May 21, 2019
By Sam Curren, Sovrin Agent Architect
One of the clear highlights of Consensus 2019 for the decentralized identity community was when Brian Behlendorf took the stage and announced Hyperledger Aries, the newest project to be accepted into Hyperledger under the Linux Foundation. Sovrin Foundation led the charge for Aries to be added to Hyperledger.
Aries is meant to foster identity interoperability with any ledger using any wallet. Aries is a shared infrastructure of tools that enables the exchange of blockchain-based data, supports peer-to-peer messaging in various scenarios, and facilitates interoperable interaction between different blockchains and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs). Simply put, developers can pick up the tools and libraries in Aries and make their own digital identity wallets and configure them to operate on any networks they please. This is a major milestone for the Sovrin Foundation and our mission of Identity for All. This means interoperable, open source digital identity for multiple uses on multiple networks.
At #Consensus2019 #Construct, @Hyperledger ED @brianbehlendorf announces #HyperledgerAries joins #HyperledgerUrsa as the newest HL project. Aries will standardize crypto wallets and off-ledger interactions such as secure messaging & credential exchange for #selfsovereignidentity pic.twitter.com/ia62HmReaS
— Drummond Reed (@drummondreed) May 14, 2019
Although much of the media coverage of this exciting announcement was positive, some press outlets attempted to turn the story into a competition between Aries and Microsoft’s recently announced Ion, announced the same day. In doing so, these authors revealed how little they understood about the Aries project (or Ion). Aries provides secure communication and interactions independent of but anchored to any number of DID method providers, including Microsoft’s Ion.
These news outlets also mistakenly identified the launch as something done by IBM. IBM is one of Sovrin’s Founding Stewards and also part of the Hyperledger Indy community. Among several projects supporting verifiable credential exchange they were recently seen at Consensus giving technical previews of a new project that aims to help bootstrap developers looking to develop their own products. But this misrepresentation of IBM as somehow taking the lead in the development of Aries reveals a fundamental misunderstanding that anything related to Hyperledger is the work of a single organization, rather than the work of the vibrant and diverse community that ultimately drives project development.
If anything, one would only need to attend a single Hyperledger Aries, Indy, or Ursa weekly community call to see the primary sponsor of both Hyperledger Aries and Hyperledger Indy (the project where Aries was incubated) is in fact the Sovrin Foundation. Our small nonprofit is dedicated to a mission of creating a global public utility for identity on the internet. The number of companies and organizations that have contributed significant effort to the Aries, Indy, and Ursa projects further clarifies their existence as a community project, not one that can be attributed to any single company.
When the Sovrin Foundation first contributed the code for Indy to Hyperledger, it was the first identity focused project within the organization. Hyperledger already contained Sawtooth, Iroha, and Fabric (contributed originally by IBM) as ledger projects. None of these existing projects support identity at the core, and the Hyperledger community has been very welcoming of the identity strengths of the Indy ledger project and concepts.
One of the architectural components of Indy is called an Agent. This is software that acts on behalf of an identity owner to communicate off-ledger with other Agents. As Agent work continued with the development of message encryption standards, extensible message typing, and common protocols, interest grew in applying these concepts and practices to systems based on other ledgers. It became clear that the right future for Agent work was to extract it from Indy project and add support for other ledger technologies to make that integration easier and more powerful. That work is now known as Hyperledger Aries.
In addition to being able to support more ledger technologies than just Indy, Aries can work with multiple ledgers at the same time. This allows Agents to use each ledger according to the unique power offered by each, instead of requiring anchoring to only one ledger. In the future, Agents will be able to integrate not only with the recently announced Ion DID method, but also Ethereum, Hyperledger Sawtooth, Bitcoin, Hyperledger Fabric, and others.
Each of these ledgers offer valuable mechanisms for trusted transactions, cryptographic credentials and proofs, smart contracts, payment, and DID methods. Microsoft Ion is itself a DID method that combines IPFS with Bitcoin anchoring. Aries exists on an architectural layer above these layers, enabling powerful forms of communication anchored to these underlying ledger technologies that has the possibility to change the nature of how the internet as a whole handles identity.
If the Aries project is interesting to you, we invite you to get involved. There are many ways you can contribute and many ways that your own projects and efforts can be improved by integrating technology from the Aries project.
If you’re interested in learning more about Aries, Indy, or Ursa, consider visiting https://wiki.hyperledger.org/display/HYP/Hyperledger+Aries+Proposal or #Aries on Hyperledger chat at https://chat.hyperledger.org/channel/aries Hyperledger welcomes interest from all groups and organizations, including enterprises and standards organizations.« Event recap: Internet Identity Workshop never disappoints Announcing the new Sovrin Governance Framework blog series »