Gwen Bell · Blog

Aboard an Append Only Log

February 1st 2017

I've been involved in the secure scuttlebutt project since February 2016 -- as of this month, that makes a year. Here are three questions you might have about the project:

  1. What is secure scuttlebot?
  2. How does secure scuttlebot work?
  3. Why would you use secure scuttlebot?

I'm shortening it to sbot here, which stands for secure scuttlebutt/bot.

  1. What is sbot? Sbot is built on secure scuttlebutt (which handles unforgeable message feeds) and Scuttlebot (which handles the global replication, file sync and encryption). It's eventual, rather than immediate, consistency.(In other words, be patient with it for best results.) A few things, including git-ssb-web (a distributed version of a site quite a few developers are familiar with, github), are built on it. It's immutable, which means it can't be changed, and append only so once you've pushed something to the log (and it's replicated to other pubs), it's there for good.

  2. How does sbot work? Also, why would you say yes to an append-only log? What, really, can you take back? Once said, you cannot unsay it. Once done, you cannot undo it. Once thought, you cannot unthink it. And if you're cool with yourself that's not a problem. The problems crop up when you're not living in contentment with yourself and that's a whole 'nother topic for discussion. Now, back to the topic at hand. How does it work? As mentioned, it's a log. It's stored on your machine. It's a cryptographically secure log. You put something in, you get it out again in the future. As of February 2017, there's no possibility of deleting it. Of course, you could write to that log and never sync up with the network (via a pub), in which case, nobody will ever know you wrote it. Replication happens once you've synced up with pubs such as Decent. The other thing you should know is it's unforgeable. Hold on to your private key. If you lose it, someone else could pretend to be you on the network, and that is obviously not what you want to happen. There's no 'log in/log out' to this. It's encryption, no logging in. Though it is itself a log there is no logging in.

  3. Why would you use sbot? There are places in the world where internet connections are limited/prohibitively expensive -- those are some of the places where sbot makes sense. The person who started it, Dominic Tarr, lives on a boat in New Zealand when he's not traveling. In New Zealand, access to the internet is expensive. Here's another reason someone might use sbot: if you want to participate in a shared database, one where you always have a copy of your own work on your own computer, rather than say a database that's controlled by a group of mostly men in Silicon Valley who appear to love the color blue at the exclusion of all other colors.

Oh, and! No endorphin-morphin' algos.

To see sbot in action, visit Decent.

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