Open can mean two things in the crypto space:
- An open blockchain
- Open source software
An open blockchain is a public blockchain. Anyone can join and participate in the network, as long as they follow its rules. The blockchain’s record is also public. Anyone can see it. But once a block of information is verified and added to the blockchain, it can’t be changed.
Open blockchains are also known as permissionless, or trustless blockchains. This is because there are no gatekeepers. Data is recorded or rejected based purely on mathematical calculations.
In comparison, you can only gain access to a closed blockchain if you have permission. Some — or all — of those who have access act as administrators and may edit the records.
Closed blockchains are also known as private or permissioned blockchains.
Open source software
Like the blockchain itself, open source software is decentralized. No single person or entity owns the software. Instead, it’s created collaboratively, and anyone can use it as it is or alter it free of charge.
Open source software has three advantages over closed software.
Firstly, anyone can scrutinize the code, make improvements, and identify and fix bugs and other vulnerabilities.
Secondly, developers of closed software may get blind spots over time or stop caring about the project. But in an open source setting, new people are constantly coming in and bringing fresh perspectives with them.
Thirdly, developers who work on open source projects typically also use the software themselves. This means they can often flag issues and come up with practical solutions more quickly, because they have a deeper knowledge of the software’s real world applications.
The open source movement dates back to 1983.
The story goes that programmer Richard Stallman had been trying to get an office printer fixed but couldn’t because the manufacturers wouldn’t share the source code. Feeling frustrated, he launched the GNU Project with the goal of writing an operating system that anyone could use. The GNU Project is still active today.
In 1991, Linux beat GNU to the punch and became the first open source operating system to go public.
Ironically, the original version of Linux didn’t have a free-software licence. Founder Linus Torvalds relicensed it as public in 1992 under a GNU public licence.
Open and closed blockchains are often compared to the internet and intranets respectively. Like the internet, open blockchains seem destined for dominance. But closed blockchains still have useful applications.
Want to know more?
- This article offers a look at the philosophy behind open source software and how it underpins blockchain technology.
- In this article, our own Seamus Donoghue, VP of Sales and Business Development, discusses the merits of permissioned and permissionless blockchains and whether the two can coexist.
The Metaco view
“There are those who argue that open blockchains are the future and that closed blockchains will become obsolete. But the blockchain isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Ultimately, the best option is the one that works for you.”