Can we all be real for a second? Technology is changing at an unprecedented rate to where no one really can stay caught up and understand all of it. Any of us may understand something, like general computer science or how to defeat gamer kids on Fortnite. We may even know complex subjects like Logistic Regression or knowing how to use Tensorflow. But if we are being really real here – we don’t know everything about technology because it has become so vast.
One technological breakthrough recently that you likely haven’t had time to learn is blockchain technology. Many believe this is the next wave of adoption for the modern world where others see it as a gimmick or money grab. But if you care about objective reasoning at all, I think we should be honest with learning what it is first.
But learning something new in technology can be hard, like I mentioned. Don’t worry – the article is specifically designed to literally be the easiest article to help you understand this!
And I don’t mean literally as in figuratively. I mean literally as in LITERALLY! So many people have tried to ELI5 something like this and have failed to explain it properly.
So get ready to have your mind blown on learning something as “difficult” as blockchain in the same level of simple addition from third grade elementary school.
Overview: Teaching, Not Technobabble
One quick snippet before we begin. Why should we try to learn blockchain so easily if it’s a technological breakthrough? Doesn’t that mean it’s a frustrating and difficult concept that’s worthy of stressful and caffeinated developers trying to be all smart and complicated?
We have the assumption oftentimes in the tech world that only cool things are complicated. But let’s be real on blockchain – it’s much more complex in many aspects as far as implementation and modification. However, without trying to explain it in simple terms we cannot move forward to learn more complex components. It’s just like a car that contains engine parts. There are complex parts to the vehicle but in the end we must know that cars use engines to drive.
Anyway, let’s get started on the easiest way ever to understand what a blockchain is!
If you read the tile just above this sentence, it shows an acronym called BLOCK. Yes, you are reading this correctly – we will learn blockchain by using the first portion of the work “blockchain”, which is BLOCK to help us understand it better. Acronyms drastically increase the ability to learn and gather information through mnemonics. We will find out by the end of the article that BLOCK is not just an acronym but also an acrostic, which explains what blockchain is through the letters themselves. Words are amazing aren’t they? Okay let’s begin.
B – Building Blocks
The first letter in this acronym stands for Building Blocks. I’m sure it’s quite a shock to find out that blockchain has something to do with blocks since it’s literally in the word.
Blocks are more than those cube looking things with letters on them that toddlers use to play with and stack, but they have some similarities. Blockchains contain blocks and these technological toys can be used to hold information – just like a baby block can hold a letter or a picture. Blocks themselves are the important information trying to share to one another or simply kept on the blockchain for recording or later use. The phrase “building” in Building Blocks in also important because more blocks can be added to the blockchain. These blocks together are a way to understand how a blockchain creates its data.
Most blocks have surrounding blocks around them kinda like how you likely have neighbors. Your neighbors can help provide proof that you live were you do and blocks on the blockchain are no different. Surrounding blocks give integrity to the middle blocks proof that its on the blockchain.
So how are blocks connected? Let’s find out next.
L – Linked
Blocks in the blockchain are “linked” together by – you guessed it – chains! These are not actually literal chains but simply an easy way to explain that blocks are not only connected but are linked together just like a chain would be – one loop connected to another one. So code wise what would be the links? Something called hashes.
Hashes consist of complex code where the hash of a previous block – lets say Block A – is required to mention in the code for Block B in order to function. This results in the blocks being connected in a way where they cannot be separated without destroying the entire chain.
Okay – we have B.L. – Building Blocks Linked. Let’s continue.
O – on Open
Now we have the word Open. What does this mean? Blockchains, our linked blocks, are on something called a ledger which is basically like writing all the blocks on a notepad or storing them on a database. Nothing fancy there to be honest, however the biggest thing lies in the word “Open”. Being an open set of linked blocks means that the fancy tech-notebook is available to either everyone in the world or every participant on the blockchain. In other words, every person has access to the same linked blocks as you do. This helps keep the integrity of the blockchain because one person can’t lie about the information on the chain without quickly being discovered by others on the chain with the truth. They can’t handle the truth!
So that’s cool and all but if all the data and information on the blockchain is available to everyone participating, can’t others steal your information? Nope and I’m glad you asked! The next part of the acronym is important for this.
C – Cryptographic
This is where the cool technology comes out here. Blocks connected to each other and open to all is a cool concept, but the engine to the blockchain is the way everything is coded. Blockchain uses encryption to hide your data in plain sight so others can’t read them. There are many approaches to the types of encryption and cryptography used so there’s no need to go into detail. Just knowing that the data is encrypted over the ledger is a good and basic understanding.
But if everything is encrypted, how can we ourselves get our own information? That is the final piece to this puzzle.
K – Keys
Blockchains can’t function properly without cryptography but we still need access to our data or information while not having access to others – that way Data is unique to our own access while still being open but encrypted. Most blockchains use something called keys, which are a string of numbers and letters that work much like a complex PIN code to access your money at a store or ATM.
Blockchains tend to need two types of keys to work – a public key, which is used for that open tech notebook mentioned earlier, as well as a private key, which works like a translation for the encrypted data so we can understand it.
So we covered the word BLOCK to help learn blockchains in literally the easiest way possible. Now we can say the BLOCK stands for –
Building Blocks Linked on Open Cryptographic Keys
Or more simply…
Blocks Linked I’m Open Cryptographic Keys
One small sentence that illustrates what blockchains are about.