Beginner's Guide to Understanding the Internet Computer's Chainlink-Like System: HTTPS Outcalls

Geoffrey Miller
Geoffrey Miller

On most blockchains, smart contracts cannot directly access information stored outside of their networks. But thanks to HTTPS outcalls, the Web3 revolution can press forward!

On most blockchains, smart contracts cannot directly access information stored outside of their networks. Instead, they rely on specialized data feeds, called oracles, that interact with external things like traditional Web sites and act as translators. As intermediaries, these oracles make external data comprehensible to the blockchains they serve, but at the cost of additional trust requirements, programming, operational expenses, and complexity.

While oracles may seem like a necessary evil, they don't have to be. The Internet Computer, for example, doesn’t need oracles anymore. Its canisters, which are similar to smart contracts on other blockchains, can now directly make HTTPS outcalls to any data source.

What are HTTPS Outcalls?

Canisters store computer code and a program’s current state. HTTPS outcalls refer to the ability of an Internet Computer canister to “call out” to an external resource.

For example, imagine a program on the Internet Computer wants to create a graph of recent US mortgage rates. That program’s canister would request the download URL for Mortgage News Daily. Next, every node in that canister’s subnet would separately request the same URL. Each node would then pass the results of their individual requests to a special verification function that checks for consistency. If all or most nodes get the same result, then the mortgage rate information would be deemed accurate and passed back to the original canister. At that point, the program could proceed to make its chart of recent mortgage rates.

Here's a different, simple, practical video demonstration of HTTPS outcall basics.

Kyle Demonstrates HTTPS Outcalls

Why are HTTPS Outcalls Game Changers?

HTTPS outcalls are game changers because up until now, canisters on the Internet Computer could not directly interact with external resources. Instead, the Internet Computer had to rely on oracles and high-risk bridges, which are vulnerable to hackers. By August 10, 2022, hackers had already stolen $1.4 billion USD year-to-date by exploiting vulnerabilities in crypto bridges.

HTTPS outcalls are the first fruits of a broader focus on research and development to extend the Internet Computer’s interoperability and enhance asset security and integration across multiple blockchains. This will be necessary to ensure that Web3 thrives. Back in February, the ICP community overwhelmingly voted to adopt the new technology via the Network Nervous System (NNS). The technology is now fully functional on the Internet Computer’s mainnet.

Utility Of HTTPS Outcalls

HTTPS outcalls have a dizzying variety of utilities. This innovative new functionality of the Internet Computer will empower canisters to quickly and securely accomplish tasks such as getting real-time crypto exchange rates for DeFi applications, retrieving weather data for insurance services, tracking sports scores, reporting election tallies, forecasting stocks, and so on and so forth. The wealth of information on traditional Web2 APIs was essentially locked away before now. It was also difficult to send push notifications, interact with email, and integrate with other blockchains and clouds. But with oracles on the way out and HTTPS outcalls on the way in, everything is different now.

Thanks to HTTPS outcalls, the Web3 revolution can press forward!

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