CommonLounge Archive

Proof of Work

October 31, 2017

Generating a Seal (aka Proof-of-Work)

We’ll use this magic machine to generate a seal for our page. Like always, we’ll start with an imaginary situation.

Imagine you’re given two boxes. The first box contains the number 20893. I, then, ask you, “Can you figure out a number that when added to the number in the first box and fed to the machine will give us a word that starts with three leading zeroes?”

This is a similar situation as we saw previously and we have learned that the only way to calculate such a number is by trying every number available in the entire universe.

After several thousand attempts, we’ll stumble upon a number, say 21191, which when added to 20893 (i.e. 21191 + 20893 = 42084) and fed to the machine, will yield a word that satisfies our requirements.

In such a case, this number, 21191 becomes the seal for the number 20893. Assume there is a page that bears the number 20893 written on it. To seal that page (i.e. no one can change the contents of it), we will put a badge labeled ‘21191’ on top of it. As soon as the sealing number (i.e. 21191) is stuck on the page, the page is sealed.

The sealed number

[Jargon Box] The sealing number is called ‘Proof Of Work,’ meaning that this number is the proof that efforts had been made to calculate it. We are good with calling it ‘sealing number’ for our purposes.

If anyone wants to verify whether the page was altered, all he would have to do is — add the contents of the page with the sealing number and feed to the magic machine. If the machine gives out a word with three leading zeroes, the contents were untouched. If the word that comes out doesn’t meet our requirements, we can throw away the page because its contents were compromised, and are of no use.

We’ll use a similar sealing mechanism to seal all our pages and eventually arrange them in our respective folders.

Finally, sealing our page…

To seal our page that contains the transactions of the network, we’ll need to figure out a number that when appended to the list of transactions and fed to the machine, we get a word that starts with three leading zeroes on the right.

Note: We have been using the phrase ‘word starting with three leading zeroes’ only as an example. It illustrates how Hashing Functions work. The real challenges are much more complicated than this.

Once that number is calculated after spending time and electricity on the machine, the page is sealed with that number. If ever, someone tries to change the contents of the page, the sealing number will allow anyone to verify the integrity of the page.

Now that we know about sealing the page, we will go back to the time when we had finished writing the tenth transaction on the page, and we ran out of space to write more.

As soon as everyone runs out of the page to write further transactions, they indulge in calculating the sealing number for the page so that it can be tucked away in the folder. Everyone in the network does the calculation. The first one in the network to figure out the sealing number announces it to everyone else.

Immediately on hearing the sealing number, everyone verifies if it yields the required output or not. If it does, everyone labels their pages with this number and put it away in their folders.

But what if for someone, say #7, the sealing number that was announced doesn’t yield the required output? Such cases are not unusual. The possible reasons for this could be:

  • He might have misheard the transactions that were announced in the network
  • He might have miswritten the transactions that were announced in the network
  • He might have tried to cheat or be dishonest when writing transactions, either to favor himself or someone else in the network

No matter what the reason is, #7 has only one choice — to discard his page and copy it from someone else so that he too can put it in the folder. Unless he doesn’t put his page in the folder, he cannot continue writing further transactions, thus, forbidding him to be part of the network.

Whatever sealing number the majority agrees upon, becomes the honest sealing number.

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