HomeCoinsHelium (HNT)Helium State Channels. The People’s Network received a major… | by Dal...

Helium State Channels. The People’s Network received a major… | by Dal Gemmell | Oct, 2020

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A blockchain uses every node on the network to verify on chain transactions. This core capability secures ledger integrity, and attempts to establish trust in a trustless, decentralized system, but makes blockchains difficult to scale or quickly process transactions.

Millions of devices connecting in an asynchronous manner would make it practically impossible for the main Helium Blockchain to keep up with the volume of transactions.

Since state channels allow the majority of transactions to happen off chain, scalability, and transaction speed can be achieved while maintaining the security of the blockchain.

Layer 2 technologies, like state channels, allow processing of transactions to happen “off chain”, meaning they don’t need to be processed by the main blockchain (layer 1). Layer 2 technologies are built on top of the blockchain removing the need to make changes to the core protocol.

Since state channels allow the majority of transactions to happen off chain, scalability, and transaction speed can be achieved while maintaining the security of the blockchain.

The transactions that occur in state channels still need to follow similar integrity rules as transactions that occur on the main blockchain.

State channel participants need to sign and countersign transactions and keep complete copies of the state channel to verify the accuracy of the transactions. From that perspective you can think of state channels as mini blockchains.

However, after signing off, there’s no need to wait for confirmations from the main blockchain.

At any time, the latest agreed upon summary of the transactions among participants could be added back to the main blockchain and be considered valid.

To use an analogy, let’s say a worker and a manager (state channel participants) have a timesheet they use to document a worker’s hours. The worker records hours worked, signs, and shares with the manager who then signs off on the accuracy of the number of hours (transactions) before submitting to the accounting department (blockchain).

The accounting department only cares if the timesheet is the most updated, and signed off by all participants, not all the activities performed during those hours.

For more information about state channels in general, go here.

Based on the anticipated network traffic volume from millions of IoT devices constantly transferring data, the team decided to leverage state channels to allow packet transfer transactions to happen “off chain” and not processed by the main chain.

The participants in Helium State Channels are the Hotspot and the Console backend we call Router. Basically, Router acts as the air traffic controller for all data transferred on the network. Either forwarding data sent by devices and sensors on to their desired endpoints or pushing data down to these devices initiated from their owners usually in the form of commands or updates.

For IoT folks familiar with LoRa, think of Router as a combination of the functionality performed by the LoRa network, join, and application servers, as well as the network interface with the Helium Blockchain. More information about Router can be found here.

State channels need to be open to transfer packets, and pay out Data Credits.

To open a state channel, Router sends a transaction to the blockchain requesting a state channel to open to pay for packets offered by Hotspots and ensure packet exchange is accounted for and accurate.

A balance of Data Credits used to pay for packets is moved from the main blockchain to an open state channel. The balance includes an overcommit amount which is used to share among participants to cover any double spend that occurs. One way to think about the overcommit is similar to a credit card hold on a hotel room.

Once opened, a state channel keeps track of how many packets were transferred and by who, how much Data Credits were spent, and which Hotspots should earn HNT for transferring.

This running summary list of signed transactions is continuously updated, kept off chain, and a copy is shared among the state channel participants to ensure trust is maintained.

Every hash is verified which allows the blockchain to account for all packets sent by sensors.

The duration a state channel remains open is determined by a set number of blocks created on the main chain. A state channel will also close if its Data Credit balance is empty and it can no longer pay for packets.

Even if the main blockchain is experiencing issues as long as an open state channel exists with a sufficient balance of Data Credits, packets will continue to transfer and Data Credits will continue to be paid out.

When a state channel closes it provides a final summary of transactions that occurred while it was open and places it back onto the main blockchain in addition to the remaining Data Credit balance including the overcommit (unless a double spend is detected). From the main blockchain’s perspective all it cares about is packet accounting up to the time a state channel closes.

For redundancy purposes, and to ensure there’s continuous packet transfer flow, multiple state channels are kept “open” (active, and backup) and overlap with one another. This means when one state channel expires or runs out of Data Credits, the Router can switch to opening and using a new backup state channel.

At the end of the blockchain epoch all the transactions are scanned and Hotspot rewards for transferring packets are paid out.


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