It’s cliché to say that the Internet has undergone massive changes in the last five years. New technologies like distributed ledgers, NFTs, and cross-platform metaverses have become all the rage. Unless you happen to hang out with the Web3 community in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and London, these technologies have a high barrier to entry for the average developer. You have to understand how to run distributed nodes, set up esoteric developer environments, and keep up with the latest chains just to get your app to run. That stops today. Today you can sign up for the private beta of our Web3 product suite starting with our Ethereum and IPFS gateway.
Before we go any further, a brief introduction to blockchain (Ethereum in our example) and the InterPlanetary FileSystem (IPFS). In a Web3 setting, you can think of Ethereum as the compute layer, and IPFS as the storage layer. By leveraging decentralised ledger technology, Ethereum provides verifiable decentralised computation. Publicly available binaries, called "smart contracts", can be instantiated by users to perform operations on an immutable set of records. This set of records is the state of the blockchain. It has to be maintained by every node on the network, so they can verify, and participate in the computation. Performing operations on a lot of data is therefore expensive. A common pattern is to use IPFS as an external storage solution. IPFS is a peer-to-peer network for storing content on a distributed file system. Content is identified by its hash, making it inexpensive to reference from a blockchain context.
Web3 and the Metaverse
Over the last four years, while we have been working to mature the technology required to provide access to Web3 services at a global scale, the idea of the Metaverse has come back into vogue. Popularized by novels like “Snowcrash,” and "Ready Player One," the idea is a simple one. Imagine an Internet where you can hop into an app and have access to all of your favorite digital goods available for you to use regardless of where you purchased them. You could sell your work on social media without granting them a worldwide license, and the buyer could use it on their online game. The Metaverse is a place where copyright and ownership can be managed through NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) stored on IPFS, and accessed trustlessly through Ethereum. It is a place where everyday creators can easily monetize their content, and have it be used by everyone, regardless of platform, since content is not being stored in walled gardens but decentralised ecosystems with open standards.
This shifts the way users and content creators think about the Internet. Questions like: “Do you actually need a Model View Controller system with a server to build an application?” “What is the best way to provide consistent naming of web resources across platforms?” “Do we actually need to keep our data locked behind another company's systems or can the end-user own their data?”. This builds different trust assumptions. Instead of trusting a single company because they are the only one to have your users' data, trust is being built leveraging a source verifiable by all participants. This can be people you physically interact with for messaging applications, X.509 certificates logged in a public Certificate Transparency Log for websites, or public keys that interact with blockchains for distributed applications.
It’s an exciting time. Unlike the emergence of the Internet however, there are large established companies that want to control the shape and direction of Web3 and this Metaverse. We believe in a future of a decentralised and private web. An open, standards-based web independent of any one company or centralizing force. We believe that we can be one of the many technical platforms that supports Web3 and the growing Metaverse ecosystem. It’s why we are so excited to be announcing the private beta of our Ethereum and IPFS gateways. Technologies that are at the forefront of Web3 and its emerging Metaverse.
Time and time again over the last year we have been asked by our customers to support their exploration of Web3, and oftentimes their core product offering. At Cloudflare, we are committed to helping build a better Internet for everyone, regardless of their preferred tech stack. We want to be the pickaxes and shovels for everyone. We believe that Web3 and the Metaverse is not just an experiment, but an entirely new networking paradigm where many of the next multi-billion dollar businesses are going to be built. We believe that the first complete metaverse could be built entirely on Cloudflare today using systems like Ethereum, IPFS, RTC, R2 storage, and Workers. Maybe you will be the one to build it...
We are excited to be on this journey with our Web3 community members, and can’t wait to show you what else we have been working on.
Introducing the Cloudflare Web3 Gateways!
A gateway is a computer that sits between clients (such as your browser or mobile device) and a number of other systems and helps translate traffic from one protocol to another, so the systems powering an application required to handle the request can do so properly. But there are different types of gateways that exist today.
You have probably heard mention of an API gateway, which is responsible for accepting API calls inbound to an application and aggregating the appropriate services to fulfill those requests and return a proper response to the end user. You utilize gateways every time you watch Netflix! Their company leverages an API gateway to ensure the hundreds of different devices that access their streaming service can receive a successful and proper response, allowing end users to watch their shows. Gateways are a critical component of how Web3 is being enabled for every end user on the planet.
Remember that Web3 or the distributed web is a set of technologies that enables hosting of content and web applications in a serverless manner by leveraging purely distributed systems and consensus protocols. Gateways let you use these applications in your browser without having to install plugins or run separate pieces of software called nodes. The distributed web community runs into the same problem of needing a stable, reliable, and resilient method to translate HTTP requests into the correct Web3 functions or protocols.
