IOTA Standardization Update April 2021

Announcements Apr 02, 2021

Why do we have standards? One of the best arguments I have seen recently for standards was a tweet last week from our own Hans Moog. Hans tweeted:

"Ideally you reach resilience against bugs in the node software by having multiple different implementations by multiple teams so if one is broken, only the nodes using that software will fall out of sync. You essentially need a "decentralization of node implementations". This is btw. the reason why we will have "Bee" and "Hornet" nodes that have been implemented by completely different teams in completely different languages. It is very unlikely that two teams will make the exact same mistake which makes the network resilient against bugs."

This decentralization of functionality is exactly what standards are all about. It adds a further layer of decentralization to the DLT vision. As Dom Schiener writes in a recent TechCrunch article:

“It’s as if we have a bunch of different companies not only inventing the light bulb but also inventing their own light sockets and wiring protocols, and each one is insisting that they are the best and they will win out in the end. … This beautiful new economy will never get off the ground unless we build a neutral, interoperable network.”

Standards are about doing something in a particular way, so that anyone can do it that way.

Standards are about abstraction. We abstract the What from the How. For the node software, anyone should be able to write node software that does the What, but no-one needs to know or care How they did it. The other standards we are working on will work the same way.

At the Quarterly Meeting of the Object Management Group at the end of March, we presented the latest draft of the upcoming IOTA Protocol RFC, so that the OMG knows what is coming through and to get feedback from them. This RFC will be based on the Coordicide specifications. Some of the features of this are already expressed in the Chrysalis implementations.

The IOTA Protocol specifications are not yet released to the public, but we were able to show some of these to the OMG to get feedback on what is needed in the formal specification. The feedback we got was that these look good for the standards submission in terms of formatting, language and how things are formally described. This includes for example the use of pseudocode to express what a standard-conformant application should do and how we specify the data structures and content. This feedback also helps us to ensure that the IOTA specifications themselves are well structured and consistent – these are looking good right now.

Other Standards Activities

Other aspects we work on at the OMG include:

  • Requests for Proposals (RFP)  - these are things that anyone in the industry can propose a standard for, with the expectation that the IOTA Foundation will submit a response.
  • Requests for Information (RFI) - their purpose is to provide the OMG with an idea of what the concerns are in a particular area, what standards already exist and so on, with the intention of later developing one or more RFPs for possible standards in that space.

Currently active IOTA standards proposals:

  • Node (the IOTA Protocol)
  • Streams

Coming Soon:

  • Identity
  • Self-sovereign identity follows existing standards: W3C DID and VC
  • We may propose some specific extensions to W3C DID or VC
  • Disposable self-sovereign identity and personas for contextual identity (response to the OMG Disposable SSI RFI)
  • Smart Contracts
  • One or more possible standards in Ethereum (EIC), OMG or both.

Smart Contracts RFI

This RFI is destined for issue in the June Quarterly Meeting. At this meeting we presented a draft of this for feedback from other OMG groups.

The new IOTA Smart Contracts ‘alpha’ release is unique in many ways. The OMG Smart Contracts RFI is more general and is aimed at identifying requirements and existing standards more generally. We will be submitting a response to this RFI after it is issued in June, in which we can describe some of the more unique features of the IOTA smart contracts, and in particular our ambitions for interoperability. You may have seen the announcement on 29 March on IOTA Token liquidity now being available on the Binance Smart Chain.

The IOTA Smart Contracts’ ability to run on other DLTs, and to have Smart Contracts designed for other DLTs run on the IOTA Tangle, is all about interoperability and is exactly why we are working on standards.

For some of that, we are looking at implementing already existing standards from Ethereum, e.g. the ERC20 standard, as well as others like ERC 721 for non-fungible tokens. Ethereum is effectively a standards body in its own right, with the Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIP) system.

Some of what we want to do for IOTA Smart Contracts may be best served by proposing extensions to the existing ERC standards, or proposing new ones through the EIC process. An example is where we would like to add more metadata to some of the ERP standard payloads.

Because IOTA is feeless, it is possible to carry more metadata in a standard payload on the IOTA Tangle, than it would be cost-effective to do for the same payload in a fee-paying blockchain. For this reason, it is possible that some of what we propose by extending ERC standards, might not be considered acceptable to the community that reviews those proposals. If some of these ERC extension proposals are not accepted on the EIC process then we would bring these to the OMG as proposals, using the OMG RFP process. These standards may benefit other feeless DLTs in the future.

