That the internet works for so many people and across so many different technologies can seem kind of miraculous, but the internet’s founders had nothing like this in mind. When you consider that the early-days internet, circa the mid-1970s, was a solution to the problem of non-mobile, centralized supercomputing resources, its effectiveness for a world in which every yahoo lords over a half-dozen IP addresses like they’re pet goldfish is nigh unbelievable. And yet, here we are. Somehow.
While it works admirably, the internet also works suboptimally—this isn’t what it was designed for. So, we’re left with a good bit of room for imagining alternative internet technologies that might be closer to optimal and might come better equipped for addressing some of the emergent concerns of internet super-connectivity, such as privacy and the preservation of free speech. Enter named data networking (NDN).
Simply, NDN replaces IP addresses (locations) with named data (things), wherein a unit of data might be referred to in a way similar to the directory-based naming schemes we’re used to as PC users (as in, /Users/someuser/my_dir/file.txt). The whole internet would be structured like a big filesystem—a hierarchy of namespaces—where the most specific directory (from our perspective) would be our own local computer, while the most general directory (the root directory) would be the entire internet. As we traverse from our local machines outward, we access higher and higher directories as larger and larger subnetworks of the entire internet.
As such, the internet we experience is only as big as we need it to be depending up on the data that we’re after. If that data is on our own machine, we stop there; if not, we check our local network, and then we start checking router caches and CDN stores, etc. This would seem to make a lot more sense for an internet that’s based on providing information rather than one that’s based on enabling communication between network endpoints. It would also make a lot more sense for a network that’s designed to preserve free speech, according to a National Science Foundation-funded research study published in the current Communications of the ACM.
The paper, authored by a team of computer scientists based at UCLA, provides a concrete example of NDN in action via the Internet of Things, the looming internet eruption in which every toaster, car, and coffeemaker comes equipped with a network connection and IP address. We might reasonably question how much internet a coffeemaker actually needs to fully leverage toaster connectivity.
“For example, a manufacturer-assigned name, such as /local/appliance/kitchen/toaster/Black&Decker/serial_number
“NDN makes it easier than IP to share data via alternative communications paths and opportunistic connectivity without global infrastructure.”
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