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Year Two In Handshake
Handshake is the root of a New Internet.
It is a blockchain-based namespace securing, extending, and decentralizing the internet’s root zone.
“Without a decentralized namespace widely readable by humans and resolvable by machines, it is impossible for the decentralized world to be widely adopted by users.”
Piece-by-piece, a decentralized world is forming. Because Handshake is an open and global root namespace, many decentralized communities have found reason to build on it:
Sia nameservers use Handshake
Akash backends use Handshake
Sentinel VPN routers use Handshake
Ethereum registrars use Handshake
Any smart contract platform can use Handshake
The first block was mined on February 3rd, 2020. In two years, the Handshake ecosystem has grown in size, scope, and reach. 6,482 open source developers have claimed airdrops, some of which have become highly engaged contributors. Impervious is a development studio building software for Handshake. HNSOSS is an open source software group building Handshake products. HNS Fund and the dWeb Foundation are community-run organizations supporting Handshake development. Traditional registrars, like Namecheap, and browsers, like Opera, are integrating Handshake, too. All of this comes with no CEO, central foundation, other central coordination or source of funding.
Organic adoption takes time, but Handshake’s second year was marked with developments laying the groundwork for a truly decentralized ecosystem.
In our view, the most significant developments in Handshake this year were:
Accessibility — New resolvers, browsers, and integrations make accessing Handshake domains easier than ever.
Core Infrastructure — Client and wallet tooling saw new development and upgrades to secure, decentralize, and scale the network.
Registrars — Handshake-native registrars go live as traditional registrars adopt Handshake.
Developer Community — A growing developer community explores atomic name swaps, cross-chain compatibility, decentralized search, and more.
First, let’s take a look at Handshake’s growth.
Handshake is a Proof of Work blockchain. Handshake’s mining ecosystem is maturing and its hashrate has grown steadily this year, reaching new highs of 15 PH/s in January 2022.
Names are registered through on chain auctions. As Handshake turns two, auction volume is near all time highs and nearly 3 million names have been registered to date.
The Alexa Top 100,000 names are reserved on Handshake for those sites, of which 1,010 (1%) have been claimed to date, including: Brave (.brave), Namecheap (.namecheap), ENS (.eth), and WebTorrent (.webtorrent).
Primary markets operate through on-chain Vickrey auctions, with the winning amount burned from circulation. This burn mechanism serves as a deflationary pressure on token supply. To date, 𝙃 24.8M has been burned in name auctions.
While registered names continue to be traded in secondary markets, there are two catalysts for increased rates of name auctions and burns. First, names must be renewed every two years and the first set of unrenewed names will come up for auction again starting this February. Second, pending any further community discussion regarding extending name reservations, unclaimed reserved Alexa Top 100,000 names are set to expire and release for auction in another two years.
Namebase Marketplace Total Volume: 21M HNS
The Namebase Marketplace accounts for most all secondary market trading to date. Secondary volume is encroaching on primary volume as Handshake garners greater utility and the market reprices existing top-level domains.
ShakeDex Total Volume: 27k HNS
ShakeDex is a much smaller, non-custodial venue for trading Handshake names. Just as decentralized exchanges have swallowed liquidity on Ethereum and other smart contract platforms, we suspect with UX improvements that permissionless trading will gain greater market share over time.
HNSD is a Handshake resolver and light client that syncs the blockchain in seconds. It does so by downloading and verifying proof of work in block headers only, then requesting name proofs from full nodes. Secure and lightweight, HNSD has been integrated into various resolvers, browsers, and applications this year.
↳ Fingertip Resolver
This year, the Impervious development team released Fingertip — an open source Handshake resolver app built with HNSD. Fingertip resolves Handshake names seamlessly from your desktop menubar. It’s powerful, yet minimal and out-of-the-way.
Fingertip uses DANE for browsing the web securely without Certificate Authorities. Additionally, it supports the Ethereum Name Service (using DNS records via EIP-1185).
↳ Beacon Browser
Beacon, the other major app release from the Impervious team this year, is an iOS browser natively supporting Handshake domain resolution. Thanks to Handshake’s data structure called an Urkel tree, proofs are small and verify fast. With a light client in the mobile app, the blockchain syncs quickly and you’re ready to resolve Handshake domains in seconds.
Like Fingertip, Beacon uses DANE — the first browser we know of to do so. A fork of Firefox with an in-browser light client, Beacon is a step forward for Handshake accessibility today while serving as a reference for browser adoption in the future.
↳ Third party browser integrations
Puma Browser is an upstart, privacy centric Web3 browser with several crypto integrations and the first third-party browser to support Handshake. Puma adoption came early, using a DNS gateway.
Opera Browser, a global browser with 350M+ users, announced plans to integrate Handshake in the first half of 2022. This comes in the context of a larger crypto initiative including a native Opera wallet.
Brave Browser has been highly aware of the Handshake community, having claimed their name (.brave) in April 2021. A dialogue has begun around items necessary for Brave to support a Handshake integration.
Zooming out, most important is how Handshake browser integrations happen. Handshake offers security without authority. To extend the chain’s trust minimization into browsers and not introduce new areas of trust, we should opt for light clients over gateways and DANE over Certificate Authorities.
(2) Core Infrastructure
HSD is the first Handshake full node written in Node.js. HSD V3 was released in October with several new features including faster sync times, changes in the block storage system, and compatibility with legacy DNS software.
↳ Mako, and alternative client implementations
Client diversity helps protect against bugs in a specific client, but also as a check against governance being captured by a set of core developers.
