Mike Hearn on R3 Blockchain Consortium’s Corda: It’s More Like Bitcoin Than Ethereum


According to Corda’s lead engineer, Mike Hearn, “Corda is more like Bitcoin.” Corda is an open source blockchain company by the industry consortium R3.

“It owes more of its intellectual history to the bitcoin than Ethereum in a way. Its’ data model is similar to Bitcoin, which enables you to have privacy because you don’t see transactions on your critical path.”

Hearn warns that Corda different from Bitcoin still, that it’s no global revolution. “They had money on their device and if the software wasn’t good or had bugs, then that is the cost of being a part of the global revolution. According to him, Corda does not have the same leniency because it isn’t groundbreaking.

“We are optimizing existing economies in effect. We aren’t here to overthrow any systems. As a consequence, people’s standards are much higher. People’s tolerance for sharp edges is much lower.”

Funded by R3, Corda is a community level, an open-source project like Bitcoin. Users can talk to the employees and make suggestions through their Slack channel or opt to be a part of their mailing list.

But How Are They Similar?

“They both use what’s called the ‘UTXO model’. [T]hat is, they see the ledger as a set of unchanging entries representing a value of facts that are deleted and created but never altered. In contrast, Ethereum sees ledger as a set of programs that send messages to each other. It’s a very different way of looking at the world,”

replied Mike Hearn.

Bitcoin uses a combination of the programming language C++ and the Satoshi-designed Bitcoin Script, while Ethereum developed its own called ‘Solidity’ (purposefully similar in appearance to Javascript). Corda, on the other hand, has not developed its own programming language.

“We are not inventing our own custom programming language or environments. We are using Java and Kotlin, but you can use regular Java or Scala, as well. Any of the languages that run on the JVM. These are much more professionally build languages and tools. They are very mature, they’ve been around decades, and the people who build them know what they are doing, and took their time,”

said Hearn.

“You don’t get the same surprising glitches you see in a little Solidity development on Ethereum.”

JVM means Java virtual machine, enabling computers to run Java programs.

Mr. Hearn also talked over Kotlin,

“ Kotlin is developed by JetBrains. It targets the JVM and JavaScript. It’s similar to C# and is designed for developer productivity.” Then he went on to talk about the developers of Corda, “People are mostly designing financial apps today. But, people are starting to explore more with healthcare and logistics, and so on.”

He went on to explain that Bitcoin was not designed for it,

“Bitcoin’s feature set is designed for tracking a single currency, and that’s about it. To the extent, it can be extended by developers, it’s to impose flexible controls on that currency, but it doesn’t go beyond that.”

For example, the Bitcoin database has entries that consist of a value (amount of coins) and the script controlling who can claim that value.

“But there’s no way to encode, for instance, a ledger entry for barrels of oil that records the type of crude oil, the origin of extraction, the shipment dates, etc. Bitcoin doesn’t know about any of that,”

says Hearn.

Other platforms and Corda also have a more broad definition of “smart contracts” than Satoshi did for bitcoin and according to Hearn, Corda strays from the original meaning because of they

“want to be able to manage any kind of data, not just amounts of a single currency.”

He also noted his creations of Lighthouse, a Bitcoin crowdfunding management app that took quite a while to implement. If he had done so using Corda, it would

“have been much faster to implement…”

The Difference Of Language

Satoshi developed Bitcoin on C++ but the Corda developers chose not to because the high-level programming language has a number of issues. Korda said,

“[I]t’s very complex and hard to learn, it’s easy to make security errors that Java/Kotlin would automatically block, and the business world doesn’t use much of it anymore for these reasons. ‘Script’ was invented for Bitcoin but is far too limited to do even the things Satoshi imagined, let alone the much more complicated things our users want to do.”

Hearn seems to think that it’s very possible someone could develop a competitor to Bitcoin or Corda. Apparently, there have been thought experiments about building bitcoin-style cryptocurrencies on top of this enterprise-focused platform done by other R3 programmers.

Although most of their customers want to use existing currencies,

“it is not the goal of the organization. A few others and I think it’d be cool. It certainly should be possible. We have worked out how you could do it with Corda more as an intellectual exercise.”

So far, most enterprise blockchains use Ethereum as a starting point for the design. Hearn said this was normal,

“It’s unusual to go back to the start and pledge allegiance to Satoshi’s thinking and designs. We were familiar with both designs and felt Bitcoin’s would work better.”

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