This week I decided to interview Khalahan Henkh: The Lead Developer of the Namecoin project. Namecoin is Bitcoin’s little brother. It’s a decentralized peer to peer currency and name database system. It basically allows you to register .bit domain names, Khalahan also describes some more features in our interview.
Namecoin has unfortunately been out of the news lately. Hopefully this interview will spark some more interest in the project. The internet as it exists today is threatened by the real world with its harmful legislation attempting to destroy freedom on the internet, during times like these, we need tools that enable uncensored discussion and freedom.
Jon: Thank you Khal for taking time out of your day to talk to me! I would also like to thank you for your work on the Namecoin project. So, first question, what is your background? What other projects have you worked on?
Khalahan: I’m a programmer who have mainly coded in C and vb in the past (softwares for the game T4C), PHP for more than ten years and most recently in Python. I’ve also worked on several open source projects as an occasional contributor sending some patches on softwares I like and use (like AlternC [a web hosting software for Debian], Bitcoin [the initial patch for signmessage and verifymessage for example] and Subtitle Editor)
I also manage the Namecoin website: http://namecoin.info
Jon: What led you to Namecoin?
Khalahan: I first discovered Bitcoin and immediately liked the project: a digital currency without central control and thought “wow, really impressive”. I read a lot about how it works to be sure it was a serious project and then I involved myself a bit in development. I like decentralized/p2p technologies and all that permits a community participation. This is the future of internet, and our governments will surely be shaken by that.
Then, Vinced launched Namecoin, and I followed him, because DNS is still something where you don’t have a full control. And we can see today, more and more domains are seized… and things are getting worse day by day. Plus, Namecoin is more than a safe DNS system, it also allows any type of data to be stored in the blockchain. It can be used to build all sort of trusted things on it, like an alias system for Bitcoin, Namecoin, Anycoin or a more global identity storage, a messenging system, a encrypted system to exchange data between addresses, etc. There is no limit.
Jon: What’s the current status of the Namecoin project?
Khalahan: The software is usable to store any type of data. The DNS system is already usable and used. Server admins can build their own DNS or proxy and share it with other people. The alias system has been implemented in Namecoin as a proof of work and can be implemented by others. You can now send money to an alias instead of an address. It still needs some documentation to explain how it works and how to add it in other softwares. There is still a lot to do and any help is appreciated (C++, python, documentation, translation, donations, anything!)
Jon: Do you think Namecoin will ever gain the amount of users Bitcoin has?
Khalahan: Namecoin has some technological barriers that Bitcoin does not have (it needs some modifications on computers configuration), but, once this is automatic, the barriers will disappear. I guess a DNS system will not interest as much people as a currency, but an alias system can be widely used and who know which other usages will be added. So, reaching current Bitcoin popularity seems feasible.
Jon: Are there any big features coming out soon?
Khalahan: Yes! A python software to expand namecoin features and to permit more flexibility is in development (it is in its first stage for now). Namecoin will capitalize on its unique abilities (storing data and ensuring control only by his owner) and this new software will provide services based on Namecoin (dns, proxy, alias and domain creation, etc). This will allow us to build new usages faster and to be used more easily by people.
Jon: What do you think is in Namecoin’s future?
Khalahan: A lot of services will be developed once some barriers are breached. My aim as a Namecoin developer is to allow people to easily build things based on Namecoin.
Jon: Is Khalahan Henkh your real name?
Khalahan: No, it’s a nickname. My real name is available on the whois of dot-bit.org for people interested.
Jon: Thank you for your time Khalahan!
## UPDATE ###
A redditor had some more questions for Khalahan, more below:
Jon: Do you think the lack of arbitration (unregulated name squatting) is a fair compromise for decentralization? It may stunt the growth of Namecoin as corporations would avoid adopting it if they couldn’t protect their trademarks.
Khalahan:Namecoin used as a DNS, for example, is not a darknet, so people building standard websites on it are not hidden in the blockchain. So, you can’t do whatever you want with no risk at all, but, at least, you really control the domain name, the top of the chain.
Khalahan: Lack of arbitration is the only way to assure a real decentralization. So, even if it’s not perfectly suited to all usages, this will greatly benefit to usages that don’t care about arbitration, and still benefit to other usages. Intellectual property/trademarks/patents had taken too much power, so, if Namecoin could balance all that, it’s a good thing.
Jon: What uses do you think Namecoin has an initial advantage on? I can imagine ad hoc name resolution may help.
Khalahan: Of course, domains that can’t be seized are interesting for a lot of people, but there also other areas where Namecoin can be useful: trust, identity, login, secured communication, etc. Things are not still defined on how all this will work, but Namecoin can be combined with existing softwares like GPG, user registration on internet (like the deprecated xup files) which would allow you to update your email address on all compatible websites your are registered on by just updating your email address in Namecoin.
Also, bitcoin and other chains could use alias instead of public coin addresses (see http://dot-bit.org/Namespace:Identity and https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/BIP_0015#Namecoin_ID)
Jon: Thoughts on botnets using Namecoin as a bootstrap?
Khalahan: This is an interesting use case that will be exploited in the namecoin python frontend i’m working on (ok, a derivative one).
For botnets, they could bootstrap namecoin with well know nodes, download the chain or only specific blocks to grab some ip and then ? Is there a real benefit for the zombie computer to use this instead of connecting to an IRC channel or else ? Updatable ip ? It may be less complex to get ip from hacked computers all over the world or to build a p2p botnet.
As each thing that provide power to its user, i can be used in a bad or good way (as knifes, secured communication softwares, etc).
Jon: What work is being done to investigate ways of storing and compressing the namecoin blockchain? Bitcoin’s developers are looking into exotic tree structures and so forth, how might these be applied to Namecoin and what technical challenges are there?
Khalahan: Namecoin community of developers is not big enough to spend time on this while we can (and should) all work on this in Bitcoin, because Namecoin share exactly the same problems as Bitcoin. Then, Namecoin will benefit from Bitcoin improvements.
The specific technical challenge for Namecoin is to allow it’s usage as a light node where you only want last 36’000 blocks, or even only the registered names still valid (not all tx from last 36k blocks) with still proof of work benefit. But this is not a required thing today.