Bitcoin has long been praised for its pioneering collection of computer science techniques that have together made a decentralized economic system possible. Combining economics, psychology, computer science and mathematics, the network as a whole has made it clear that it is possible for a trustless system based on mathematics to exist. Bitcoin’s security has made time and again been tested, and time and again it has proven itself as a reliable mechanism by which money can be stored and transferred.
However, the security comes with a trade off - versatility. While Bitcoin is incredibly secure, it is not capable of doing much else besides being a store of value and as a means of exchange. Ethereum was the first project that took this project and went all the way with it. It allowed for smart contracts - increased versatility with regards to what you could on a blockchain - but it incurred an unavoidable tradeoff: versatility for security.
Ethereum is still well on its way to becoming a decentralized world computer, and while it might have hit a few bumps along the way, it is doing well, with Ethereum 2.0 on the horizon. Other projects have seen the potential in marrying Bitcoins’s security with the utility of smart contracts, bringing Turing-completeness to a network whose security has been tested time and time again since its inception.
One of the most earliest and comprehensive projects working on bringing smart contract functionality to Bitcoin is Rootstock (RSK), which claims that it is the first active side chain on the Bitcoin network that provides Turing-complete smart contracts.
Here, I’ll talk about Rootstock, the two associated tokens RBTC and RIF, the history of the project, its purpose, design, use cases, and partnerships.
The History of Rootstock (RBTC and RIF)
Rootstock, or RSK, as it is more commonly known, was launched in 2015 by Sergio Demian Lerner, Diego Gutierrez Zaldivar, Ruben Altman, Adrian Eidelman and Gabriel Kurman. The project has its origins in QixCoin, a Turing-complete cryptocurrency that was launched in 2013 by the same development team.
The company overseeing the development of the RSK network is RIF Labs. Diego Gutierrez is the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), while Sergio Demian Lerner serves as the project’s Chief Science Officer.
The team states that QixCoin is capable of functioning at 300 transactions per second - but simultaneously offering the same level of security that Bitcoin offers, However, while transaction performance was noticeably better than Bitcoin, the team wanted the network to be capable of more - which led to the conception of Rootstock. In order to make Bitcoin the go to cryptocurrency, envisioned, it would need to be capable of more - and for them that was the addition of smart contracts to the network. They describe their mission as such,
We believe that new use cases are necessary in order for Bitcoin to become the leading global cryptocurrency, and that adding smart-contract capabilities is key to secure that future. With that in mind we created RSK, a smart-contract platform that incorporates a Turing Complete Virtual Machine to Bitcoin.
Rootstock has been described as an evolution of both QixCoin and Ethereum, and has borrowed elements from the latter, including account formats, Virtual Machines and web3 interfaces.
In addition to the RSK network, the team has also created the Rootstock Infrastructure Framework Open Standard (RIF OS), a layer dedicated largely towards decentralized applications (DApps). This is intended to help “bridge the gap that exists today between Blockchain technologies and its mass-market adoption.”
Accompanying the RIF OS is the the RIF token, which was launched quite recently in January 2019. The company raised roughly $150 million from selling these tokens; its price now sits at $0.08, its peak being $0.20.
Having been in development for many years, the RSK network has matured enough that it has established multiple solutions and found application in multiple use cases, all of which which is described below.
The Purpose of Rootstock (RBTC and RIF)
The purpose of Rootstock is quite clearly described in their mission - to become a platform through which smart contracts can be executed on the Bitcoin blockchain. It has already done so successfully, with numerous applications and services already available or close to completion. However, it goes much beyond that as well.
One important technical aspect of the RSK network is that features Merged Mining. This incentivizes Bitcoin miners to secure the network - for no additional effort. Performing the same amount of computation, Bitcoin miners are rewarded with RBTC tokens, and this feature has already attracted a large number of miners.
The RSK engine is a forked version of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) with the native token being RBTC (AKA “Smart Bitcoin”). This token is used to pay for the transactions (i.e. like Ethereums’ gas). A 2 way peg to the Bitcoin network on a 1:1 ratio (there are 21 million RBTCs like there are 21 million BTCs) means tokens can be transferred between the two chains.
There are some technical aspects about the network that is well worth mentioning. First, it uses the DECOR+ and FastBlock5 protocols, which makes for much faster block rates while preventing mining centralization and dishonest mining. Block intervals are fifteen to thirty seconds. Second, being Turing complete, it allows for privacy supporting techniques like CoinJoin, ring signatures and zk-SNARKs to be implemented.
Another key feature of the RSK network is the Rootstock Infrastructure Framework Open Standard (RIF OS), a secondary layer on the network that is primarily intended for the development of decentralized applications (DApps). The RIF OS is a major item on the development agenda going into the future, as one long-term goal of the project is to attract developers onto the network so that they may build high quality applications.
The RIF OS comes with its own token, RIF, which serve to fuel the RIF OS layer’s marketplace. For example, software developers would be paid in RIF for the use of their applications. The RIF OS is a set of protocols for DApp development, and can be thought of as an Operating System. Interoperability will also be a feature of the RIF OS and in the future it will grow to include storage and communication services and third party developed infrastructure services.
The team has already listed several users cases, including financial, insurance, gaming and legal applications. In a HedgeWeek interview, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Diego Gutierrez details the applications and current focus of the development team.
Specific applications that have been built or are currently being built are InsurTech, Money On Chain, Crypto SpaceShift, Signatura, BitGive, Circle of Angels, SeSocio, 88i, dexFreight and more.
Additionally, envisioned use cases include micropayments channels, off chain payment networks, decentralized exchanges (DEXs), retail payment systems, escrow services, voting systems and much more. This is all described in detail in the RSK whitepaper.
Building on the RSK platform
The team has put together extensive documentation for both developers and users, which guides them on how to build on the platform and perform such functions as porting Ethereum projects to the RSK network. For developers, particularly noteworthy aspects of the developer portal include the Rootstock Naming Service (RNS) and the RIF Lumino Network.
RNS is a features that attaches human readable addresses to blockchain addresses, while the Lumino Network is the first off-chain state channel network launched on RSK, which allows users to interact with other networks like Lightning and Raiden.
The Rootstock project has no specific partnerships to speak of. Rather, the team focuses on building the ecosystem and encouraging developers to build high-grade applications on the platform. It is worth noting that it has formed a federation of over 30 service providers who support the network’s transactional activity.
Among the initiatives to further the reach of the RSK network is the RSK Ecosystem Fund, an incubator that invests in startups with viable business models or marketplace services and products. It is described as “a thesis driven fund that sees the potential to build entirely new classes of services on top of the secured Bitcoin network.” Seed stages in this program are given capital of anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000, which they can then use build business models and applications that add value to the Rootstock ecosystem.
In addition to the Ecosystem Fund, Rootstock has collaborated with Monday Capital for the launch of the Rootstock Innovation Studio, which is essentially a space where developer tools with “great UX” can be built and where developers can “explore and start building their ideas.” Several initiatives have already been made here, including banking solutions and customer payment products, virtual reality games, marketplaces, and digital identity management solutions.
Rootstock is undoubtedly performing some cutting edge work that brings a much needed feature to the Bitcoin network. Not only has it demonstrably proven its usability with numerous products, it is continuing to work on newer ideas that are just as critical in the long run for the success of a blockchain project.
Rootstock is going beyond just offering smart contracts; its long term goal is to create a marketplace with professional-grade applications that both individuals and businesses can use. The RIF OS is a particularly interesting development. Together with smart contracts on the Bitcoin network, and the capacity to communicate with other blockchains, makes the whole project a comprehensive one that is setting itself up well for the future.