Sergey Gorbunov

What do Facebook, Border Gateway Protocol, and blockchain technology have in common?

Yesterday, on Oct 4th 2021, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other services went down. Users couldn’t access the services due to a plain network configuration error. So what went wrong, and how did Facebook get disconnected from the rest of the world?

The answer is in the unknown protocol that mostly “operates in the shadows” — the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). It’s not as glamorous or well known as protocol suites such as TCP/IP, but it powers routing across the entire Internet. At its core, BGP helps autonomous networks operated by Internet Service Providers and organizations route and deliver traffic from one network to another.

To demonstrate what the Internet would be like without BGP, I wrote the following example scenario in a recent article for Nasdaq: "Imagine you could send an email to someone within your organization, but to send it to a friend in a different company, you would need to (a) send it to a “proxy” address, (b) use the proxy front-end to specify the destination network where your friend is at, (c) communicate it to your friend, who (d) subsequently will need to interact with the proxy to receive your email. The Internet wouldn’t be the global technology that it is today. However, to send an email, one just has to know the receiver’s email address, while on the back-end protocols and infrastructure is responsible for execution of all the steps described above and interoperability of requests across distinct networks".

The routing cat

Just as air traffic controllers direct planes along certain routes, BGP directs Internet traffic. The fundamental interoperability that it enables allows users from different geographic regions to connect and access any application in the world. Yesterday, when a Facebook engineer pushed an incorrect update to their internal BGP configuration, it disconnected the “Facebook network” from the rest of the world, and hence users were not able to reach any of their desired applications.

Just as Facebook needs BGP to communicate with the rest of the world, blockchains need interoperability protocols to communicate with one another. Each blockchain is like an autonomous network on the Internet — it has its own consensus, governance rules, and a software stack. But to interact with other chains, it needs universal interoperability protocols and networks to facilitate it.

The Axelar Cross-Chain Gateway Protocol (CGP) is thus analogous to BGP on the Internet. It will help us bridge networks from different ecosystems such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cosmos, Avalanche, and others. The protocol will enable applications to communicate with one another across autonomous blockchains. Its end goal is to empower users from across the world to interact with each other and any application on any network.

Right now, without CGP, we’re all operating like Facebook was yesterday.

Stay safe and keep innovating!