What is a dApp?

Beginner Apr 29, 2021

Key Takeaways:
— Decentralized applications (or Dapps) are blockchain-based alternatives to regular apps.
— They’re secure, transparent, and resistant to censorship, but they are still very much a developing technology. 
— There are now well over 3,500 Dapps, many of which provide similar functionality to the apps we know and love today.

We all use applications. Whether it’s Facebook, Uber, Firefox, Spotify, or something else, apps have weaved their way into practically every facet of our lives. 

Regardless if it’s a web, desktop, or mobile app, they all tend to work in roughly the same way. You download and install it, register for an account, and away you go. 

But a revolution is underway and a new, potentially disruptive class of application- is beginning to emerge…

The decentralized application!

But before we get into what decentralized applications or ‘Dapps’ are and how they affect you, let’s first take a look at the old-school regular type of app we’re all used to dealing with.

The Problem With Normal Apps

Right now, odds are you use at least a dozen apps on a weekly basis. Ranging from ordering food, picking up a taxi, arranging a meeting, and booking your next Zumba class, apps are used for much of what we do and are now an integral part of our daily experience.

Apps make getting things done a lot easier, and most popular apps are incredibly easy to use. After all, many of the most popular apps today have been iterated over several years at the cost of millions of dollars. 

But despite the utility and benefit that many of these apps provide, there is a heap of downsides that can make them less desirable than they first seem. After all, they are generally owned and operated by corporations that might not necessarily have your best interests in mind.

Data Misuse

Chief among these is the potential for data harvesting and misuse, since apps sometimes collect more personal data than we’d actually be comfortable with sharing if we actually knew.

This data can be sold to third parties without our knowledge, and can even be leaked if the app is hacked. 

Not ideal.

Vendor Lock-in

There’s also the problem of vendor lock-in. If you’ve ever tried to stop using an app or service, only to find that doing so would be incredibly impractical or expensive, then you know the annoyance of vendor lock-ins. 

It can be a frustrating experience to be essentially forced to use an app you’re not happy with, simply because you’ve been stuck with a contract or they make it extraordinarily challenging to migrate your settings/data etc to another app.

Censorship

Other users experience the exact opposite problem… they’re simply not allowed to use the apps they want, due to local restrictions, censorship, and monopolies.

This is particularly obvious on social media since many social media companies have an agenda or beckon to the whims of local regulators and governments to restrict what users are allowed to post. 

Some countries have even taken it a step further, and banned social media outright!

Imagine never being able to access crypto Twitter again!? We can barely stand the thought!

There’s An Alternative

We know what you’re thinking… “If only there were an alternative!”

Well, as it turns out, there usually is. Here’s where it’s time to get to grips with their decentralized counterparts—known simply as decentralized applications (or Dapps)!

These are essentially applications that are connected to a blockchain (like Ethereum or Binance Smart Chain) via smart contracts—which are just LEGO-like chunks of code used for automatically carrying out functions, like sending a payment, using an in-game item, or placing a bid.  

Just like any regular app, Dapps have a user interface that you interact with. This is where you essentially tell the app what to do by selecting options, entering info, clicking buttons etc. 

But here’s where the magic happens. Whatever you do through the Dapp is communicated back to its underlying blockchain through smart contracts. This gives Dapps a number of unique properties that give them powerful capabilities.

They’re Decentralized

Ever tried to find your favorite app, only to find out it has been blocked in your region or taken down? This is known as censorship, and it’s a major problem in many countries.  

Dapps, on the other hand, run on a decentralized blockchain network—which could be hosted by thousands or potentially even millions of nodes (or computers), each of which holds a backup of the Dapp. They’re not controlled by a single entity!

This makes them pretty much impossible to block—while also ensuring they’re accessible 24/7… no matter what. Making them perfect for crucial applications like health and personal finance apps.

For most blockchains, practically anybody can launch a node to add another backup of the Dapp, and there are usually rewards in place for those that do—such as staking rewards.

Beyond this, some Dapps are also directly centered around community governance, giving the users a say in how it grows and develops. This usually requires holding the Dapps’ governance tokens, which give users voting rights. 

Open Source

Unlike most consumer apps of today, the code for many Dapps is open source. This means anybody with the skill or desire can look into its inner workings to check that there are no hidden nasties.

This makes it easy to know exactly what an app does, what data it uses, what permissions it needs etc—which often isn’t the case with regular apps. 

This also means if a Dapp isn’t quite up to scratch, the community can easily duplicate and launch an alternative version of it (known as a fork)—providing a strong incentive for developers to play fair… or risk getting forked!

Trustless

Normally when completing a trade or deal, a contract is needed to ensure your counterparty holds up to their end of the deal—that is, unless you really trust them.

With Dapps, this trust is no longer part of the equation—they’re essentially trustless; since they use smart contracts to automatically carry out whatever agreements you and the other users make. 

Decentralized exchanges probably demonstrate this best, since they allow you to swap one cryptocurrency for another, without needing to trust that you’ll get what you paid for. 

That said, you do need to trust that the Dapp itself is safe. Which isn’t always easy.

…and Transparent

Being based on the blockchain, there is a permanent record of the Dapp, its history of changes, and everything it does. 

This means if there’s an error, it is quite easy to pinpoint exactly when it occurred, who it affected, and often how the error came about; e.g. if it was the result of the developer’s error, an exploit, or something else. 

This makes them super transparent, while also providing an incentive for developers to work in the best interests of you and the other users.

What are Dapps used for?

In the last few years, Dapps have been picking up serious momentum and there are now literally thousands available that cover a massive array of niches and industries.

Nowadays, you can now find a Dapp alternative for many regular apps! And while there isn’t quite as much variety to choose from as you might be accustomed to, you can generally find something that interests you.

Some of the most popular uses for Dapps currently include:

Trading: Dapps like Uniswap and Aave allow users to trade their cryptocurrencies safely and anonymously. 

Social Media: Social media has also gotten the Dapp treatment! Including Steemit—a popular social blogging platform.

Gaming: There is a huge range of Dapp-based games, including AnRKey X, Blockchain Cuties, and My Neighbor Alice

Entertainment: The Dapp industry also has its own YouTube equivalent, known as DTube; a blockchain-powered video sharing platform. 

Unlike regular apps, which usually need to be downloaded and installed before they can be used (unless it’s a web app), Dapps are generally accessed via a Dapp browser (like MetaMask or Brave Browser) and don’t need to be installed.

Will Dapps Replace Apps?

Although decentralized applications have long been considered one of the holy grails of blockchain technology, the truth is, they’re still largely experimental and they’ve still got some growing pains to deal with before they can be considered real app-killers. 

Odds are, it’ll still be a few years until you’ve got a Dapp that achieves the same level of success as something like WhatsApp or Instagram. 

And there’s a few main reasons behind this.

For one, they’re often not the most intuitive to use. Many (but not all) Dapps still suffer from somewhat of a user experience issue, since they aren’t built with the same budgets as many regular apps. 

They generally also require you to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about cryptocurrencies, which can be a major barrier to entry—after all, just 1% of the world population uses or holds cryptocurrencies

But perhaps most importantly, there is a general lack of awareness about what Dapps are and the benefits they provide to users. This is a bummer, since there are many genuinely promising Dapps out there.

Nonetheless, major strides are being made and Dapps are gradually becoming better recognized, more powerful, and more widespread. But there’s still a lot of work to be done, and Dapp users of today can still be counted among the earliest adopters of the technology. 

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