Ripple has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Interledger Protocol (ILP), a protocol that facilitates transfers across payment systems. The payments are secure and it allows anyone with accounts on two or more ledgers to set up a connection between the two ledgers. Sounds like the ideal solution to the interoperability challenge, right? Well, in theory it does but the development and getting a common standard that every participant agrees on has been anything but easy for the ILP development team.
Stefan Thomas and Evan Schwartz, the CTO and an engineer at Ripple respectively, developed ILP to solve the challenge of interoperability both between blockchain and non-blockchain ledgers. ILP has become widely accepted as possibly the network of the future. It’s being used by a number of small-scale platforms and major corporates such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which currently applies it in its Mojaloop project. Hyperledger also adopted ILP late last year to foster interoperability of ledgers within its platform.
The first challenge the ILP team encountered was the realization that no matter how much they customized ILP to meet people’s demands, they would never succeed in creating the king of ledgers or one ledger to rule them all. This isn’t possible as every company, from Visa to SWIFT, Bitcoin to Ripple, all want to own a network. Those that attempted to develop the ultimate ledger failed despite their ledger being near-perfect because no company wants to relinquish all its authority to another company. On a blog on his Medium page, Evan explained that it was this realization that made him and Stefan begin working on interoperability as opposed to dominance.
Another significant challenge was the establishment of trust in the network. One of the proposed ideas by Stefan and Evan was the Atomic Mode. Participants in the network require atomicity; the assurance that either the entire transaction completes or the entire transaction fails. The Atomic Mode was to use a group of validators, better known as notaries, on a per-transaction basis, much like miners in a proof of work system. However, this idea failed as the participants could not settle on a commonly trusted set of notaries across the participants. ILP had to seek other trust networks, settling on the Universal Ledger Payments system. This system relies on incentivization of rational participants, eliminating the need for external coordination.
Evidently, the Interledger Protocol is still being developed and as more ledgers join the ILP, it will become better and more efficient. Will ILP become the ultimate ledger? The jury’s still out