What is Infura?

Jul 15, 2022
Read 5 min

Key Takeaways:
— Ethereum is the world’s most popular blockchain, used by the vast majority of developers wanting to launch their blockchain-based applications for global use.

— But in order to connect their dApps with the Ethereum blockchain, developers need to run a node, and this is difficult and expensive.

— Infura is a node provider, and allows developers to “plug in” to the Ethereum blockchain via nodes managed by Infura itself, saving devs time, money and work.

— This enabled the system to flourish – but also comes with some serious implications for the nature of the system as a whole. Here, we ask “What is Infura”, and examine its implications for Web3.

Have you ever stopped to ask what’s behind Web3? You should, it’s important! Here, we ask “what is Infura”, and give you some vital insights into the current state of Web3 – and where its future lies.

The defining feature of Web3 is decentralization. In a system where no central entity has the power to impact the system, users like you and me are back in the driving seat – with more control over our data, our access and our freedom of expression.

Web3 achieves this by building its ecosystem on blockchain – a network in which control is completely decentralized. It is impossible to shut down, manipulate or censor a blockchain network, and this resilience provides the foundation for thousands of decentralized applications you might already be using: DeFi, NFT marketplaces and browser extensions are all great examples.

With all of these built on blockchain, Web3 should be a perfectly functioning ecosystem of “always on” dApps – right?

Decentralized Apps, Centralized System

Well, not exactly. Even in our decentralized, Web3 utopia, we still rely on more than just blockchain bring dApps to life. We’re talking about Infura, of course.

In this article, we take a closer look at the North Star of Web3. What is Infura, why is it so vital to the Ethereum ecosystem and how does this impact Web3’s core mission and future?

Here we go!

First things first: what is Infura?

Blockchain, in pure form, is a system that allows value to move around, and this has near infinite utility. But for the sort of transactions most of us are making, we needed something more sophisticated than simply sending and receiving – we needed to be able to add conditions to that transaction. In 2015, Ethereum answered that call by bringing its smart contracts to the world – self-executing agreements that can be applied to blockchain transactions, making Ethereum a blockchain that could be programmed for any use case involving value.

With the Ethereum blockchain now able to transfer value, and support complicated interactions via its smart contracts, the network became the bedrock of the blossoming Web3 space: the blockchain could be used by developers looking to build their applications on its ledger infrastructure, and an entire ecosystem of DeFi, utility platforms and NFT exchanges quickly sprung up in Ethereum’s orbit.

But despite its utility, building on the Ethereum blockchain could be complicated for developers: interacting with its smart contracts means running a special node (piece of software), and this can be costly, time consuming and difficult to maintain. 

Infura’s Nodes-as-a-Service

The solution? Why not just outsource this part, leaving the devs to focus on their project – and pay someone else to deal with the node? That’s exactly what Infura does. 

Infura is designed to make a dev’s life easier. Now, instead of building and maintaining their own node in order to launch their app on Ethereum, developers could simply enlist Infura’s “nodes-as-a-service” to get the job done separately. This had some key advantages for the developing Web3 universe.

Fostered Innovation for Web3 Developers

With the complex matter of nodes taken care of, Infura fostered innovation from developers, who could now easily tap into the utility of Ethereum to bring their own projects to the Web3 market. 

Enabled Diversity for Users

And this didn’t just benefit developers, but also the users of Web3: with the launching process now streamlined, a diverse array of decentralized applications could be brought to the space, giving users vast options and choices.

Supercharged the Ethereum Ecosystem

And finally – beyond the benefits to the human beings of Web3, Infura helped to ignite the system itself. It made projects scalable, which in turn caused the entire system to expand and develop at a rate not seen in any other space. The sheer pace of this development is one of the things that made web3 so remarkable, and Infura had a part to play in all of it.

Problems with Infura: A Return to Centralization?

All this sounds great, right? But it comes at a price. Let’s loop back to what we said at the beginning.

Decentralization is the main tenet of Web3: any platform or system that relies on one central entity creates a huge power imbalance, where that one entity can act as an “off switch” for the entire system. And with so many dApps relying in Infura as their node provider, problems with Infura mean problems for the entire system. 

Outages

This can easily be seen even in some recent examples, where Infura outages resulted in huge parts of the Ethereum dApps ecosystem going down at the same time. 

A number of platforms like Binance and MetaMask (yep, big names in the industry!) even had to suspend functions that used Ethereum or Ethereum-based tokens – meaning your control of your crypto was limited if you were using either of those platforms as a wallet.

Censorship

As a centralized service, Infura can also be tracked by governments or third parties and operations can be censored. This goes against the core of the decentralized space and eradicates the main thing that makes Web3 unique. 

In short, while Infura addressed a key pain point for Web3 developers by providing nodes as a service, it also inadvertently became a central point of failure for the ecosystem, even if the apps themselves were decentralized. 

The Future of Web3 Infrastructure

If Web3 is to be fully decentralized in future, the next step will be some serious thought about how to make the system more resilient and autonomous, and less prone to single points of failure.

This could mean each project running its own Ehereum node, for example. For this to become a reality, future infrastructure would need make the process of setting up a node faster, easier and cheaper for developers, without resorting to a centralized service provider. 

Knowledge is Power

Wherever the future holds, Infura has been hugely important for the blockchain space, and a vital stepping stone for the coming generation of the internet. As the system continues to develop and evolve, the best possible move for users like us is to arm ourselves with deep knowledge of exactly how it works – that means looking beyond the platforms and services, and right into the foundations of the system as a whole, were the story is often less clear.

So trust yourself and use this time to keep on learning – Web3 is taking shape fast, and Ledger Academy is here to make sure you stay on top of it!

Knowledge is power


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