Infura: Developers Best Friend Or Centralized Hazard?
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Ask Google to explain Infura, and the first link has the title: “Why Infura is the Secret Weapon of Ethereum Infrastructure.” At the surface this might seem exaggerated, but Infura is a key underlying service provider for the Ethereum network.
Infura is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), designed to help developers launch new dApps. It initially started as an internal ConsenSys project, but as a surge of developers began to work within the Ethereum network, ConsenSys realized that it could be of value to the broader Ethereum network.
But that added value could come with a downside, especially as new dApps come to rely on Infura’s centralized infrastructure.
What is Infura?
Infura is a collection of tools to connect apps to Ethereum, in order to reduce the barrier of entry and simplify access to the platform. These tools provide a secure, reliable, and scalable gateway access to Ethereum APIs and the Interplanetary File System.
Infura’s APIs “[provide] the fundamental infrastructure required to handle both the short-term spikes that can often occur during token launches and essential, longer-term scaling solutions,” according to ConsenSys. In turn, that lets developers spend more time focusing on their dApps instead of worrying about complicated infrastructure.
At the core is Ferryman , a layer of middleware which enables sending requests to different endpoints on its infrastructure, helping users scale or fine-tune according to traffic needs. The Ferryman layer also reduces response times by enabling smart routing, which means “incoming requests don’t need to hit a live node at all.“
To put it more simply: Infura increases the Ethereum network’s capacity for high-traffic dApps or ICOs by allowing projects to deploy their software, without any need to worry about scaling or node maintenance.
dApps launched through Infura
Several notable projects are currently using Infura’s network, including Metamask, UJO, Cryptokitties, Cipher Browser, Radar Relay, and uPort.
Metamask, one of the leading in-browser wallets for Ethereum and ERC-20 tokens, utilizes Infura’s remote infrastructure to serve over a million users. Others, like Status and Mist, rely on Infura’s nodes only in times of network stress.
Cryptokitties collaborated with Infura to develop “short-term optimizations and longer-term scaling solutions” to help resolve the network clogging issues that plagued Ethereum in December of 2017.
Pros of Infura
Much like every other blockchain project, Ethereum is not perfect. It’s expensive to store data on the Ethereum blockchain, complicated to configure an Ethereum geth client, and challenging to scale the infrastructure.
Infura attempts to solve these issues by providing fast access to the Ethereum network. That makes the IPFS a lot faster, and it doesn’t take long to sync the geth client, which can sometimes use a huge chunk of memory and bandwidth.
Infura’s other advantages include:
- Managing the infrastructure of an Ethereum or IFPS node, developers can focus on their dApps.
- Storing large data on the IPFS, without putting it on the blockchain.
- Reliability and Scalability. The Ferryman middleware dramatically improves the reliability of the platform, helping developers create scalable applications that meet user’s demands.
Infura has successfully served over 40,000 developers, with the ability to transfer 2.5 PB of data per month and handle over 10 billion user requests daily.
Cons of Infura
The most significant concern – one that some have even called a “raging debate” – with regards to Infura is its centralizing impact on the Ethereum network. If Infura closes its access to the Ethereum blockchain, it will impact 35,000 dApps and developers, and the 10 billion requests it deals with every single day.
Beyond relying on a single entity – ConsenSys – Infura also relies on Amazon’s cloud servers – AWS. Projects such as Dappnose have questioned “the Amazon hosting service, wondering what would happen to most of the Ethereum dApps if Jeff Bezos’ company decided to abandon the Infura project.”
There’s also a philosophical question of decentralization and what that means to a network. As Ethereum hard fork coordinator Afri Schoeden put it, “if we don’t stop relying on Infura, the vision of Ethereum failed.”
What’s next for Infura?
Infura will be introducing a new version of an API key to give dApps better visibility into how they are using the network. They’re also launching Infura for Business: a product to prepare developers for production traffic.
Infura won’t be going away anytime soon. As entities like Infura become even more critical to supporting the network, blockchain enthusiasts must look within and ask: is it better to onboard more projects and increase accessibility, or should blockchain remain as decentralized as possible?
The author has investments in Ethereum, which is mentioned in this article.