Permissioned and Permissionless Blockchains Explained
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Permissioned and Permissionless Blockchains Explained

Permissioned and permissionless blockchains are two types of blockchains with different characteristics. Permissionless blockchains are open to anyone and offer decentralization and transparency, while permissioned blockchains require permission to join and are often used in private settings. Both types have their pros and cons, and the characteristics of a blockchain can vary within each category. Ultimately, understanding the distinction between permissioned and permissionless blockchains is important in designing blockchain solutions to meet different needs.

Basics

Blockchain technology extends beyond the choice between Proof of Work and Proof of Stake consensus mechanisms. It's crucial to explore another important aspect: the permission model. Blockchains can fall into two categories: permissioned or permissionless. By comprehending these categories, you can gain valuable insights into the characteristics and flexibility of a blockchain.

Permissioned and Permissionless Blockchains

When it comes to blockchains, there are different types to consider. One important distinction is between permissioned and permissionless blockchains. Permissionless blockchains, like Bitcoin, allow anyone to use and participate in the network without any restrictions. Network usage and validation processes are open to all.

On the other hand, permissioned blockchains operate differently. They are typically used in private settings, such as within organizations or businesses. For instance, a company might utilize the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework to create a permissioned blockchain for its supply chain system. To participate in such a network, you would need specific permission granted by an administrator. Access is limited to authorized individuals who have been granted the necessary privileges.

Brief History

Blockchain technology has evolved from its origins in Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin whitepaper. Initially, permissionless blockchains gained popularity, allowing unaligned users to participate in consensus. The values and ethos of permissionless blockchains suited public applications. However, there has also been a growing interest in permissioned blockchains, which offer more controlled access and tailored solutions for private applications. Developers have created various permissioned frameworks and customized blockchains to address specific needs in the enterprise space. This evolution in blockchain technology has provided options for both public and private use cases.

Main Features

In general, permissioned and permissionless blockchains exhibit certain characteristics that can be used to distinguish between them. Although not all of these characteristics apply universally, they help define the typical traits of each archetype.

  • Permissioned blockchains are often associated with limited transparency, as they are designed for specific participants who are invited to join. On the other hand, permissionless blockchains are open to anyone, offering greater transparency and openness.
  • In terms of user participation, permissioned blockchains require invitation-only access, while permissionless blockchains allow free entry for anyone interested.
  • The use of digital assets or tokens is more common in permissionless blockchains, while permissioned blockchains tend to have a limited presence of such assets.
  • When it comes to the consensus process for upgrades, permissioned blockchains usually have a shorter process, while permissionless blockchains often require more time.
  • Scalability can be more manageable in permissioned blockchains, while permissionless blockchains often face challenges in achieving scalability.
  • Regarding network authority, permissioned blockchains are often centralized, with power concentrated in a select group, whereas permissionless blockchains strive for decentralization, distributing authority across participants.

Pros and Cons of Permissionless Blockchains

Pros

  1. Decentralization Potential: While not all permissionless blockchains are inherently decentralized, they often possess the potential for high decentralization. Anyone with the necessary resources and interests can participate in the consensus mechanism or utilize the permissionless network.
  2. Group Consensus: Users actively engage in decision-making processes and can influence network changes. Validators and network participants can express their preferences by choosing to support alternative versions of the network if they disagree with proposed modifications.
  3. Ease of Access: Permissionless networks offer straightforward access and have relatively low entry barriers. Anyone can create a wallet and join these networks, making them easily accessible to a wide range of users.

Cons

  1. Scalability Challenges: Permissionless blockchains face difficulties in handling a large number of users and high traffic. Achieving scalability requires consensus from the network group to effectively implement necessary upgrades.
  2. Risk of Bad Actors: The openness of permissionless blockchains means that there is always a possibility of bad actors joining these networks and engaging in malicious activities.
  3. Excessive Transparency: Permissionless blockchains typically offer free access to view most information, which can raise concerns regarding privacy and security.

Pros and Cons of Permissioned Blockchains

Pros

  1. Scalability: In permissioned blockchains, upgrades can be implemented more easily since they are typically operated by an entity with control over validators.
  2. Easy Customization: Permissioned blockchains can be tailored for specific purposes, allowing them to efficiently perform particular functions. If requirements change, customization is straightforward.
  3. Controlled Transparency: The level of transparency in a permissioned blockchain can be determined by the operator based on the specific use case.
  4. Invitation-Only Entry: With permissioned blockchains, you have control over who can participate, as entry is limited to those specifically invited.

Cons

  1. Centralization: In permissioned blockchains, power tends to be centralized, with a central entity or a small group of validators chosen by the blockchain's owner. This setup means that network decisions may not involve all stakeholders.
  2. Vulnerability to Attacks: Due to having fewer validators, permissioned blockchains are more susceptible to attacks, as their consensus mechanism is less resistant.
  3. Censorship Risk: The possibility of censorship exists in permissioned blockchains due to network collusion or updates introduced by the blockchain operator. If a sufficient number of actors agree, the information on the blockchain could be altered.

Permissioned vs. Permissionless

There are two main types of blockchains: permissionless and permissioned. Permissionless blockchains are open to anyone and allow for broad participation and transparency. They are commonly used for public applications and typically operate in a decentralized manner. Permissioned blockchains, on the other hand, require permission to join and are often used in private settings such as businesses or government organizations. They offer more control and customization options but may sacrifice some of the openness and decentralization found in permissionless blockchains. The specific characteristics and features of a blockchain can vary within each category, providing flexibility in designing blockchain solutions to meet different needs.

Conclusion

While permissionless blockchains are commonly encountered by crypto investors and traders, it's valuable to understand the distinction between permissionless and permissioned blockchains. Although we often associate distributed ledger technology with transparency, public accessibility, and decentralization, it's important to recognize that these characteristics can vary. In reality, many private enterprises utilize permissioned blockchains that deviate from the typical traits associated with this type of blockchain.

Permissioned Blockchain
Permissionless Blockchain
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