March of the Lightning Network: Watchtowers, Colored Coin Tokens & More

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An ecosystem is expanding around Bitcoin’s proposed second-layer scaling solution, the Lightning Network (LN), and amid that blooming builders are eyeing new and increasingly advanced possibilities.

This week in particular, chatter has grown around watchtowers and colored coin tokens, both being technologies that are respectively and imminently coming to Lightning.

An inaugural model of watchtowers — long-awaited tech aimed at mitigating LN fraud by watching for old network states — will be deployable in the version 0.7 release of the Lightning Network Daemon, or LND, an LN node implementation.

What are Watchtowers?

Ahead of that release, which is due out later this month, Lightning Labs chief technology officer Olaoluwa Osuntokun has said the new security system should prove fruitful in deterring future LN attacks:

“[N]ow that the tower code is out there in the open, an attacker now has a very strong disincentive against attempting an attack since it’s very possible that the potential victim has a tower watching their back.”

Once live, these watchtowers will be permissionless, so anyone will be able to run them at any time. Users not interested in running their own can turn to others. Builders in the Lightning ecosystem have even floated the possibility of creating a distinct token that could be used to pay third-party watchtowers privately.

On the topic of tokens, the other major LN news this week came regarding colored coin tokens. On Friday, news broke that BHB Network, co-founded by Giacomo Zucco, was spearheading work on a “Layer 3” protocol dubbed Spectrum that would allow users to issue tokens on Lightning.

The project has been cast as a means to help LN become a viable platform for tokenization. But unlike the ERC-20 tokens built atop Ethereum, Spectrum’s tech won’t rely on smart contracts. Instead, the third-layer system will rely on the RGB protocol to manage “colored coins,” which represent assets atop Bitcoin.

Spectrum, then, will work by “coloring” LN channels, so to speak. As the RGB GitHub separately explains, the protocol will offer the guarantees needed to secure channels’ associated tokens:

“Being the protocol UTXO-based, it will be possible to link one or more assets to a Lightning Network channel, which becomes colored, exchanging state updates which are compliant to the asset scheme, with strong guarantees that asset distribution will be preserved also in case of non-consensual closures.”

Notably, if RGB ends up gaining further adoption, it may one day be possible to send tokens from Bitcoin to other blockchains and databases.

The watchtower and colored coin headlines come just days after LN co-creator Tadge Dryja published a paper on Utreexo, a so-called accumulator system that would help to scale Bitcoin by making it less expensive, and thus easier, to run a full node. To that end, Utreexo could be used alongside LN to scale Bitcoin.

Lightning Network for Decentralized Payments … And Comms

Off-grid mesh networking company goTenna announced a subsidiary this week, Global Mesh Labs. Why? To back the group’s new Lot49 protocol, which is designed to incentivize decentralized communications via bitcoin micropayments on the Lightning Network.

The protocol would work by facilitating payments for peer-to-peer, low bandwidth comms made via mobile ad-hoc networks (MANETs), or more simply put, through mesh networking. Such networking allows messages to be sent P2P rather than relying on a centralized ISP to do the same.

As Daniela Perdomo, chief executive officer at goTenna, explained on the news:

“Mesh networks also offer the Bitcoin community an alternative transport layer that can reach communities traditional networks cannot and with improved resistance to surveillance, censorship and natural disasters.”

Taken altogether, watchtowers, colored coins, and Lot49 have LN’s future looking as intriguing as ever. And in the mean time, the builders keep building.


William M. Peaster is a professional writer and editor who specializes in the Ethereum, Dai, and Biticoin beats in the cryptoeconomy. He's appeared in Blockonomi, Binance Academy, Bitsonline, and more. He enjoys tracking smart contracts, DAOs, dApps, and the Lightning Network. He's learning Solidity, too! Contact him on Telegram at @wmpeaster

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