Christopher “JJ” Jeffrey, Handshake creator, built a from-scratch reimplementation of a bitcoin full node in C. This reimplementation, mako, is intended to serve as the foundation for the next Handshake full node.
Why C? Per JJ, “Because it is C, all data structures and primitives are written by hand and are not subject to any particular platform’s implementation of them. On top of that, mako makes very sparing use of the C standard library. This makes mako more auditable than a bitcoin implementation written in C++, JS, Rust, Go, etc.”
↳ Bob Wallet
Bob Wallet is a non-custodial Handshake desktop wallet with an integrated full node built by Kyokan. This year, Kyokan shipped several key features including Ledger support, a name claim wizard for claiming airdropped names, and SPV mode.
Bob also introduced a chrome extension. Bob Extension comes with a built-in Handshake resolver. Additionally, it uses a Bob3 object for websites to interact with your wallet, to bid in name auctions on BlockExplorer.com for example.
HIP-5 is a Handshake Improvement Proposal from the beginning of this year for alternative namespace resolution. There may be various reasons to resolve a name on an alternative namespace other than a domain name or name server hosted on an IP address. One example is decentralized subdomains: Forever Domains uses Handover, an implementation of HIP-5, for resolving HNS names on Ethereum.
Several other projects are building around HIP-5 including Sia, XNHNS, and Hyperzone.
A more open, transparent, and secure root zone leads to downstream structural changes for domain registrars. This year, we’ve seen Handshake-native registrars launch while traditional registrars made moves into the ecosystem.
Namecheap is the second largest domain registrar globally. Today, you can purchase Handshake domains on Namecheap.
The timeline for Namecheap’s involvement in Handshake begins in 2020, claiming their reserved top-level domain (.namecheap) and token allocation (𝙃 2.7M). In April 2021, Namecheap acquired the Handshake TLD .p for 𝙃 375,000. In August 2021, Namecheap started selling domain names beneath .p and other select Handshake top-level domains.
↳ Forever Domains
Forever Domains, a registry for the Handshake top-level domain .forever is deployed on Ethereum via a fork of ENS. While ENS has paved the way for Ethereum-based registry, .forever experiments with new progressive on-chain features.
First, .forever is ownerless — with the keys to the top-level domain name burned. This means subdomains are fully trustless, but this also means that there is no owner to pay Handshake’s on-chain renewal fees. Forever is uniquely configured for anybody to pay the on-chain renewal fee on behalf of the TLD allowing the registrar to operate in perpetuity without any direct ownership or governance.
Second, there are no second-level renewal fees for .forever domains. Unique from ENS which does require yearly fees from name holders, .forever offers a one-time payment to own your domain forever.
On-chain registrars can continue to experiment in ways that push boundaries for domain management on Ethereum, which we will explore further in the XNHNS Cross-Network Handshake protocol overview.
Agaamin is an Indian based registrar using Hindu and Sanskrit character top-level domains, starting with .भ. One unique feature of Handshake is the ability to register unicode that renders as fully internationalized domains.
The release of internationalized top-level domains in ICANN did not occur until June 2012. Still, much ICANN adoption of internationalized domains happens not as top-level, but second-level domains. This mix of internationalized SLDs and latin TLDs is suboptimal.
With Agaamin, Indian internet users have an alternative.
Handshake provides a trustless, open, and globally consistent namespace for top-level domains. It is, however, un-opinionated on second-level domains. As a result, there remains a gap between Handshake and other blockchain-based naming systems that offer trustless SLDs. Hyperzone is an experimental protocol for offering trustless SLD auctions, registrations, and zone storage on Handshake.
Handshake attempts to not just disintermediate ICANN as the gatekeeper of the internet’s root zone, but disintermediate Certificate Authorities.
ACME is a tool to create self-signed certificates, to remove the need for your certificates to be signed by a trusted Certificate Authority. ACME can be used with DANE to secure Handshake websites.
SiteCheck is a related tool for checking the security configurations of Handshake domains.
ShakeDex offers atomic swaps for Handshake names. It serves as a venue to trade Handshake names without compromising on their sovereignty. ShakeDex makes use of Handshake’s covenant system in order to maintain trustlessness while listing and selling names.
XNHNS offers cross-network compatibility for Handshake names and other blockchains, starting with Polygon’s Matic. It uses HIP-5, Chainlink, and ENS to move your TLD around various blockchains and use them in smart contracts native to that host chain.
XNHNS enables on chain management of DNS records. This is useful for bringing trustless registrars and uncensorable DNS records to various smart contract platforms. It’s generalized approach can also offer persistent naming for a multi-chain world.
↳ HNS Search
HNS Search is a decentralized search engine being developed for indexing and crawling Handshake sites. The beta ran through December 2021. Its next evolution is a toolkit to help you create and host your own search engine locally or on a server. The resolver, crawler, indexer, and frontend will all be open sourced for use individually.
A few other developments from Handshake’s second year worth highlighting:
Handshake core developers began the PR review club and added two new maintainers to the HNSD light client
The dWeb Foundation funded Namelayer, a Handshake mobile wallet and name manager, among other initiatives
ICANN started paying attention, acknowledging Handshake in a blog post on alternative namespace
Additional decentralized protocols work to interoperate with the Handshake root
There’s much work to do. If you’d like to join the Handshake community in our efforts building towards a more secure and decentralized internet, find us online in Discord, Telegram, and the Developer Chat.