What is a Merkle Tree?

TheMerkle Merkle Tree

People who are familiar with cryptography and cryptocurrency will have heard of Merkle trees before. Every non-leaf node is labeled with the hash of the labels of child nodes. In plain English, this means Merkle trees provide for efficient and secure verification of large amounts of data. It is a very intriguing piece of technology that will be beneficial to cryptocurrency in the long run as well.

Exploring The Potential of A Merkle Tree

When it comes to storing data in an efficient and secure manner, Merkle trees certainly have their role to play. A hash tree, which is the alternative name of a Merkle tree, is often said to verify any type of data being stored and transmitted in and between different computers on a network. The technology has become an integral part of peer-to-peer protocols as of late, including in the cryptocurrency sector.

To be more precise, a Merkle tree is designed to ensure blocks of data can be received from other peers in a peer-to peer network. More specifically, this information needs to be received in its original state, without alterations or corrupted information. This is of great importance in the cryptocurrency world, otherwise, there would be no immutable history of addresses and transactions to speak of.

In most cases, a Merkle tree comprises of two child nodes under each node on the network. This binary approach is often implemented, although it still leaves a lot of room for future improvements. In fact, there does not appear to be a limit as to how many child nodes can be used per node to establish a more secure Merkle tree.

It is also worth mentioning how the hashing process of data as part of a Merkle tree occurs. This is done by using a cryptographic hash function, such as SHA-2 for example. It is also possible to use less secure checksums based on what type of information needs to be protected and what potential issues the developers foresee. CRC checksums are often used to avoid unintentional damage. In a cryptocurrency ecosystem, however, everything needs to be immutable, which requires a more secure hashing function to be used.

Every Merkle tree has a master hash – also known a root hash – which can only be acquired from a trusted source. Using this top hash, it becomes possible to receive the Merkle tree regardless of which source is responsible for sharing said information. In a peer-to-peer environment, this means data can be received from any participant. Said information will be checked against the top hash to ensure everything is valid and undamaged. Should this be the case, another attempt will be made to retrieve the information from a different source.

The best example of a hash tree is the Bitcoin blockchain, though, as it contains a large collection of data that is always verified and ensures the immutability of information at all times. Merkle trees provide an invaluable solution when it comes to keeping data safe and tamper-free. We can only hope to see this technology come more prevalent in other industries over the coming decades.

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Publication date: 
05/06/2017 - 16:00
Author: 
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