens as payment. Interestingly though, the payment doesn’t go directly to each user but rather pooled and distributed over time to the network.

This pool of fees is known as the Storage Endowment. The aim is to future-proof data from this pool of overcharged AR. Its fees are paid by users for mining rewards. Because this pool grows over time, it is able to cover future payouts for miners over a long period.

It is important to add that storage on Arweave is a one-time payment rather than a subscription-based plan. The data, however, is stored permanently. This makes Arweave appealing to both – the customer and the network, making it a currency with true utility.

The AR token has a limited supply of 66 million. Check this guide for how to get it anywhere in the world.


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