March 21, 2019

PegaSys’ Standards Work: A Look Ahead

by, Gina Rubino

PegaSys’ Standards Circle helps drive the future of Ethereum, through its work on defining the standards needed for Enterprise Ethereum as well as the Ethereum Main Net. They work in the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) and W3C, to ensure PegaSys and Ethereum are addressing key industry needs in their roadmap and improving the interoperability of the ecosystem for its long-term health. Read more about their work and their plans and expectations for the coming year.

The Standards Circle works with other parts of the PegaSys team and the broader ConsenSys mesh. In particular, the standards circle works closely with the Pantheon development team. The most obvious impact is bringing implementer feedback to specifications, to ensure that they reflect both implementable reality and real customer needs – not just theoretically good ideas.

Equally, providing feedback from developing standards in areas like Decentralized Identifiers is important to help Pantheon implement its plans to become a strongly conformant EEA client as well as a successful Ethereum Main Net client.



A key part of developing standards is working with others, especially competitors, in order to reach agreement on the technical basis that ensures an open ecosystem that allows for innovation while providing a reliable platform for developers who want to focus on reliability and long-term operations, not just the next shiny thing to come along. This is a key to real-world relevance. It also requires that clear, fair procedures are in place and are followed.

Members of the Standards Circle have decades of experience in standards work. The insights into developing fair and transparent processes where new entrants are able to compete in equitable circumstances that they have gained are an important part of what they are offering in many environments, including EEA and W3C, as well as working with the people who are editing the Ethereum 1.x and Ethereum 2.0 specifications.

EEA

We had a strong year in 2018, producing the first version of the EEA Client Specification in May. This describes the requirements for an Enterprise Ethereum client, so it is a core standard for an ecosystem where organisations can confidently invest in an Enterprise Ethereum blockchain.

We put a substantial effort into ensuring that the EEA implements a modern standards development process, which allowed the release of Version 2 of the Client Specification in October 2018. Work on the next revision is well underway, and with a smoothly running process that enables continuous improvement and regular release, we expect Version 3 (currently at the status of editors’ draft) to be released in May 2019. Technical improvements will include better clarity on permissioning, increased attention to security and operational interoperability. As more implementation feedback becomes available we are also working on a companion document to provide implementation guidance for client developers as well as Enterprise users.

The standards circle, along with the Pantheon team, will also have an important role to play in the development of conformance tests based on the EEA Client Specification, and running a test network that provides a live demonstration of EEA’s interoperability promise in practice. This is expected to be running in the second half of 2019, and to be an important tool in steadily enhancing interoperability of EEA clients and other tools in the ecosystem.

The circle also works with both Pantheon and PegaSys’ Research and Development circles, to provide a long-term view of the needs of the Ethereum platform, and to help the broader Ethereum community in developing the Ethereum 1.x and 2.0 specifications.

The first version of a Trusted Execution / OffChain Computing specification was also published by EEA at the end of last year, using JSON RPC API calls to work with an off-chain processor for computing tasks, e.g. to offer enhanced privacy, security or scalability.

With implementation experience from the ConsenSys “mesh” and others, we expect to continue to improve that specification as necessary and move it from the current “experimental” status to being a part of the EEA standards.

Other efforts we will be making this year include pushing EEA technical work to be more transparent, so developers can get working sooner and provide earlier feedback. This is also helpful to enable closer collaboration with the broad Ethereum community, who expect to be working in public.

W3C

A few years ago, the Rebooting the Web of Trust workshops were started to address the problem of centralization in information around individuals and their various identities.  A key outcome has been the creation of major standards and open source efforts, respectively, at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF).  We are active in leading the W3C efforts.

The first W3C effort, Verifiable Credentials, defines a way to represent the various credentials we all have today, such as driver’s licenses, passports, and educational degrees, in a centralization-reducing manner, allowing receivers to decide who they will trust.  Blockchain technology makes this possible. The work is close to the Candidate Recommendation stage, indicating feature stability, and has already been adopted by US Customs and Border Protection, educational organizations, and others.

The second W3C effort, Decentralized Identifiers, was inspired by the first.  Credentials need to be about something or someone, requiring identifiers. To keep the identifiers decentralized as well, this new effort standardizes a way to anchor identifiers on distributed ledgers.  This gives control over the identifiers solely to those possessing the cryptographic keys, unlike virtually every other identifier used today that can be taken away from an end user. This effort has been incubated for more than a year, with a standards-track working group expected by early Q2.

Conclusion

Our work with the EEA and W3C has a significant impact on Ethereum – especially in the areas of Enterprise Ethereum, and helping to improve Ethereum specifications for the developer and implementer community.

Continuing these efforts in close collaboration with our PegaSys teammates, and in open and transparent collaboration with other key stakeholders in Ethereum will be essential to the continued success of the ecosystem.

We are excited about this work and looking forward to see its progress over the coming year.

This blog post was written by the PegaSys Standards Circle, Chaals Neville, Dan Burnett, Rob Coote, and Grant Noble, with much-appreciated editorial contribution from Grace Hartley and Faisal Khan

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