Linux Foundation to develop collaboration tool for building blockchain business networks

The open-source project would enable smart contracts to be developed for any number of industries

The Linux Foundation announced a new software project under its Hyperledger open consortium aimed at creating a collaboration tool for building blockchain business networks -- or smart contracts -- and their deployment across a distributed ledger.

The new project, called Hyperleder Composer, is a modeling language based on JavaScript and with REST API support, that allows non-developers and developers to model their business network. The language also supports modeling of relationships and data validation rules.

For example, all blockchain business networks share certain elements, such as assets, participants, identities, transactions, and registries. With existing blockchain or distributed ledger technologies, it can be difficult for organizations to take a blockchain business use case and map the concepts into running code.

Similar to public relational databases, blockchain is a public electronic ledger that can be openly shared among disparate users and that creates an unchangeable record of their transactions, each one time-stamped and linked to the previous one.

Blockchain ledgers can only be updated by consensus between participants in the system, and when new data is entered, it can never be erased. The blockchain contains a true and verifiable record of each and every transaction ever made in the system.

One of the most popular uses of blockchain is for "smart contracts," which allow electronic transactions to self-execute based on preset terms and conditions.

Hyperledger, is a global, open source collaborative effort hosted by the Linux Foundation to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies.

All work done on Composer to date has been done on top of Hyperledger Fabric, a platform for developing applications atop the blockchain distributed ledger.

Composer, however, has been designed so that it can be ported to run on other distributed ledger technologies, such as Hyperledger Iroha, a way to incorporate the blockchain distributed ledger into business infrastructure projects, or Hyperledger Sawtooth, a modular blockchain suite.

Last year, Intel proposed its version of code for Sawtooth called "Sawtooth Lake," a modular platform for building, deploying and running distributed ledgers, which it submitted to the Hyperledger blockchain project.

Another current project under Hyperledger is Burrow, a smart contract system built in part to the Ethereum Virtual Machine specification - a block application platform.

Hyperledger Composer will offer developers a way to build smart contracts for multiple industries by sharing the components of Iroha, Sawtooth, Burrow or Fabric, according to Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf.

For example, the blockchain ledger could enable automated contracts between insurance companies and beneficiaries, Behlendorf said. In such a blockchain smart contract, an insurance company could agree to pay a farmer if drought conditions persist during a season for a set period of time.

The contract's blockchain-based software script would then run across multiple server nodes to determine when a drought condition has been met and payment to the beneficiary is in order.

"It's a way to automate a lot of potential business processes," Behlendorft said.

Another example of a blockchain-enabled smart contract is the electronic documentation or bill of materials for shipping containers as they travel the world on seagoing vessels and railways. The current paper-based system involved in tracking shipments can account for up to half the cost of transport, according to Behlendorft.

IBM, blockchain, Maersk Maersk

Ninety percent of goods in global trade are carried by the ocean shipping industry each year. A new blockchain solution from IBM and Maersk will help manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers across the world by digitizing the supply chain process.

"So if you can automate a lot of the documentation processes, you have a chance of cutting many of these costs, which the shipping industry is desperate for," Behlendorft said.

For example, IBM and Maersk, the world's largest container shipping operator, recently announced they are piloting a blockchain-based, electronic distributed ledger using Hyperledger Fabric.

Smart contracts could also be used to automate the tracking of electronic healthcare records, so that healthcare providers could confirm patient consent each time they want to share the sensitive information between organizations.

"There are different implementations of different smart contract systems in each of these four frameworks, but there's the potential [with Composer] to weave these together," Behnlendorft said.

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