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What is NEAR: A Simple Explanation

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DappRadar

The future is NEAR

NEAR is a platform utilizing a developer-friendly, sharded, proof-of-stake public blockchain that aspires to make it easy for developers to build decentralized applications (dapps). Dapps are able to provide users with easy-to-use applications capable of securing high-value assets like money and identity.

Why build on NEAR? 

The design and development of the NEAR system adhere to a few key principles. The below outlines what the platform makes viable, what it wants to see built on its network, and arguably its ethical code for dapp development and deployment.

  1. Usability: NEAR believes that applications deployed to the platform should be seamless to use for end-users and to create for developers. The underlying technology itself should “fade to the background” or be hidden completely from end-users. Basic applications should be intuitive and simple to create while more robust applications should still be secure.
  1. Scalability: The platform should scale with no upper limit as long as there is an economic justification for doing so.
  1. Simplicity: The design of each element should be as simple as possible in order to achieve its primary purpose. Optimize for simplicity, pragmatism, and ease of understanding above perfection.
  1. Sustainable Decentralization: The platform should encourage significant decentralization both in the short and long term in order to properly secure its value. To maintain sustainability, both technological and community governance mechanisms should allow for practical iteration while avoiding capture by any single party.

NEAR Ecosystem 

Projects are already taking advantage of NEAR’s building experience. Flux Protocol, Mintbase, and Zed.Run are leveraging NEAR’s speed and low-cost development to grow their user communities. For more information on who is building on NEAR check out the case studies on the website

NFTs and digital assets

The platform is also designed to easily store unique digital assets, for example, tokens bridged from other chains such as Wrapped BTC or those created on the NEAR platform. Stablecoins, which are pegged to a real-world fiat asset such as the US dollar, can be used to pay for goods and services on NEAR applications. 

Similar to tokens, non-fungible tokens or NFTs ranging from in-game collectibles and crypto art to representations of real-world assets, can be stored and more importantly moved using NEAR. A focus that is sure to pay off given the massive interest surrounding NFTs in 2021. 

How it works

NEAR provides a community-operated cloud-based infrastructure for deploying and running dapps by combining features of a decentralized database with a serverless computing platform. The NEAR token, which allows this platform to run, also enables applications built on top of it to interact with each other.  

Together, these features allow developers to create censorship-resistant smart contracts for applications that deal with high-end data like money, identity, assets, and open-state components which need to interact seamlessly with each other. The infrastructure which makes up this cloud is created from a potentially infinite number of “nodes” run by individuals and organizations who offer portions of their CPU and hard drive space — whether on a laptop or, more likely, professionally deployed servers. These computers run the NEAR network in the background and as such create a decentralized network. 

As mentioned, the NEAR community-run cloud is decentralized so updates must be accepted by a sufficient majority of the network participants or nodes. In order to ensure that the operators of nodes run the code well, they participate in a staking process called “Proof of Stake”. In this process, they willingly put a portion of value at ‘stake’ as a deposit which they forfeit if it is established they have operated inappropriately. 

In essence, NEAR is providing a decentralized version of the cloud-hosted services provided by Amazon or Google. 

The same… But different 

In a centralized cloud hosted by Amazon or Google, developers pay for applications each month based on how much usage they require, for example, based on the number of requests generated by users visiting their webpages. 

Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud take fees up-front. Blockchain services offer a big difference because users get charged immediately when they make a call to an app, rather than developers fronting the cost of using all that infrastructure. The concept of micropayments comes into play here. 

NEAR also provides the ability for developers to cover gas costs for users, to create a more familiar experience for those coming from web2. Builders can design applications in a way that first-time users can use funds for purchasing gas directly from an account maintained by the developer. Once onboarded, users can then transition to paying for their own platform use.

$1 Million grants program

The NEAR Foundation announced the launch of the NEAR Grants Program during the virtual ETHDenver hackathon in the first half of 2021. The program will award $1 million dollars (or equivalent other currency) in grants, funding, and resources to promising teams whose work fosters and expands NEAR’s technology and community. 

Successful grant applications may include projects extending the NEAR infrastructure, developer tooling and documentation, validator and staking resources, open-source libraries, public goods projects, research & development, decentralized applications with open source components, educational materials for developers, social impact, and interoperability solutions. 

Prospective projects are encouraged to visit near.org/grants and submit a grant application. 

Under the hood

NEAR’s community-operated cloud uses a novel consensus algorithm and a scalable sharding architecture to achieve its goals. The key elements of NEAR’s technology are:

  • Sharding: The system is designed to scale horizontally and near-infinitely by distributing computation across multiple parallelized shards.
  • Consensus: Consensus is achieved across all of the nodes which make up the network operators across all of the shards using the new Nightshade algorithm. Fees are applicable to transfers similar to Ethereum but NEAR promises fees 10,000 times lower in cost. 
  • Staking Selection and Game Theory: To participate in the validation process, stakers are selected using a secure randomized process that optimally distributes seats across parties and provides incentives for them to operate with good behavior.
  • Randomness: NEAR’s randomness approach is unbias, unpredictable, and can tolerate up to 1/3 of malicious actors before the network is affected and 2/3 of malicious actors before anyone can actually influence its output.

NEAR development suite 

The NEAR platform has been designed to be used in a permissionless way but a set of community-built tools and reference guides have been created to help developers. 

  • NEAR SDKs: NEAR supports Rust and AssemblyScript (JavaScript with types) languages to write smart contracts. To provide a great experience for developers, NEAR has a full SDK that includes standard data structures, examples, and testing tools for these two languages.
  • Gitpod for NEAR: NEAR uses existing technology Gitpod to create zero time onboarding experience for developers. Gitpod provides an online “Integrated Development Environment” (IDE), which NEAR customized to allow developers to easily write, test and deploy smart contracts from a web browser.  The NEAR Examples website contains templates that can be deployed in one click to make the process of building on NEAR for both new and old developers as simple as possible.
  • NEAR Wallet: A wallet is a basic place for developers and end-users to store the assets they need to use the network.  NEAR Wallet is a reference implementation that is intended to work seamlessly with the progressive security model that lets application developers design more effective user experiences. It will eventually include built-in functionality to easily enable participation by holders in staking and governance processes on the network.
  • NEAR Explorer: To aid with both debugging of contracts and the understanding of network performance, Explorer presents information from the blockchain in an easily digestible web-based format.
  • NEAR Command Line Tools: The NEAR team provides a set of straightforward command-line tools to allow developers to easily create, test and deploy applications from their local environments.

In-summary 

NEAR focuses on providing solutions to the two core problems of today’s blockchains — usability and scalability. Usability for end-users is achieved through offering a security model for wallet interactions and by giving developers more opportunities to create experiences that closely resemble applications and experiences the masses are used to. 

Usability for developers is provided by setting up the protocol to provide for browser-based debugging, familiar programming languages (like AssemblyScript and Rust), and contract usage rebates or rewards. Scalability is provided by sharding the chain into a potentially unlimited number of subchains, each of which operates in parallel.

NEAR Resources:

Useful Links 

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