Is NEO the Chinese Ethereum? A view from within China

NEO cover pic

 

NEO, originally known as Antshare, is one of the most popular Altcoins from China. NEO now ranks 6th of all cryptocurrency in terms of market cap.

DailyFintech author Saurabh Chaturvedi has already introduced the basics of NEO here. Today I will go into some details about NEO’s technical mechanism and potential applications.

NEO was founded in 2014 as Antshare – a non-profit blockchain community that was designed to utilize blockchain technology and digital identity to digitize assets, to automate the management of digital assets using smart contracts, and to realize a “smart economy” with a distributed network. They changed their name to NEO in June, 2017.

So, when we trace NEO to its origin, i.e. Antshare, we can see that Antshare was founded around the same time as Ethereum. Antshare certainly was not designed as a Chinese version of Ethereum. Besides, the goal of Antshare is to provide a smart platform for digitalized assets while Ethereum is a platform for decentralized applications. Assets versus applications is also a key difference between the two. Those reasons provide a “no” to the question in the headline.

However, Antshare’s development was not as fast as Ethereum in recent years. So they have made a change in their operation and tried to be reborn with the name of NEO. That’s when the term ‘Chinese Ethereum’ became known to the blockchain community. It’s not important who invented this term, what’s important is that it indeed helped NEO build its influence. So, in common parlance, NEO is referred to as Chinese Ethereum, which indicates a “yes” to the question in the headline.

Technical mechanism

With the help of dBFT consensus protocol, the NEO system can generate a new block every 15-20 seconds. Trading volumes is around 1000 TPS, which is pretty good for a public blockchain. With proper optimization, it might even reach 10,000 transactions per second.

NeoContract

NEO is in pursuit of its own version of smart contract, which is officially called the NeoContract. And it consists of three fundamental parts: NeoVM, InteropService and DevPack.

NeoVM – Universal Block Chain Virtual Machine:

NeoVM is a lightweight, general-purpose virtual machine whose architecture is very close to the JVM and .NET Runtime, similar to a virtual CPU that reads and executes instructions in the contract in sequence, performs process control based on the functionality of the instruction operations, logic operations and so on. It has a good start-up speed and versatility, is very suitable for small programs such as smart contracts, can also be ported to non-blockchain systems, or integrated with the IDE to provide an optimal development experience. NeoVM’s functionality can be extended, like introducing a JIT (real-time compiler) mechanism, thereby enhancing the efficiency of the implementation.

InteropService – Interoperable Services:

Used to load the blockchain ledger, digital assets, digital identity, persistent storage area, NeoFS, and other underlying services. They are like virtual machines that are provided for virtual machines, enabling smart contracts to access these services at run time to achieve some advanced functionality. Through this low-coupling design, NeoVM can be ported to any blockchain or even non-blockchain system used, increasing the utility of the smart contracts.

DevPack – Compiler and IDE plugin:

DevPack includes the high-level language compiler and the IDE plug-in. Because NeoVM’s architecture is very similar to JVM and .NET Runtime, the compilers in DevPack can compile Java byte code and .NET MSIL into NeoVM’s instruction set. Java / Kotlin, C# developers do not need to learn new languages and will be able to immediately start developing smart contracts in VS, Eclipse and other familiar IDE environments. This greatly reduces the learning curve for developing smart contracts, allowing us to easily build a vibrant community around NeoContract.

NeoContract can create a smart contract call tree through static analysis before running a smart contract. Through the deterministic call tree, the NEO node can dynamically fragment the smart contract to achieve theoretically unlimited expansion, which overcomes the “jamming effect” caused by the static fragmentation of other block chain systems.

NeoX – Cross-chain interoperability agreement

NeoX is a protocol that implements cross-chain interoperability. NeoX is divided into two parts: “cross-chain assets exchange protocol” and “cross-chain distributed transaction protocol.”

Cross-chain assets exchange agreement:

NeoX has been extended on existing double-stranded atomic assets exchange protocols to allow multiple participants to exchange assets across different chains and to ensure that all steps in the entire transaction process succeed or fail together. In order to achieve this function, we need to use NeoContract function to create a contract account for each participant. If other blockchains are not compatible with NeoContract, they can be compatible with NeoX as long as they can provide simple smart contract functionality.

Cross-chain distributed transaction protocol:

Cross-chain distributed transactions mean that multiple steps of a transaction are scattered across different blockchains and that the consistency of the entire transaction is ensured. This is an extension of cross-chain assets exchange, extending the behavior of assets exchange into arbitrary behavior. In layman’s terms, NeoX makes it possible for cross-chain smart contracts where a smart contract can perform different parts on multiple chains, either succeeding or reverting as a whole. This gives excellent possibilities for cross-chain collaborations and we are exploring cross-chain smart contract application scenarios.