Today, we are introducing the Cloudflare Ethereum and IPFS Gateways to help Web3 developers do what they do best, develop applications, without having to worry about also running the infrastructure required to support Ethereum (Eth) or IPFS nodes.
What’s the problem with existing Eth or IPFS Web Gateways?
Traditional web technologies such as HTTP have had decades to develop standards and best practices that make sites fast, secure, and available. These haven’t been developed on the distributed web side of the Internet, which focuses more on redundancy. We identified an opportunity to bring the optimizations and infrastructure of the web to the distributed web by building a gateway — a service that translates HTTP API calls to IPFS or Ethereum functions, while adding Cloudflare added-value services on the HTTP side. The ability for a customer to operate their entire network control layer with a single pane of glass using Cloudflare is huge. You can manage the DNS, Firewall, Load Balancing, Rate Limiting, Tunnels, and more for your marketing site, your distributed application (Dapp), and corporate security, all from one location.
For many of our customers, the existing solutions for Web3 gateway do not have a large enough network to handle the growing amount of requests within the Ethereum and IPFS networks, but more importantly do not have the degree of resilience and redundancy that businesses expect and require operating at scale. The idea of the distributed web is to do just that… stay distributed, so no single actor can control the overall market. Speed, security, and reliability are at the heart of what we do. We are excited to be part of the growing Web3 infrastructure community so that we can help Dapp developers have more choice, scalability, and reliability from their infrastructure providers.
A clear example of this is when existing gateways have an outage. With too few gateways to handle the traffic, the result of this outage is pre-process transactions falling behind the blockchain they are accessing, thus leading to increased latency for the transaction, potentially leading to it failing. Worse, when decentralised application (Dapp) developers use IPFS to power their front end, it can lead to their entire application falling over. Overall, this leads to massive amounts of frustration from businesses and end users alike — not being able to collect revenue for products or services, thus putting a portion of the business at a halt and breaking trust with end users who depend on the reliability of these services to manage their Web3 assets.
How is Cloudflare solving this problem?
We found that there was a unique opportunity in a segment of the Web3 community that closely mirrored Cloudflare’s traditional customer base: the distributed web. This segment has some major usability issues that Cloudflare could help solve around reliability, performance, and caching. Cloudflare has an advantage that no other company in this space — and very few in the industry — have: a global network. For instance, content fetched through our IPFS Gateway can be cached near users, allowing download latency in the milliseconds. Compare this with up to seconds per asset using native IPFS. This speed enables services based on IPFS to go hybrid. Content can be served over the source decentralised protocols while browsers and tools are maturing to access them, and served to regular web users through a gateway like Cloudflare. We do provide a convenient, fast and secure option to browse this distributed content.
On Ethereum, users can be categorised in two ways. Application developers that operate smart contracts, and users that want to interact with the said contracts. While smart contracts operate autonomously based on their code, users have to fetch data and send transactions. As part of the chain, smart contracts do not have to worry about the network or a user interface to be online. This is why decentralised exchanges have had the ability to operate continuously across multiple interfaces without disruptions. Users on the other hand do need to know the state of the chain, and be able to interact with it. Application developers therefore have to require the users to run an Ethereum node, or can point them to use remote nodes through a standardised JSON RPC API. This is where Cloudflare comes in. Cloudflare Ethereum gateway relies on Ethereum nodes and provides a secure and fast interface to the Ethereum network. It allows application developers to leverage Ethereum in front-facing applications. The gateway can interact with any content part of the Ethereum chain. This includes NFT contracts, DeFi exchanges, or name services like ENS.
How are the gateways doing so far?
Since our alpha release to very early customers as research experiments, we’ve seen a staggering number of customers wanting to leverage the new gateway technology and benefit from the availability, resiliency, and caching benefits of Cloudflare’s network.
Our current alpha includes companies that have raised billions of dollars in venture capital, companies that power the decentralised finance ecosystem on Ethereum, and emerging metaverses that make use of NFT technology.
In fact, we have over 2,000 customers leveraging our IPFS gateway lending to over 275TB of traffic per month. For Ethereum, we have over 200 customers transacting over 13TB, including 1.6 billion requests per month. We’ve seen extremely stable results from these customers and fully expect to see these metrics continue to ramp up as we add more customers to use this new product.
We are now very happy to announce the opening of our private beta for both the Ethereum and IPFS gateways. Sign up to participate in the private beta and our team will reach out shortly to ensure you are set up!
P.S. We are hiring for Web3! If you want to come work on it with us, check out our careers page.