Brave browser takes step toward enabling a decentralized web

Brave has just taken a step toward supporting a decentralized web by becoming the first browser to offer native integration with a peer-to-peer networking protocol that aims to fundamentally change how the internet works. The technology is called IPFS (which stands for InterPlanetary File System), a relatively obscure transport protocol that promises to improve on the dominant HTTP standard by making content faster to access and more resilient to failure and control.

This explainer from TechCrunch offers a good overview of how the protocol works. But here’s the short version: while HTTP is designed for browsers to access information on central servers, IPFS accesses it on a network of distributed nodes. Vice likens it to downloading content via BitTorrent, rather than from a central server. You type in a web address like normal, and the network is able to find the nodes storing the content you want.

Benefits of the new approach include faster speeds because data can be distributed and stored closer to the people who are accessing it, as well as lower server costs for the original publisher of the content. But perhaps most importantly, IPFS has the potential to make web content much more resilient to failures and resistant to censorship.

Brave, which currently boasts 24 million monthly active users, has been an early supporter of IPFS, working on the standard since 2018. But with version 1.19 of the Brave browser releasing today, Brave users will be able to access IPFS content directly by resolving URIs that start with ipfs://. They can also opt to install a “full IPFS node in one click,” making their browser a node in the peer-to-peer network.

“IPFS gives users a solution to the problem of centralized servers creating a central point of failure for content access,” Brave CTO Brian Bondy said in a statement, adding that this gives Brave users “the power to seamlessly serve content to millions of new users across the globe via a new and secure protocol.”

IPFS project lead Molly Mackinlay adds that IPFS’s enablement of the decentralized web can overcome “systemic data censorship” from governments and Big Tech. “Today, Web users across the world are unable to access restricted content, including, for example, parts of Wikipedia in Thailand, over 100,000 blocked websites in Turkey, and critical access to COVID-19 information in China,” says Mackinlay, “Now anyone with an internet connection can access this critical information through IPFS on the Brave browser.”

This effort to make web content more resilient and unconstrained comes at a time when service and platform owners are facing tough choices about what content should remain online. Following the Capitol riot on January 6th, President Trump was silenced on both Facebook and Twitter, followed by the Parler app being pulled from both the Google and Apple app stores and Amazon withdrawing its centralized web services. A decentralized web enabled, in part, by IPFS would make that kind of control more difficult in the future.