Distributed Storage Protocol: NeoFS

NeoFS is a distributed storage protocol that utilizes Distributed Hash Table (DHT) technology. NeoFS indexes the data through file content (Hash) rather than file path (URI). Large files will be divided into fixed-size data blocks that are distributed and stored in many different nodes.

The main problem with this type of system is the need to find a balance between redundancy and reliability. NeoFS plans to solve this contradiction by means of token incentives and the establishment of backbone nodes. Users can choose the reliability requirements of the file. Files with low reliability requirements can be stored and accessed for free or almost free. Stable and reliable services for files with high reliability requirement will be provided by backbone nodes.

NeoFS will serve as one of the InteropService interoperability services under the NeoContract system, enabling smart contracts to store large files on the blockchain and set access for those files. In addition, NeoFS can be combined with digital identity so that digital certificates used by digital identities can be assigned, sent, and revoked without a central server to manage them. In the future, the old block data can be stored in NeoFS, so that most of the full nodes can release the old data for better scalability and at the same time, ensure the integrity of historical data.

Anti-quantum cryptography mechanism: NeoQS

The emergence of quantum computers poses a major challenge to RSA and ECC-based cryptographic mechanisms. Quantum computers can solve the large number of decomposition problems (which RSA relies on) and the elliptic curve discrete logarithm (which ECC relies on) in a very short time. NeoQS (Quantum Safe) is a lattice-based cryptographic mechanism. At present, quantum computers do not have the ability to quickly solve the Shortest Vector Problem (SVP) and the Closest Vector Problem (CVP), which is considered to be the most reliable algorithm for resisting quantum computers.

Potential applications

Potential decentralized applications for NEO system include:

  • Smart fund
  • AI-assisted legal smart contract
  • Social networking
  • Automated tokens liquidity providers
  • Decentralized exchange
  • Secure communication protocol
  • Data exchange market
  • Intellectual property trading market
  • Prediction market
  • Advertising market
  • Hashpower market
  • NeoGas market

Digital Assets

Digital assets are programmable assets that exist in the form of electronic data. With blockchain technology, the digitization of assets can be decentralized, trustful, traceable, highly transparent, and free of intermediaries. On the NEO blockchain, users are able to register, trade, and circulate multiple types of assets. Proving the connection between digital and physical assets is possible through digital identity. Assets registered through a validated digital identity are protected by law.

NEO has two forms of digital assets: global assets and contract assets. Global assets can be recorded in the system space and can be identified by all smart contracts and clients. Contract assets are recorded in the private storage area of the smart contract and require a compatible client to recognize them. Contract assets can adhere to certain standards in order to achieve compatibility with most clients.

Digital Identity

Digital identity refers to the identity information of individuals, organizations, and other entities that exist in electronic form. The more mature digital identity system is based on the PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) X.509 standard. In NEO, we will implement a set of X.509 compatible digital identity standards. This set of digital identity standards, in addition to compatible X.509 level certificate issuance model, will also support Web Of Trust point-to-point certificate issuance model. Our verification of identity when issuing or using digital identities includes the use of facial features, fingerprint, voice, SMS and other multi-factor authentication methods. At the same time, we will also use the blockchain to replace the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) to manage and record the X.509 Certificate Revocation List (CRL).

Smart Contract

The smart contract was first proposed by the cryptographer Nick Szabo in 1994, only five years after the creation of the World Wide Web. According to Szabo’s definition: When a pre-programmed condition is triggered, the smart contract will execute the corresponding contract terms. Blockchain technology provides us with a decentralized, tamper-resistant, highly reliable system in which smart contracts are very useful. NEO has an independent smart contract system: NeoContract.

The NeoContract smart contract system is the biggest feature of the seamless integration of the existing developer ecosystem. Developers do not need to learn a new programming language but use C#, Java and other mainstream programming languages in their familiar IDE environments (Visual Studio, Eclipse, etc.) for smart contract development, debugging and compilation. NEO’s Universal Lightweight Virtual Machine, NeoVM, has the advantages of high certainty, high concurrency, and high scalability. The NeoContract smart contract system will allow millions of developers around the world to quickly carry out the development of smart contracts. NeoContract will have a separate white paper describing the implementation details.

Zarc Gin is an analyst for Warp Speed Fintech, a Fintech, especially InsurTech-focused Venture Capital based in China.

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