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Traveling in the Urbit Universe

Unlike "overpriced jpegs" and other collectibles, Urbit Planet is an NFT with a certain utility - it can provide you with a digital identity in the next internet space.

Urbit universe with ships galaxies stars planets moons and comets

Urbit is a peer-to-peer network and OS that aims to create "a new internet" with its architecture designed for user autonomy, security, and privacy, offering a novel way of facilitating online interactions and communities. Inspired by this idea, we asked our “play-to-earn” observer to install and explore it further.

Installing Urbit on Windows

You can install Urbit on a dedicated computer or on a paid cloud service running on Linux. Instructions for installing Urbit on a cloud host can be found here.

While Urbit was not designed to be installed on Windows, or any other "centralized" operating system, we have also chosen to examine this approach. As installing virtualization software requires significant time and effort, the average user will likely find this method to be highly inconvenient. However, we discovered a rather recent installation guide for Linux's distribution, WSL, which was actually about installing it on Windows.

Urbit ships, galaxies, stars, planets, moons, and comets

In Urbit, a "ship" refers to a running instance of the Urbit operating system on a computer or server. Ships are the basic units of interaction in the Urbit network, allowing users to communicate with one another, access and alter network data, and take part in online communities. In contrast to other operating systems, users of Urbit must also create Urbit IDs in order to utilize the system.

In fact, at the very core of Urbit lies its hierarchical ID system, consisting of galaxies, stars, planets, moons, and comets. Compared to other decentralized identity systems, this allows for greater flexibility and customization.

As the metaphor suggests, planets are the fundamental unit of account in the Urbit network. Since each planet has an address represented by a 32-bit number, there can be as many as 4.3 billion planets in existence. Each planet has a unique Urbit ID that is used on the network to sign messages and transactions. Planets can be likened to individual internet users, so given the existing number, there are only a finite amount of planets available.

Stars, meanwhile, are a higher level of identity and have addresses represented by a 16-bit number. Stars are nodes used to represent groups of planets, such as a family or an organization. Each star is associated with a unique Urbit ID, which can manage certain functions for the planets within the star.

Galaxies are the highest level of identity in the Urbit network and have addresses denoted by a 8-bit number. Galaxies are nodes used to represent large groups of stars and planets, such as a community or a network of organizations. Each galaxy also has its unique Urbit ID.

Moons are described in the protocol as "connected devices subordinated to a ship". In our current setup, the analogy of moon account is the social network account on Linkedin on Facebook that provides user identity but is dependent on respective company server policies.

Comets are the simplest identities to generate and can be created in unlimited numbers, much like email or Reddit accounts.

To provide a higher level of security, Urbit IDs for planets, stars, and galaxies are anchored to the Ethereum blockchain with special smart contracts called Azimuth. Keys for moons and comets are handled within Urbit.

Monetization in Urbit

To participate in Urbit, you need to obtain one of the ID types. Acquiring moons and comets is free of charge, but you'll have to pay for the others.

Galaxies, stars and planets are sold on Urbit marketplaces such as, Urbitex, as well as on general NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea. Essentially, you purchase the planet from its parent star or former owner. This is described as a “sponsorship tree” on the Urbit website:

Urbit IDs are distributed by a sponsorship tree. Each sponsor issues a fixed number of addresses. Since there are lots of sponsors, there are lots of ways to get an Urbit ID — not just one central authority. Once you get one, it’s yours forever. One point that’s useful to understand about sponsors is that while Urbit IDs always need a sponsor, or parent node on the network (primarily for peer discovery), it’s always possible to change sponsors and sponsors can always reject children. This means bad actors can be banned and abusive sponsors can be ignored. We think this strikes a nice balance between accountability and freedom.

The galaxy ID allows you to participate in votes within Urbit's Galactic Senate, which governs Azimuth, Urbit's identity layer. A galaxy's price might decrease if some planets or stars in it are sold out. The name ID affects how much a galaxy costs, and this rule also applies to planets and stars. A galaxy ID's profits come mostly from selling stars and planets.

Per our observations, star ID's are priced in the range of thousands of dollars, with the cheapest one at the time of writing priced at 1.74 ETH - $3,061. The price of the star depends on how many planets it has. Since it's envisioned that in the future stars will charge planets an annual hosting fee between 10 and 100 US dollars, those that have a higher occupancy rate will be priced higher. Occupying all 65,535 planet slots per star could therefore generate a substantial passive income.  

At the time of writing, the lowest price for a planet was 0.019 ETH - $31 at OpenSea. Considering the scarcity created by the Urbit's design, buying planets for further resale seems profitable. Again, one needs to keep in mind that when hosting fees begin applying, maintaining the planet holdings will cost.

Urbit Development Grants

Urbit has introduced various development grants to further promote community activities and the growth of its ecosystem. Let's see what Urbit is looking to fund:

  • Vere support for Eyre Cache - to speed up the request process from the user to the server.
  • Hoon Grammar and Language Mode for Replit - the Hoon programming language is planned to be embedded into Replit online IDE tools for programmers.
  • Issue Grab Bag - whoever closes three issues listed in the Urbit GitHub repository will get rewarded.
  • Calendar Feature Completion - make a calendar application that interacts with other major services.
  • Spread the word about Urbit by holding local meetups, if you are not a programmer.
  • Build an Urbit-native Ethereum wallet.

In most cases, successfully completing a bounty will reward you with Urbit IDs. The last task, for Ethereum wallet, will additionally pay $15,000 bonus upon completion.