Cryptocurrencies are dominating the financial news cycles every day. Blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency, is also in the spotlight. The rise of blockchain is being compared to the rise of the internet. Besides the financial and banking industry, people are trying blockchain in healthcare, manufacturing, insurance, government, law and more. Businesses are experimenting with blockchain-based smart contracts. And various industries are adopting it at rapid speed.
The fast growth of blockchain is also bringing a set of challenges. Cybercriminals and hackers have started to attack the systems. In 2016, a crowd-sourced and Ethereum-based venture capital platform DOA lost $60 million worth of funds due to a cyber hack. Also, multiple cryptocurrency exchanges have been attacked in the past few years. And the proliferation of blockchain-based software in every industry means there will be more opportunities for exploitation. So blockchain developers are looking for better methods to produce higher quality software.
Challenges of Blockchain Software Development
Blockchain provides a data structure that is distributed across the network for data redundancy. Each transaction is put into a block and then added to the main chain using cryptography. The blockchain is immutable because if anyone changes even a simple bit in any of the blocks, it throws off the calculation for the entire chain. So users can easily detect any attempt at manipulating the recorded information. The blockchain replicas are distributed throughout the network. So if any chain is corrupted, users can discard it and replace it with an untampered copy.
Software developers are responsible for creating the software to support the blockchain transactions and validations across the network. Here are some of the challenges that the blockchain development community is facing:
Lack of Professional Role Definition
As well as programming skills, smart contracts require industry-specific knowledge of finance, law, healthcare or government. So the line between technology skills and industry-specific knowledge is getting blurred. Businesses and companies will have to define the boundaries of professional roles more clearly, so software engineers can understand their place in the development of blockchain and smart contract related solutions.
Security and Reliability
Blockchain applications are dealing with sensitive data. So the software development process needs to ensure data integrity and security. The systems have to be reliable for fast and trustworthy transactions. It might require institutions to reevaluate their software development methodologies and align their agile or lean methods to meet the requirements. For more security, they might have to use cleanroom methods to improve reliability.
Desktop, web and mobile applications have gone through iterations to develop specific design patterns and architectures. The blockchain is new. So the patterns are not as well-defined. The software community has to come together to develop and share solutions to improve the quality of architectures for blockchain applications.
Lack of Modeling Tools and Metrics
UML-based Use Case Diagram, Activity Diagram, and State Diagram were designed for general software development. Tools like these need to be updated to better represent blockchain-based systems. Also, most metrics are not good at capturing the distributed nature of blockchain software. The development community needs to create better ways to measure the performance of these systems.
Current State of Blockchain Development
At this early stage, one of the most discussed topics in blockchain software implementation seems to be the use of programming language. According to a University of Cagliari data analysis of GitHub repositories, the following are the top 5 languages used in blockchain development:
Python language is easy-to-use due to its dynamically typed nature. It makes it attractive for blockchain development.
Go is a relatively new and emerging as a popular language. Blockchain developers have been using it for various clients.
The Bitcoin blockchain is implemented in C++. It’s a classic and well-established language. The blockchain community trusts it to provide high-performance.
Ruby is popular as the language behind Ruby on Rails server-side web application framework. Developers from the Ruby community is using it for various open-source projects.
Also, Solidity is gaining momentum as the language for smart contracts. It was created by the Ethereum core developers.
Areas of Possible Improvements
In order to improve the software development process for blockchain applications, the community can concentrate on the following areas:
The security and reliability of the applications will determine their success. It’s important to develop testing methods that can cover the distributed nature of blockchain applications.
Software development tools like IDEs and sandboxes need to evolve to support blockchain and smart contract systems.
Training for Talent
The IT industry in general faces shortages of talent. But blockchain requires a new set of skills. Universities and educational institutes need to start training programmers and software developers in blockchain technology to support the growth in demand.
Go, Python and Ruby are gaining popularity in the blockchain arena. The development of testing and debugging suites specific to blockchain will help the community produce better software.
Most blockchain projects are being developed as open-source. To make these efforts sustainable the development community needs to come up with better ways to ensure the quality of the software.
Blockchain Development Models
Blockchain software development requires speed and flexibility, especially if teams are dealing with external or open-source systems. So the waterfall model with long development cycle is bound to fail. Over the last few years, businesses have adopted agile or lean development. The fast-paced sprints and release cycles of these models will allow blockchain projects to be flexible and change direction when necessary. Also, depending on the requirements of the industry, teams might need a cleanroom approach to produce certifiable levels of reliability for blockchain products.
Blockchain-based application development requires an understanding of the underlying challenges and modifying the current tools and methods to provide better solutions. The blockchain market is changing rapidly. So development teams need to update their skills and concentrate on the areas that will give them the most return on investment for their industry.
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