What is Hyperledger Fabric?
The Linux Foundation founded the Hyperledger project in 2015 to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. Rather than declaring a single blockchain standard, it encourages a collaborative approach to developing blockchain technologies via a community process, with intellectual property rights that encourage open development and the adoption of key standards over time.
Hyperledger Fabric is one of the blockchain projects within Hyperledger. Like other blockchain technologies, it has a ledger, uses smart contracts, and is a system by which participants manage their transactions.
Where Hyperledger Fabric breaks from some other blockchain systems is that it is private and permissioned. Rather than an open permissionless system that allows unknown identities to participate in the network (requiring protocols like “proof of work” to validate transactions and secure the network), the members of a Hyperledger Fabric network enroll through a trusted Membership Service Provider (MSP).
Hyperledger Fabric also offers several pluggable options. Ledger data can be stored in multiple formats, consensus mechanisms can be swapped in and out, and different MSPs are supported.
Hyperledger Fabric also offers the ability to create channels, allowing a group of participants to create a separate ledger of transactions. This is an especially important option for networks where some participants might be competitors and not want every transaction they make — a special price they’re offering to some participants and not others, for example — known to every participant. If two participants form a channel, then those participants — and no others — have copies of the ledger for that channel.
Hyperledger Fabric has a ledger subsystem comprising two components: the world state and the transaction log. Each participant has a copy of the ledger to every Hyperledger Fabric network they belong to.
The world state component describes the state of the ledger at a given point in time. It’s the database of the ledger. The transaction log component records all transactions which have resulted in the current value of the world state; it’s the update history for the world state. The ledger, then, is a combination of the world state database and the transaction log history.
The ledger has a replaceable data store for the world state. By default, this is a LevelDB key-value store database. The transaction log does not need to be pluggable. It simply records the before and after values of the ledger database being used by the blockchain network.
Hyperledger Fabric smart contracts are written in chaincode and are invoked by an application external to the blockchain when that application needs to interact with the ledger. In most cases, chaincode interacts only with the database component of the ledger, the world state (querying it, for example), and not the transaction log.
Chaincode can be implemented in several programming languages. Currently, Go and Node are supported.
Depending on the needs of a network, participants in a Business-to-Business (B2B) network might be extremely sensitive about how much information they share. For other networks, privacy will not be a top concern.
Hyperledger Fabric supports networks where privacy (using channels) is a key operational requirement as well as networks that are comparatively open.
Transactions must be written to the ledger in the order in which they occur, even though they might be between different sets of participants within the network. For this to happen, the order of transactions must be established and a method for rejecting bad transactions that have been inserted into the ledger in error (or maliciously) must be put into place.
This is a thoroughly researched area of computer science, and there are many ways to achieve it, each with different trade-offs. For example, PBFT (Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance) can provide a mechanism for file replicas to communicate with each other to keep each copy consistent, even in the event of corruption. Alternatively, in Bitcoin, ordering happens through a process called mining where competing computers race to solve a cryptographic puzzle which defines the order that all processes subsequently build upon.
Hyperledger Fabric has been designed to allow network starters to choose a consensus mechanism that best represents the relationships that exist between participants. As with privacy, there is a spectrum of needs; from networks that are highly structured in their relationships to those that are more peer-to-peer.
We’ll learn more about the Hyperledger Fabric consensus mechanisms, which currently include SOLO, Kafka, and Raft.
Hyperledger Fabric Functionalities
Hyperledger Fabric is an implementation of distributed ledger technology (DLT) that delivers enterprise-ready network security, scalability, confidentiality and performance, in a modular blockchain architecture. Hyperledger Fabric delivers the following blockchain network functionalities:
To enable permissioned networks, Hyperledger Fabric provides a membership identity service that manages user IDs and authenticates all participants on the network. Access control lists can be used to provide additional layers of permission through authorization of specific network operations. For example, a specific user ID could be permitted to invoke a chaincode application, but be blocked from deploying new chaincode.
Privacy and confidentiality
Hyperledger Fabric enables competing business interests, and any groups that require private, confidential transactions, to coexist on the same permissioned network. Private channels are restricted messaging paths that can be used to provide transaction privacy and confidentiality for specific subsets of network members. All data, including transaction, member and channel information, on a channel are invisible and inaccessible to any network members not explicitly granted access to that channel.
Hyperledger Fabric assigns network roles by node type. To provide concurrency and parallelism to the network, transaction execution is separated from transaction ordering and commitment. Executing transactions prior to ordering them enables each peer node to process multiple transactions simultaneously. This concurrent execution increases processing efficiency on each peer and accelerates delivery of transactions to the ordering service.
In addition to enabling parallel processing, the division of labor unburdens ordering nodes from the demands of transaction execution and ledger maintenance, while peer nodes are freed from ordering (consensus) workloads. This bifurcation of roles also limits the processing required for authorization and authentication; all peer nodes do not have to trust all ordering nodes, and vice versa, so processes on one can run independently of verification by the other.
Chaincode applications encode logic that is invoked by specific types of transactions on the channel. Chaincode that defines parameters for a change of asset ownership, for example, ensures that all transactions that transfer ownership are subject to the same rules and requirements. System chaincode is distinguished as chaincode that defines operating parameters for the entire channel. Lifecycle and configuration system chaincode defines the rules for the channel; endorsement and validation system chaincode defines the requirements for endorsing and validating transactions.
Hyperledger Fabric implements a modular architecture to provide functional choice to network designers. Specific algorithms for identity, ordering (consensus) and encryption, for example, can be plugged in to any Hyperledger Fabric network. The result is a universal blockchain architecture that any industry or public domain can adopt, with the assurance that its networks will be interoperable across market, regulatory and geographic boundaries.