Content Addressing: Marvels & Magic

VP of People, Opreto

4 minute read

The technology of Content Addressing is marvellous. It is, ex post facto, a simple and powerful concept, demonstrably elegant and the basis for many of the most interesting and powerful technologies of the past two decades. I have already written about Why I love the InterPlanetary File System, and touched on Content Addressing in my post about Installing and Running an IPFS node, but it is constantly remarkable to me that this approach underpins blockchain networks like Bitcoin, version control systems like Git, and file distribution networks like BitTorrent as well. Content Addressing has changed the way we interact with and share key data, but I don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves, as a seminal building material of the modern Internet. Luckily, there is one surefire way in 2023 to communicate just how cool something is - describing it in terms of a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game! image-center

Let’s imagine each of my favorite four modern software technologies, all of which leverage Content Addressing and could not exist without it, in terms of deity-level characters in a tabletop roleplaying game:


image-left Git - The Versioning Sage

Name: Branchea Forkweaver

Class: Source Code Archivist

Role: Git is the guardian of source code history. Wielding the “Branching Wand,” Git can manage multiple storylines (branches) and merge them harmoniously.

Special Ability: “Commit and Revert” - Git can record the history of changes and roll back to previous states when needed, ensuring code stability.

Content addressing is central to the functionality of the Git version control system. Git uniquely identifies and tracks changes in files and directories using cryptographic hashes based on their content, not their location or file names. This ensures data integrity and allows Git to efficiently store and retrieve files. When you commit changes in Git, it generates a unique hash for that content, making it easy to reference and retrieve versions of files across distributed repositories. This content-addressed approach enables Git to provide a robust and decentralized version control system, facilitating collaboration among developers and ensuring the integrity of project histories.


image-left Bitcoin - The Decentralized Mintmaster

Name: Truthmar Diamondledger

Class: Cryptocurrency Alchemist

Role: Bitcoin is the creator of decentralized wealth. With the “Blockchain Anvil,” Bitcoin forges digital coins and maintains a ledger distributed across its followers.

Special Ability: “Mining Prowess” - Bitcoin can reward its followers with newly minted coins, strengthening the loyalty of its blockchain disciples.

Content addressing plays a pivotal role in Bitcoin’s functionality as a decentralized digital currency. Bitcoin transactions are verified and linked through content addresses known as cryptographic hashes, representing the transaction data and the previous block’s hash. This chaining of blocks ensures data integrity and establishes a secure and unchangeable ledger of all transactions. Miners use proof-of-work to find a nonce that, when hashed with the transaction data, produces a hash that meets certain criteria. This process creates a consensus mechanism that secures the Bitcoin network and validates transactions. Content addressing, through hashing and chaining, is fundamental to Bitcoin’s trustless and decentralized nature, ensuring the immutability and security of the blockchain.


image-left BitTorrent - The Swarm Shepherd

Name: Torrentus Swarmsplitter

Class: Torrent Commander

Role: BitTorrent is the organizer of data swarms. Carrying the “Magnet Horn,” BitTorrent helps its followers coordinate to efficiently distribute and download content.

Special Ability: “Swarm Optimization” - BitTorrent can dynamically adapt the swarm’s behavior to ensure smooth and speedy content delivery.

Content addressing is integral to the functionality of BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol. In BitTorrent, files are divided into smaller pieces, and each piece is assigned a unique content identifier, typically based on a cryptographic hash of the piece’s content. These content identifiers help ensure data integrity and allow users to verify the authenticity of downloaded pieces. BitTorrent users can exchange these pieces directly with one another, forming a swarm, and piece availability is determined by the content identifiers. This content-addressed approach optimizes download efficiency, as users can request missing pieces from multiple sources simultaneously. In essence, content addressing enables the distributed and efficient sharing of files among peers in a BitTorrent network.


image-left IPFS - The Interplanetary Voyager

Name: Fyle Allfinder

Class: Distributed Explorer

Role: IPFS is the explorer of the digital realm. Equipped with the “Hash Compass,” IPFS enables its followers to navigate the cosmos of decentralized data.

Special Ability: “Content Addressing” - IPFS can find and retrieve content from anywhere in the universe using its unique content addressing system.

Content addressing is at the core of the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) functionality. Instead of relying on traditional URLs that are location-based, IPFS uses content-based addressing through cryptographic hashes. When a file is added to IPFS, it’s hashed to generate a unique identifier called a CID (Content Identifier). This CID is used to retrieve the file from any node on the IPFS network. Content addressing eliminates issues of broken links, enables distributed storage, and enhances data integrity. It allows users to access content by its content rather than its location, making IPFS a resilient and decentralized system for sharing and storing data across the internet.


I am thankful that modern culture has given us this moment to reflect on the merits of high technology through the lens of D&D, and I hope you have enjoyed this little “campaign”. From Baldur’s Gate 3, to the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, to the kooky kids of Stranger Things, D&D has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity that has put it on the map for many more people than before, and this has allowed me to talk about my technophilic passions in my absolute favorite way.