Energy in Blockchain

We laid on an extra lunch time session to explore energy trading and distribution using distributed ledger technology, and invited representatives from IEEE and the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), the OMG sister body dealing with the Internet of Things (IoT). There are interesting opportunities for DLT applications in energy trading and micro-grids, for example where individual households can act both as suppliers and consumers of energy in relation to the power grid.

Looking ahead, it seems likely there should be some potential tie-ins between IoT and energy systems, with application areas like Smart Cities having an element of both. It will therefore be of interest to the IOTA Foundation to remain engaged in those conversations. We are starting to attend the relevant IEEE Energy meetings.

DLT Governance and Interoperability

We also had a detailed discussion on governance in DLTs, including how this relates to interoperability questions. In this discussion we were joined by representatives from a couple of IEEE working groups and the IIC, with presentations from each. We looked at an interesting recent academic paper on governance in permissionless DLTs, with ideas that we may be able to use in IOTA once Coordicide is complete. We also heard from the OMG’s own ‘DIDO’ Reference Architecture which deals with community-level governance considerations. The ICC also wrote a recent study on governance in DLT, that was presented at a recent IEEE meeting.

Going forward, we are starting to engage more formally with IEEE, in the DLT governance area (IEEE P2145), in blockchain for IoT (IEEE P2418.1) and in energy (IEEE P2418.5). We will also be reaching out to the IIC, given the IOTA Foundation’s emphasis on IoT.

These discussions also touched on the related matter of interoperability. The IOTA Foundation responded to an RFI on DLT Interoperability last spring, but at that time we had not released IOTA Smart Contracts, which have interoperability built in from the outset. We will include information about this in our response to the Smart Contracts RFI when this comes out in June.

Digital Currency

The OMG also has a Finance Domain Task Force (FDTF) that meets during these quarterly meetings. This time around the FDTF was drafting an RFI on Digital Currency, including Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) or which there is a separate dedicated OMG Working Group. Some recent academic work sets out a basic ‘ontology’ of Central Bank Digital Currencies, building out a set of formal logical definitions of the nature of money itself, with various kinds of digital currency including cryptocurrency being defined. That RFI is likely to be issued in June and we expect to be able to write a response from the IOTA Foundation.

Disposable Self-sovereign Identity

At the December meeting the OMG issued an RFI on Disposable Self-sovereign identity, an idea we are starting to explore at the IOTA Foundation, particularly in the Covid and healthcare space and in collaboration with the TangleEE working groups. Responses are due this week, and the IOTA Foundation is submitting a detailed set of answers to the questions in that RFI. We see opportunities for a standard or standards in that area, both in terms of a formal definition of ‘context’ (since disposable SSIs are effectively contextual), and in terms of the detailed technical requirements to provide disposable SSIs within IOTA Identity, using the W3C DID and Verifiable Credentials standards. We expect that the OMG will be able to issue an RFP for contextual or disposable SSI in June. The IOTA Foundation would be able to respond to that RFI.

IOTA Streams

Work continues on submitting the basis of the IOTA Streams framework and protocol, along with aspects of SKALY Freighter, as a response to the OMG RFP for Linked Encrypted Transaction Streams (the LETS RFP). This is to be submitted in May for the June OMG quarterly meeting.

Summary

Work continues on the IOTA Protocol, defining how anyone can build node software to the same requirements using their own code, leading to greater resilience in the network as a whole. The IOTA Protocol RFC will be submitted later this year, based on the Coordicide specifications.

The OMG Quarterly Meetings continue to provide a pipeline for potential new standards submissions, both from the IOTA Foundation and from the wider DLT community, via the RFI process. Current RFI work covers Smart Contracts and Digital Currency. Future RFIs will cover oracles, archival node requirements (IOTA Permanode) and other features of the DLT ecosystem, to meet the end user desire for greater interoperability. Each of these RFIs represents an opportunity to influence and define the next round of RFPs that will be coming through.

In the meantime the IOTA Foundation is reaching out to other standards bodies like IEEE, IIC, W3C and the Ethereum EIC process. We also continue to engage with cross-industry initiatives such as TangleEE and the Trust over IP Foundation. In so doing our aim is to smooth the path to interoperability and to open up new business opportunities and social benefits, based on the enlightened self-interest of being a standards-setter.

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