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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Cummins

Blockchain and Hashing

Updated: Aug 26, 2023



What is blockchain and its architecture:

Blockchain is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that records transactions across multiple computers or nodes. In simple terms, it is a chain of blocks, where each block contains a list of transactions. The blockchain architecture consists of four main components - blocks, nodes, consensus mechanism, and peer-to-peer network.


Blocks:

Each block in a blockchain contains a set of transactions. These blocks are linked together using cryptographic hashes. Each block also contains a reference to the previous block, forming a chain-like structure.


Nodes:

Nodes are the individual computers that participate in the blockchain network. They maintain a copy of the entire blockchain and validate and verify transactions. Nodes can be categorized into different types based on their roles, such as full nodes, mining nodes, and light nodes.


Consensus Mechanism:

The consensus mechanism is used to achieve agreement among the participating nodes on the validity and order of transactions in the blockchain. Different consensus algorithms, such as Proof of Work (PoW) and Proof of Stake (PoS), are used to ensure the integrity and security of the blockchain network.


Peer-to-peer network:

Blockchain utilizes a peer-to-peer network architecture, where each node in the network communicates directly with other nodes. This decentralized nature eliminates the need for a central authority or intermediary, making the network more resilient and secure.


Mathematical algorithms used in blockchain:

Hashing: Hash functions play a crucial role in the architecture of blockchain. A hash function takes an input and produces a fixed-size output called a hash. It is a one-way function, meaning that it is computationally infeasible to reverse the process and obtain the original input from the hash.


Hash functions use mathematical algorithms to transform input data, which can be of any size, into a fixed-size hash. Examples of common hash functions used in blockchain include MD5, SHA-1, SHA-256, and keccak-256. These hash functions have different characteristics and properties, making them suitable for various applications.


Merkle Tree:

A Merkle tree, also known as a binary hash tree, is a data structure used in blockchain to verify the integrity and consistency of large datasets efficiently. It is constructed by recursively hashing the individual data elements (leaf nodes) and then hashing their hashes until a single root hash is obtained.


The power of 2 to 256:

The power of 2 to 256 refers to 2 raised to the power of 256, which is an extremely large number. In the context of hashing, it represents the number of possible hash outputs produced by a hash function with a 256-bit output size. This large output space makes hash functions resistant to collisions, where two different inputs produce the same hash output. Two to the power of 256 represents an astronomical number, roughly equal to 1.16 x 10^77. This gigantic value is significant in the blockchain realm as it represents the colossal number of possibilities for a 256-bit hash. It highlights the immense computational power required to reverse engineer a hash, ensuring blockchain data's security and immutability.


Hash functions and their properties:

1. Bits and bytes: Bits and bytes are the basic units of digital information used by computers. A bit represents a binary value (0 or 1), while a byte is a group of 8 bits. Hash functions operate on these binary values to produce hash outputs.


2. Cryptographic hash functions:

Cryptographic hash functions are a subset of hash functions specifically designed for use in cryptography. They have properties such as pre-image resistance, second pre-image resistance, and collision resistance, which make them suitable for securing data in the blockchain context.


3. Blockchain hashing: Hashing is extensively used in blockchain to ensure data integrity and security. Each block in the blockchain contains a hash of the previous block, which creates a chain-like structure. This makes it computationally infeasible to alter the contents of a block without affecting subsequent blocks, providing immutability to the blockchain.


4. Hash functions properties: Deterministic property means that a hash function always produces the same output for the same input. Quirk resistance refers to the property of a hash function where even a small change in the input results in a significantly different hash output. Pre-image resistance ensures that it is computationally difficult to find the original input given the hash output.


5. Birthday paradox: The birthday paradox states that in a randomly selected group of people, there is a high probability that two people will have the same birthday, even though it may seem unlikely at first. This paradox is relevant to hash functions because the probability of finding two different inputs with the same hash output increases with the number of hash computations.


6. High min-entropy: Min-entropy is a measure of the unpredictability of a random variable. High min-entropy ensures that the output of a hash function is highly unpredictable, making it resistant to attacks such as brute force or dictionary attacks.


Hash functions MD5, SHA, SHA-256, and keccak-256:

MD5: MD5 (Message Digest Algorithm 5) is a widely used cryptographic hash function that produces a 128-bit hash output. However, MD5 has been deemed insecure due to vulnerabilities such as collisions, where two different inputs can produce the same hash output.


SHA: SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) is a family of cryptographic hash functions developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). SHA-1 and SHA-2 are the most commonly used variants. SHA-1 produces a 160-bit hash output, while SHA-2 includes different output sizes, such as SHA-256 (256-bit), SHA-384 (384-bit), and SHA-512 (512-bit).


Keccak-256: Keccak-256 is a cryptographic hash function that produces a 256-bit hash output. It is the underlying algorithm used in the SHA-3 family of hash functions. Keccak-256 is known for its security and resistance to attacks.


Hash pointers: Hash pointers are used in blockchain to link blocks together. Each block contains a reference to the previous block's hash, forming a chain. This ensures the integrity and immutability of the blockchain by preventing tampering to prior blocks.


Bitcoin mining: Bitcoin mining is the process by which new bitcoins are created, and transactions are verified and added to the blockchain. Miners compete to solve a computational puzzle by finding a nonce (k) that results in a hash (x) of the block meeting a specific difficulty target (Y). This requires significant computational power and energy consumption.


The blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that utilizes hashing and cryptographic algorithms to ensure security and integrity. It consists of blocks linked through hash pointers, with nodes participating in a consensus mechanism in a peer-to-peer network. Mathematical algorithms like hashing, Merkle trees, and hash functions such as MD5, SHA, SHA-256, and keccak-256 are key components of blockchain architecture. These algorithms provide properties like determinism, quirk resistance, pre-image resistance, and high min-entropy to ensure the reliability and robustness of the blockchain system.

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