Web3 Browsers for Decentralized Storage

Web3 Browsers for Decentralized Storage
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A recent discussion on the one-year birthday of Filecoin between IPFS Growth Engineer Dietrich Ayala (opens new window) and Brave Wallet Engineer Anirudha Bose (opens new window) covered how browsers are approaching decentralized storage. The complete talk is available here (opens new window).

Decentralized storage was developed to solve the problem of centralized resources, giving users the power to control their own data and its distribution. Interplanetary File System (IPFS), developed by Protocol Labs, is pioneering the push towards decentralized storage, especially for web pages and mobile devices.

Over the last year, there have been some massive strides in the growth and acceptance of this new technology in the browser industry. A notable milestone has been Brave’s native support for IPFS. The privacy-focused browser decided to give users easy access to the protocol’s content addressing capabilities, and ultimately, create a pathway to a more decentralized web.

# Browsers and Decentralized Storage Development

For most daily internet users, browsers are the primary portals to the web. Integrating decentralized storage protocols in browsers ensures a more complete and consistent online experience for consumers where sites and pages don’t go missing and the history of the internet can be preserved for the future. Organizations like the Internet Archive are already pioneering this mission and browser integration of decentralized storage is the next step.

Recently, there have been major developments in this direction:

Brave announced (opens new window) native IPFS support in late January of this year. The implementation also offered an option for a full IPFS node to participate in the network, making the user a part of the file storage network itself.

Opera also supports (opens new window) IPFS on iOS, Android, and Windows, adding to the number of browsers implementing the protocol. Browser integration on desktops is sufficiently underway, and the work that is happening there will trailblaze the next phase of development: mobile support. Currently, the amount of resources needed to spin up an IPFS node is more than what most mobile browsers can access, so the protocol is being updated to support lighter environments.

# The Migration from Centralized HTTP to Web3

Browsers operate on HTTP natively and IPFS operates on significantly different protocol schemes. This means the evolution to Web3 and decentralized storage will be slow but steady. Core to understanding why this migration is a gradual process is the knowledge of how data is stored under a Web3 paradigm.

Currently, decentralized storage solutions such as IPFS require centralized HTTP gateways to access data. One of the goals for data migration from this intermediate stage to Web3 is to ensure that this data remains accessible in a completely decentralized way, with no single points of failure. By integrating IPFS into browsers, it is possible for Web3 infrastructure to interact with browsers seamlessly and can bring that kind of resiliency.

# Standardization and Interoperability

Traditional file systems are notoriously bad with interoperability. Companies have a vested interest in keeping their ecosystems siloed and eschewing UX efforts to allow consumers to easily transfer files in between systems.

As an open standards ecosystem, however, the decentralized web offers a way to increase interoperability since all browsers would need to get their data from decentralized gateways. At the moment, much of the interaction between browsers and decentralized gateways happens through extensions such as IPFS Companion (opens new window). Browser extensions allow for user choice.

Today’s extensions, however, are just a step on the roadmap to full browser integration. Browsers have a tendency to limit the functionality of extensions, demonstrating the need for native support for IPFS and content addressing (opens new window).

# Opportunities and Challenges for Decentralized Storage in Browsers

As mentioned before, Brave and Opera support IPFS addresses natively, and Brave allows their resolution either through an HTTP gateway or a full node. These implementations are in their infancy, and there are opportunities that have arised for future development, namely user experience.

Today, these browsers don't have the most intuitive UX when interacting with IPFS nodes and decentralized gateways, primarily because they’ve been designed around client-server model, and lack peer-to-peer concepts and UI metaphors. Protocol Labs has been working with Brave on a browser user experience that is designed specifically for IPFS.

# Just the Start

Content addressing and decentralized storage are well on its way to becoming standard across Web3. Browsers will continue to pave the road for mass adoption of decentralized storage solutions like IPFS. What browsers offer is a “front door” to Web3 for internet users. The vision is for decentralized storage to be natively integrated with browsers such that everyday users are exposed to Web3 without needing to make conscious decisions and tackle brand new interfaces.

Over the last year, IPFS has made leaps and bounds in its integration and acceptance among the browser ecosystem. Working alongside Brave, Opera, and others, Protocol Labs continues to innovate, spot opportunities, and grow.