Blockchain Types: Private vs. Public vs. Consortium

Blockchain Types: Private vs. Public vs. Consortium

Blockchain technology uses a distributed database, financial incentives, and cryptography to enable an ecosystem to coordinate without a central authority. There are three main types of blockchains: private, public, and consortium chains. Public blockchains are open to anyone, while private blockchains are limited to a specific group of participants, and consortium blockchains are a blend of public and private blockchains. Each type has unique advantages and disadvantages depending on the user's goals and use case.

Basics

The use of distributed databases, financial incentives, and cryptography in blockchain technology has enabled ecosystems to coordinate without a central authority and has laid the groundwork for a burgeoning industry. The technology uses a distributed database, financial incentives, and cryptography to enable an ecosystem to coordinate without a central authority. Since its inception, the Bitcoin network's data structure has gained widespread popularity, leading to experimentation with blockchain technology in various sectors such as finance, supply chains, legal systems, and government.

To understand blockchain technology, one can think of it as a spreadsheet where each entry is linked to the previous one and cannot be altered but only extended. It stores information on transactions, but it is not limited to financial transactions and can be used with any kind of digital data.

In this analogy, multiple parties hold the spreadsheet, with each running specialized software on their device, which connects with other devices running the same software. As a result, all participants possess an up-to-date database, and there is no central source for the information. This distributed network may have slower information propagation, but it provides greater security and redundancy.

There are three main types of blockchains: private, public, and consortium chains. All three types of blockchains share common features:

  1. An append-only ledger: A blockchain system follows a chain of blocks structure in which each block is linked to the previous one, creating an append-only ledger. In the context of a spreadsheet, the blocks represent the individual cells in the collection of cells that form the blockchain.
  2. A network of peers: Each participant in the network has a copy of the blockchain and interacts with others in a peer-to-peer fashion. These participants are referred to as nodes.
  3. A consensus mechanism: A mechanism is necessary to ensure that nodes agree on the accuracy of transactions added to the chain to prevent invalid data from being written to the blockchain.

Private blockchains are limited to a specific group of participants who have permission to access the network, while public blockchains are open to anyone who wants to participate, and the network is secured through a consensus mechanism. Consortium blockchains are a blend of public and private blockchains, in which a group of pre-approved nodes governs the network. This type of blockchain offers a balance between the privacy of a private blockchain and the openness of a public one.

Blockchain type

Public

Private

Consortium

Permissionless?YesNoNo
Who can read?AnyoneInvited users onlyDepends
Who can write?AnyoneApproved participantsApproved participants
OwnershipNobodySingle entityMultiple entities
Participants known?NoYesYes
Transaction speedSlowFastFast

Public Blockchains

Public blockchains are the most commonly used distributed ledgers in the cryptocurrency world. These chains are called "public" because their transactions can be viewed by anyone, and joining them is as simple as downloading the necessary software. They are also known as permissionless since anyone can engage with the consensus mechanism by mining or staking. Due to their highly decentralized topology, anyone can join the network and be rewarded for their role in achieving consensus. Public blockchains are also more resistant to censorship than private or semi-private chains because anyone can join the network, and the protocol has mechanisms in place to prevent malicious actors from gaining an advantage anonymously.

However, this security-oriented approach also has performance trade-offs. Many public blockchains experience scaling issues, and their throughput is relatively weak. Additionally, updating the network without dividing it can be difficult since not all participants agree on proposed changes.

Private Blockchains

Private blockchains are different from public blockchains as they are permissioned environments, meaning that the chain is only accessible to those who have permission. They are not decentralized systems but distributed, as multiple nodes still keep a copy of the chain on their machines. Private chains are more suitable for enterprise settings, where organizations want to enjoy blockchain benefits without making their network accessible externally.

Proof of Work (PoW) algorithm is not suitable for private blockchains as each participant's identity is known, and governance is hands-on. Appointed validators are a more efficient algorithm for transaction validation in private blockchains, where nodes are selected to perform certain functions. Typically, these validators must sign off on each block, and if they act maliciously, they can be easily removed from the network. Due to the top-down control of the blockchain, it is easy to coordinate a reversal if needed.

Consortium Blockchains

A consortium blockchain blends features of both public and private chains, with a unique consensus mechanism. Instead of open validation or a single entity appointing block producers, a few equally powerful parties act as validators. The rules are flexible, and the visibility of the chain can be limited or open to authorized individuals or everyone. Changes can be easily rolled out if the validators reach a consensus. As long as a threshold of these parties is behaving honestly, the system won’t encounter issues.

Consortium blockchains are useful in settings where multiple organizations operate in the same industry and need a common ground to carry out transactions or exchange information. Joining a consortium of this kind could be beneficial for sharing industry insights.

Which One Is Better?

Public, private, and consortium blockchains are different technologies that each have their own advantages.

  • Public blockchains prioritize censorship-resistance and security while sacrificing speed and throughput.
  • Private blockchains prioritize speed and control, as they don't need to worry about central points of failure.
  • Consortium blockchains offer a balance between the two, with a smaller node count allowing for better performance than public chains while removing centralized control to mitigate counterparty risks.

Conclusion

Users have a plethora of blockchain options available to them for various activities. Public, private, and consortium blockchains each have unique features that impact user experience. Selecting the best option depends on the user's specific goals and use case.

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