Software developers 16 min read 01/21/2022

What Is Blockchain Technology? How Does It Work?

Blockchain technology used to be very new, and now it’s in the news all the time. But what is it? This article will answer all your blockchain questions so you can finally understand how it works.

Blockchain technology is one of the hottest topics in the tech world. It's found its way into the latest news stories, startups are racing to create their blockchain applications, and major industries are finding ways to utilize it.

Describing what a blockchain is or how it works isn't easy.

The technology has been compared to the dot-com boom of the 90s. While this analogy is not exactly accurate, it does give us an idea of what to expect - it's most definitely going to be a disruptive technology with far-reaching implications for both businesses and individuals around the world. But what is blockchain? What problems can it solve? Is it any good? And why are people so excited about it?

This article aims to answer all of these questions and more!

We will start by covering some very basic concepts surrounding blockchain and then look at its origins and current state. After that, we will explore some use cases, highlighting the key benefits of this technology as well as drawbacks. Finally, we'll wrap up by taking a peek into the future of blockchain technology and how it might affect your life in years to come!

Blockchain Technology - Introduction and History

The system first emerged in the form of the digital currency bitcoin, which was created by an anonymous programmer (or group of programmers) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 and was introduced through his whitepaper: "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System." The idea was to produce a currency independent of any central authority, transferable electronically, more or less instantly, with very low transaction fees.

But what exactly is a Blockchain?

What is Blockchain?

Imagine a chain of blocks; each block contains some data and is then chained to the next block with a cryptographic link. That is blockchain in a nutshell.

It's very similar to a linked list but with cryptographic encryption to secure it. In addition to the link, each block has an electronic signature that identifies who sent it. This signature process is what forms the chain.

In simple terms, a blockchain is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network.

Blockchain, Decentralization, Immutability, and Transparency. How does it all work?

Blockchain is a tool for building digital ledgers. It uses cryptography (the art of writing and solving codes) to organize data in blocks, synchronized with every computer on the network. Each block contains information about the transaction, the time it occurred, and a link to the previous block in the chain. Once this data has been written, it becomes immutable. Immutability means that no one can alter, change or disrupt records on a blockchain ledger. When transactions occur, they're added to the ledger in chronological order and bundled into blocks before being encrypted with cryptography.

To be accepted by other network members, each block must contain proof-of-work based on cryptographic hash functions. Through this process, all users on the network can reach a consensus about the system's state (i.e., which transactions are valid).

Blockchain Technology: What are the benefits?

Blockchain technology has gained worldwide interest from banks, payment companies, governments, and other enterprises seeking alternatives to traditional databases for tracking information. From an IT and business perspective, there are several advantages to using blockchain technology, including:

Transparency: Because blockchains are decentralized, any user can verify transactions and see past activity records. When new information is added, they get an alert.

No single point of failure: Furthermore, in the digital age, data security is always a hot topic, and blockchain technology is one of the most promising solutions for keeping data safe. Because blockchains store data across a network, there's no centralized location vulnerable to hacking or failure. If one node fails, others keep the system going.

Immutability: Data on a blockchain cannot be tampered with or altered in any way once it's recorded. Each block contains information about previous blocks - any changes to previous blocks will be reflected in subsequent blocks and considered invalid once other nodes on the network confirm them.

Cost: Additionally, blockchain can reduce transaction costs by allowing different entities to share information through a trusted network that requires no third-party intermediaries.

Drawbacks of Blockchain Technology

On the other hand, the same blockchain technology has its drawbacks too. Let us take a brief look at some of its drawbacks:

  • High Energy consumption: Blockchains like Bitcoin and Etherium, for instance, require massive amounts of electricity for mining. 
  • Scalability issues: Scaling is a problem in some blockchain such as Ethereum.
  • Lack of regulation: The blockchain is a decentralized system that relies on millions of computers worldwide. Because it's decentralized, no one regulates the system and ensures that exchanges are legal and valid. It means there's no way to trace each transaction back to its originator directly, and you don't have anyone to turn to if you want to report fraud or file a complaint.

How blockchain technology is used today

The notion of a distributed ledger that no single entity controls has captured the public imagination, but the potential applications of blockchain technology go far beyond cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

The truth is that blockchain tech has the potential to disrupt everything from supply chains to voting systems. It has helped solve various issues related to the resilience and security of data management. Here are some examples of blockchain in different industries:

Cryptocurrencies and Decentralized Finance (DeFi):

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies are the most widespread use of blockchain technology. DeFi eliminates the need for a centralized controlling body (i.e., banks).

Uses for blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies

While blockchain is often discussed in relation to cryptocurrencies, it has uses outside of just this. It must be noted that Cryptocurrencies are a sub-sector of blockchain, and there are many other areas where blockchain can be used.

Here are potential ways blockchain is used in other industries other than crypto:

Validating documents

One of the most common uses for blockchain is verifying digital signatures on documents. It could be useful for banks or any other industry where sensitive information must be stored and transferred securely. By storing documents on a blockchain network and attaching a digital signature, companies can prove their legitimacy while ensuring nobody can tamper with them.

Maintaining medical records

Many experts predict that electronic medical records will become the new norm in healthcare. But because health data is so sensitive, patients may want to ensure that only doctors can access their records — not hackers or identity thieves. Putting such information on a blockchain would allow patients to keep tabs on who sees their data while making sure doctors don't alter it in any way.

Smart Contracts 

Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with no third parties involved. It verifies that if X happens, then Y happens automatically without anyone's intervention or influence. This will save time and money for both parties involved and increase efficiency within businesses across the globe.

Decentralized applications (dApps) 

Decentralized applications are software programs that do not require a central authority or third-party oversight. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts on the blockchain that automatically fulfill themselves when certain conditions are met.

Tallying votes

Blockchain technology can revolutionize voting systems by making it easier to tally votes, keep records and prevent fraud. The benefit is that there is no central authority overseeing the vote, so once a vote is cast, it cannot be modified or deleted. The vote cannot be tampered with because it is recorded on thousands of computers at once rather than one.

Supply chain management

Using blockchain technology, companies will be able to better track the origins of their products and monitor where the products are stored along the supply chain. Therefore, it will help ensure that products are not sitting in storage too long or tampered with before reaching store shelves. It will also allow customers to see where their product is coming from — which is especially important for food and medicine.

Cross-border payments

Cross-border payments are a perfect use case for blockchain. The current international wire system is slow, costly, and highly inefficient. Blockchain payments would settle in minutes instead of days and cost a fraction of what banks take now.

Conclusion and what to look forward to

Blockchain is one of the most promising technologies to emerge in recent years. It's a decentralized, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently, permanently, and anonymously. Blockchains will allow people to exchange money, property, shares, and anything of value transparently without relying on a third party which could eventually prove to be the greatest advancement since the Internet revolutionized how we communicate.

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