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Building Quality in for Blockchain Systems

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Blockchain technology can be used to build solutions that can naturally deliver better software quality. Using blockchain we can shift to smaller systems that store everything in a contract. We have to understand our data needs and decide what is stored in the chain and what off-chain, and think about how requirements, defects and testing history can be built into the contract models.

Craig Risi spoke about testing in the blockchain at Agile testing Days 2021.

Risi mentioned that the key design principles that any Blockchain application should be designed around are data integrity, data transparency, scalability, reliability and availability. The trick is to start checking for all these attributes early in the design phase and have regular checks to ensure you are meeting them throughout the entire design process, Risi said.

In his talk, Risi provided several architecture design tips for working with Blockchain:

You want to work with small services and APIs to allow for the system to scale as needed and avoid single points of failure and build in redundancy so that your system remains highly available even when certain services are down.

To ensure your system meets these above requirements you want to spend a lot of time understanding your solution’s data needs; what is stored in the chain and what off-chain, how large the data elements that need to be stored are and how the encryption will happen.

Having clear requirements allows you to put automated tests in place that can verify the integrity of data in test environments, as you have the required information to mock and test effectively. Along with this functional test effort, effort should be invested in security to ensure that the endpoints that interact with smart contracts are incredibly secure.

Blockchain technology will improve the way we approach software design, Risi mentioned. He gave some suggestions for utilizing blockchain technology to build better quality solutions:

We will see a shift from big systems that work with millions of lines of data to smaller systems that store everything that is needed in a contract. This smaller focus, while it comes with its own problems, could make software development and test automation simpler, improving our ability to deliver features faster.

I also see traceability improvement, as requirements, defects and testing history can be built into the contract models, making it simpler for teams to have evidence built into their test contract, while also making debugging contracts easier if all evidence is stored on it and give a clearer picture of the impact code has on the greater system.

Lastly, some of the basic principles of Blockchain technology, which include distributed databases, transparency with pseudonymity and irreversibility of records, make the impacts of mistakes far more reaching than ever before. While this doesn’t have a direct impact on software quality, it is forcing teams to think about it more and place more emphasis on verification, which has an indirect impact on the overall quality of a software solution.

InfoQ interviewed Craig Risi about building quality in blockchain systems.

InfoQ: What advice would you give to companies wanting to develop Blockchain solutions?

Craig Risi: I think the key thing is not just jumping onto the Blockchain train because it’s popular. Too many companies want to build blockchain solutions to try and gain access to funding, but if you’re going to try and develop a new solution where Blockchain is simply just a replacement and doesn’t add value, you are unlikely to reap any benefit from it.

As an example, some of the work currently being done to move health records to the blockchain are working out because of the way we are making this data more legitimate and open to the public. If we are simply going to replace medical databases with blockchain technology but not put the control in the hands of consumers, we are simply moving data around to a format that isn’t suited for it.

It’s also important to be aware of the different international regulations and rules with regards to Blockchain and the handling of data. While the world is warming up to the technology, there are different rules that different countries require from a data perspective and it’s important that you cater for this in your final solution.

We see this with cryptocurrencies where different rules between countries affect how they are handled and taxed, with some countries blocking their use entirely. The work that is currently being done on medical records is facing this problem as certain countries require health practitioners to keep this data themselves and restrict where this data can be stored, limiting the effectiveness of a blockchain solution until regulations are adapted.

InfoQ: How blockchain will impact future software development?

Risi: One of the key fundamental changes that Blockchain introduces is the way we work with data and it could effectively bring about the end of the database as we know it, with all operations taking place directly on a contract rather than big database systems. This will remove one of the key complexities that generally affects software architectures and is a change in the way we work with data. This could also lead to an increase in the adoption of infrastructure as code or cloud computing more aggressively, as the data concerns are largely removed.

This affects things like data collection and machine learning, and companies may need to build models where certain data is stored on the blockchain and others in traditional data stores for AI/ML purposes.

Blockchains data ownership model can make a massive change to the tech industry as a whole. Think of medical applications around the world that interact with a common blockchain for patients, where a patient provides the needed access to their information and history, allowing them to have control over their data.

Blockchain technology can also be improved to act as a source of digital identity documents that can be used to store all your private details and even things like baking records, making transactions and even voting in elections. In fact, Blockchain contracts can be even integrated into social media sites, giving you the power to store your own data and choose when it is shared and with whom.

There is still a long way for this technology to go before it will become mainstream, but there is no doubt that it has the potential to drastically change the way we think about certain aspects of data and privacy and it holds remarkable potential to transform the way we interact with technology.

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