If you're in the business of creating NFTs then you are probably familiar with the InterPlanetary File System also known as IPFS. It's an incredibly powerful protocol that allows creators to host content too large for blockchains on a decentralized peer-to-peer network, leveraging cryptography to ensure content is immutable. This is ideal for NFT projects that want to decentralize their NFT media and make sure it does not change over time. IPFS also allows creators to take ownership of their content and how they share it. What most people don't understand is how IPFS and HTTP communicate to each other.
For instance, I have a cool html page that uses 3D libraries and creates a spinning cube. I pinned it to IPFS using Pinata which gave me a content identifier: QmNv79WjSJKQTLScfx4Am7X11vxHjdTj9KrC4 u5YJqg8Bk. A content identifier, or CID for short, is how we can reference content on IPFS. The direct link to that file via IPFS is [ipfs://QmNv79WjSJKQTLScfx4Am7X11vxHjdTj9KrC4u5YJqg8Bk]. If you paste that link into your browser, chances are you are not going to pull anything up or you'll get a random google search. However, if you have an IPFS node running or you’re using a browser with built-in native IPFS support, then you would actually see something. Why is this?
In order to see content on the IPFS protocol, you have to participate. By running a local IPFS node you can be part of the network, receiving and sending blocks of data that are hosted on the network. In turn you can view and pin your own files, too.
This is different from HTTP, which is what most of the internet is built on. An HTTP request is when your computer asks for “https://google.com” and then a server returns the HTML file with the info. This is cool and all, but how is IPFS useful for NFTs since all of the marketplaces and wallets use HTTP?
The answer is gateways.
Gateways are exactly what they sound like; a gateway from the IPFS protocol to the HTTP protocol. They allow us to serve content from IPFS into regular https websites that we use everyday. From our example earlier, try pasting this link into your browser: [https://gateway.pinata.cloud/ipfs/QmNv79WjSJKQTLScfx4Am7X11vxHjdTj9KrC4u5YJqg8Bk]. You got the cube right? I took the CID that was already hosted on IPFS and then fed it through a public gateway to see the file!
Notice that I said "public" gateway. Public gateways are convenient since they are available to everyone, and even built into Pinata’s file manager so you can see your content without an IPFS node. However, it’s important to note that IPFS is a public network, which means that it can be viewed or used by anyone. This can become a problem because gateways are still managed on traditional servers. Too much traffic without the right infrastructure could cause a failure, so most public gateways will not serve too much content at once by utilizing rate limits. Public gateways are also not very fast and can take a while to load content. These public gateways can be a good service for testing IPFS content, but not ideal for serving large amounts of data.
This is where Dedicated Gateways step in! At Pinata, we want to provide blazing fast delivery of your content, and so our engineering team has developed an infrastructure which allows us to do exactly that.
Since Pinata released this feature, it's been amazing to see what people have done with it. One of the main applications we’ve seen of dedicated gateways is NFT marketplaces. Dedicated Gateways can be set as open or restricted. This means you can control whether just your pinned content on your Pinata account are accessible through the gateway, or if any content on the entire IPFS network is accessible through the gateway. NFT marketplaces have the challenge of fetching all the metadata associated with the NFT and then fetching the NFT’s media itself. Once you get the metadata, most of the media are IPFS CIDs, and as mentioned before, you need a gateway to display those over HTTP. Dedicated Gateways make that so easy and make new marketplaces possible.
NFT marketplaces are just the beginning, just as NFTs can be the beginning of a much larger project. Bored Ape Yacht Club, a Pinata customer, is a great example of this. As many people know, they have taken an NFT project and turned it into a multi-million dollar universe. Projects can take their user base into a world of gaming, staking, earning tokens, and even virtual reality. This allows an NFT project to transform into a brand identity. Brands wanting to utilize NFTs for their metaverses will leverage IPFS, and of course Dedicated Gateways allow these brands to deliver IPFS content quickly and reliably to their platforms.
Dedicated Gateways will be important to the future of blockchain gaming, as well. There are already numerous NFT games that feature on-chain items or content, such as Axie Infinity. These are real NFTs with data that needs to be preserved through IPFS and served through a Dedicated Gateway.
At Pinata we can envision a world beyond these metaverses. We would love to see IPFS and Dedicated Gateways as a way for any type of creator to make a valuable experience. Lots of older social media platforms are still valid as a way to be discovered, but the newer web3 technologies will help creators take their content from being discovered to being truly valued. With a Dedicated Gateway, they can control their own content and display it on their own platforms. Just think about most streaming platforms and how much money they give to creators; it's little to nothing. However, with the exposure from those platforms, a creator can build a fan base. Then with Pinata, creators can build the platform where their content is viewed by their fans and directly paid for there. Now that’s true value and creative control.
The world of crypto, NFTs, and IPFS is still developing at a rapid rate. It's exciting to see how we are just scratching at the surface of what web3 will bring us, and it's important to visualize what this will look like for everyday people.
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