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Urbit Unveils a Future of Decentralized Computing with Journal and LambdaConf Talks

Urbit explores a future of self-owned data and applications through its newly launched technical journal and developer conference talks, fostering innovation and delving into the technical intricacies of the unique ecosystem.

Urbit ustj

Despite its niche appeal, Urbit, the peer-to-peer network that is older than Bitcoin, has shown continued growth over the past year. This momentum extends to its developer base, with the Urbit Systems Technical Journal (USTJ) launch on April 30 fostering deeper technical discussions within the community.

Urbit is trying to reimagine the internet as a peer-to-peer network where users have full ownership of their data under unique identities. By operating a personal server, users can download and run applications locally from Urbit's decentralized ecosystem on its custom operating system: Urbit OS. This open-source approach, with constant access to the application's source code, supports data control and innovation.

One of the unique features of Urbit is its ID system, which plays a crucial role in discouraging spam and abuse on the network. Urbit IDs, which are scarce and have intrinsic value, are tied to a hierarchical structure where "galaxies," "stars," "planets," and "moons" each have different roles and responsibilities. The scarcity and cost associated with obtaining an Urbit ID mean that users are less likely to engage in spamming activities, as each ID represents a significant investment. This system is bolstered by the fact that each ID is part of a sponsorship tree, adding a layer of accountability. Users with IDs are responsible for their activities and those of any sub-IDs they sponsor, thus creating a self-regulating community.

Although Urbit shares some characteristics with blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and cloud storage, it has tried to carve its own niche. Unlike blockchains, Urbit stores data on private servers and does not have its own cryptocurrency. While it offers NFT-like features, Urbit's applications go beyond collectibles. Even though it can function independently or on cloud servers, Urbit is not meant to replace traditional operating systems or browsers. Instead, it aspires to create a new decentralized online environment where users control their data and applications.

"What Urbit is: An attempt to make personal servers viable for consumers, so that the internet can go back to being between me and you, not between me and some company's server," Philip Monk, the CTO of Tlon explained in a series of X posts

Urbit's focus on user control, data ownership, and a permissionless peer-to-peer network resonates with the core principles of blockchain technology, making it an attractive proposition for the blockchain community. This alignment with blockchain's core values is definitely one of the reasons behind the growing interest in Urbit among crypto enthusiasts.

In the past couple of years, Urbit has seen a sharp increase in monthly active developers, as anticipated in its 2023 Operation plan, which in turn has brought numerous improvements to its ecosystem. The recently published Urbit Systems Technical Journal (USTJ) shows Urbit's most recent developments and ongoing projects. Inspired by the legacy of the Bell Labs Technical Journal, USTJ serves as a platform for documenting not only the inner workings of Urbit but also the broader field of solid-state computing. 

"USTJ is a technical journal. We will generally consider any content related to solid state computing. We do not wade into social or cultural commentary. We welcome content that is not specifically about or on Urbit as well." – from the USTJ GitHub Template

This first issue tackles the technical challenges faced in building a truly sovereign and permanent computing experience. It explores advancements in dynamic linking, a crucial factor for modularity and application development within Urbit. Additionally, the journal delves into the intricacies of floating-point calculation and memory management systems, both fundamental for efficient data manipulation and program execution. By showcasing the Ares project, USTJ points to ongoing efforts to enhance the speed and storage capabilities of Urbit's core language, Nock. This focus on performance improvements underscores Urbit's commitment to providing a robust and efficient user experience.

The launch of the USTJ coincided with Urbit's participation in this year's LambdaConf from May 4 to May 10. LambdaConf is a developer conference launched a decade ago and has managed to cultivate an inclusive environment where programmers of all backgrounds can learn from leading experts and each other. The conference focuses on emerging technologies and applications, presenting attendees with the latest advancements in various programming fields.

The Urbit Foundation presented two talks on their unique computing system this year. Software Engineer Liam Fitzgerald's presentation, "Shrubbery: Application Development For Urbit," offered a glimpse into a revolutionary new UI engine designed to transform application development within Urbit. Urbit Foundation's Director of Developer Experience, N.E. Davis, held a talk, "Floating-Point Arithmetic On Deterministic Systems," which addressed the complexities of integrating precise floating-point calculations, crucial for scientific computing, into Urbit's unique deterministic computing environment, offering solutions to overcome these challenges.

Urbit's unique approach to decentralized computing is attracting growing interest, with an active community and ongoing technical advancements. We'll continue to follow its development and see how it shapes the future of the internet.