Distributed systems – The foundation of blockchain technology

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By Lumai Mubanga. mlumai@gmail.com

There are many current technologies today, whose backbone are distributed systems. We need to understand what distributed systems are to understand blockchain technology. Like many others, blockchain is just a specific type of a distributed system. What are distributed systems and what properties or features do they have that favor the development and deployment of blockchain?

Before we define distributed systems, we need to remind ourselves of current technologies, which depend on that architecture. If you use emails and Intranets at work or at home, these technologies are supported by distributed systems’ architecture. The same applies with the internet and cellular networks. This takes us to the next question. Why do these technologies need distributed systems to function? A simple answer is that these systems comprise of components that interact with each other to achieve one goal. For example, to receive an email message on your phone or computer, you need the sender to use another computer or phone as well as a networked environment, not forgetting a cellular network.

So, what is a distributed system? There are many definitions depending on who is asked, but the “consensus” is that a distributed system consists of two particular categories of components. These are “nodes” and “message passing” components. Nodes represent separate machines or processes in the system. In the real world, this could imply distances between the components such as computers in different geographical locations.


The second category, the message passing components represent channels for information or data to move between nodes. This for a fact establishes a network.

The primary purpose is to demonstrate that information can travel between machines whether physically connected directly or not. This does not stop them from working together.

Why Distributed Systems Matter

A single system provides one central point of failure, which ultimately shuts down the whole system. Not a distributed system. A distributed system creates a more reliable system such that, should one node fail due to stress, corruption, or crashing, the entire system will be sustained by other nodes. A full proof system guarantees sustainability to a highest degree. To achieve this, a distributed system needs protocols that will withstand failure. For example, if the cellular network is down, you can still send an email from a desktop computer and vice versa.

This explains why a distributed system matters in comparison to a single system. Two major properties of distributed systems are concurrency and the absence of a global clock. These properties ensure that the distributed system functions with great accuracy and predictability.

A highly fault tolerance distributed system

All these properties of distributed systems come straight from understanding the role of nodes and edges in the system. It creates a full backup system with excellent protocols that operate in unison to achieve one perfect goal.

It is on such an architectural framework that Blockchain is designed.

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