An Introduction to Polymer Labs, Cosmos, and IBC (Inter-Blockchain Communication)
TLDR; Blockchains are immutable, decentralized data storage systems. Blockchains have grown dramatically over recent years, but there is no standard way to communicate across chains. Polymer Chain provides a seamless way to provide cross chain communication by utilizing IBC to connect chains even when they may not support IBC natively.
What are Blockchains, and what’s all the fuss about?
Blockchains are distributed ledgers that store information. The information is stored in a group or blocks and joined together like a list, or a chain. The advancement of blockchain technology is fueling the industry to grow at an exponential rate. As of this year, there are more than 10,000 blockchains.
With this new growth in the industry, there’s also a big gap yet to be filled. These distributed ledgers are bringing forth new and unique use cases, however, the interactions between them have been primitive. The bridges that have been formed have unique designs and implementations, but have a lot of development ahead of them — primarily glorified multisigs and centralized custodians. This has resulted in a majority of lost funds in cryptocurrency markets (Ronin Axie Infinity $625m+, Polynetwork $600m+, Wormhole $325m+, Nomad $190m+, Harmony $100m+, Qubit $80m+, Thorchain ~$10m, Multichain (Anyswap) $3m+, etc). These past 2 years of incessant exploits have clearly demonstrated the need for an open-sourced, community-developed and maintained industry standard, such as IBC x Polymer.
If you think about each blockchain as a computer, we have a world of more than 10,000 siloed computers. Much like the internet (TCP/IP) solves Web2 connectivity for computers, IBC and Polymer solves Web3 connectivity for blockchains.
So what exactly is IBC?
IBC (Inter-Blockchain Communication) is a standard interoperability protocol that allows two or more blockchains to communicate. It is a general purpose message passing protocol, which means that any form of data can be sent and received using IBC. The Cosmos community developed the IBC specs and implemented them as pluggable Cosmos modules that enable IBC communication across the Cosmos Network. IBC’s first implementation was launched in 2021. There currently exists no industry standard for generic message passing and this vertical of interoperability represents the largest gap in blockchain tech.
Polymer believes IBC is the frontrunner to become the #1 industry standard for interoperability for the greater blockchain ecosystem. IBC’s extensive use of formal verification positions itself to be the strongest option the industry has for establishing that standard for generic message passing. The Cosmos IBC system is the first to put large economic value on light clients, which has proven to be resistant to compromise.
Polymer Labs is building on top of the Cosmos SDK to enable Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) across chains that do not have native IBC support.
How does IBC work?
The following is a high-level overview of how IBC works. The in-depth understanding is explained in our upcoming article next week.
A postal service works well as an analogy to explain IBC. The postal service (IBC) will define the standard for the package (IBC message), wrap it up (IBC packet), and send it from one place (sender blockchain) to another (receiver blockchain). It has two main layers.
- Transport Layer
- Application Layer
The transport Layer is responsible for transporting IBC data packets across the chain. In the postal service analogy, this layer is responsible for transporting packages from one place to another.
Technically speaking, this layer is responsible for three things: transport, authentication & ordering (or TAO). This layer does not specify what the data in the packet should be or how it will be interpreted on the receiving side: that’s the job of the application layer.
The application layer is what the end-users interact with. In the postal service analogy, the application layer would be when the package is wrapped on the sending side and when the receiving side opens up the package and extracts its contents.
This layer is responsible for interacting with the contents of the IBC packet.
What is Cosmos?
Cosmos is a burgeoning ecosystem of interconnected applications and services working towards a decentralized future. Also known as the “Internet of Blockchains,” all blockchains built with Cosmos SDK can communicate seamlessly, thanks to IBC.
You can see the internet of blockchains in action at Map of Zones!
What is Polymer?
Polymer Labs is focused on bringing IBC to all blockchains including those outside the Cosmos ecosystem. As of today, only IBC-enabled chains can communicate with each other using IBC specifications, but they must follow the compatibility requirements. Many notable blockchains, like Ethereum and Solana, do not follow these requirements, so these non-compliant chains (aka non-IBC-enabled chains) currently cannot utilize IBC to send secure messages across chains.
As an omni-chain hub, Polymer Chain follows the IBC standards and specifications, enabling IBC communication between:
1) IBC-enabled blockchains
2) IBC-enabled blockchains <> non-IBC blockchains
3) non-IBC blockchains <> non-IBC blockchains
This concludes our high-level overview of blockchains, IBC, and Cosmos’ & Polymer’s role in the ecosystem. We will share more in-depth details about how IBC works, what Polymer is doing to solve crucial interoperability issues, and the path towards enabling IBC across all blockchains in future posts.
Polymer is the first modular IBC-based networking protocol. The Polymer chain will enable ZK-IBC connectivity across all integrated chains with a truly trustless architecture based on light client state proof verification. Polymer believes in a multichain future connected primarily by one open-sourced, community-developed and maintained industry standard, IBC x Polymer.