What Is Cosmos? Explained

TLDR

Cosmos is an ecosystem of interoperable blockchains that provides the scalability, interoperability, and customizability needed for blockchains to achieve mass adoption with minimal environmental impact.

Cosmos is not an individual blockchain, and Cosmos users do not need the ATOM token to transact across the Cosmos ecosystem.

What Is Cosmos?

Cosmos is an ecosystem of interoperable blockchains commonly referred to as “the internet of blockchains.” 

Contrary to popular belief, Cosmos is not the name of one blockchain but of an ecosystem of many sovereign blockchains. In addition, the ATOM token is not the only token in the Cosmos ecosystem. ATOM is the native cryptocurrency of the “Cosmos Hub,” the first blockchain built within the Cosmos ecosystem. Cosmos blockchains like Umee have their own cryptocurrencies and use their native token for transaction fees, governance, and security. Currently there are more than 60 different Cosmos blockchains and over 60 different Cosmos tokens in the ecosystem.

Cosmos provides the scalability, interoperability, and sovereignty needed for blockchains to achieve mass adoption with minimal environmental impact. Cosmos does this by providing developer-friendly open source tools like the Cosmos Software Development Kit (Cosmos SDK), the Inter-Blockchain Communication Protocol (IBC), and Ignite CLI to allow developers to easily launch a Cosmos Proof of Stake blockchain that is interoperable by default and can be optimized for a specific use case. 

Scalability

Imagine a world where everyone who wants to connect to the internet must share the same internet service provider. When smaller amounts of people are using the internet it will work fine, but as more users connect the service will gradually become slower for individual users as the bandwidth is divided until eventually it becomes unusable. Realistically the internet service provider would increase the cost of service, and only those who can afford the higher rates could enjoy reasonable internet speeds. Currently, blockchains can be thought of as internet service providers in this scenario.

If there was only a single blockchain in existence, its capabilities would be extremely limited. Individual blockchains are limited by scalability issues as more applications are built on top. Greater amounts of users on a single blockchain typically leads to slow and expensive transactions, making it less accessible for each individual user. In order for blockchains to achieve mass adoption they will need to scale to provide fast and inexpensive transactions for billions of users. This is where Cosmos comes in.

Cosmos blockchains are horizontally scalable, meaning that if one Cosmos blockchain is unable to scale to support demand, another interconnected blockchain (or several) can be deployed to help ease loads. In the near future, interchain security will allow Cosmos blockchains to “rent” security and consensus through more well-established Cosmos blockchains for stronger network security, making it even easier to deploy a new Cosmos blockchain. In addition, deploying a new blockchain can be incredibly difficult. By providing developers with the tools they need to launch a blockchain more easily, Cosmos allows builders to focus on optimizing different blockchains for specific use cases. 

While most blockchains focus on attracting developers to build applications on top of them, the Cosmos ecosystem is focused on building an internet of thousands of application-specific blockchains. Since most applications in the Cosmos ecosystem are built as their own blockchains, the user experience is enhanced significantly - this is why Umee users are able to enjoy cheap fast-finality transactions!

Interoperability

In the world we know not all physical currencies are universally accepted, so people typically must use local currencies to transact depending on which country they’re in. In order to obtain local currencies, people usually must go through a bank or foreign currency exchange; a process which can be both inconvenient and costly.

Blockchains also face interoperability issues. While crypto makes it even easier for two parties to transact without the need for a third party, crypto-assets generally exist in different formats and are not universally accepted across different blockchains. As more blockchains are developed to tackle scalability issues, many chains remain isolated and are unable to easily exchange data with each other. Users are often forced to go through centralized bridge providers and use different “wrapped” versions of assets on various chains (at exchange rates that are often unfavorable). This may expose users to unwanted gatekeepers and unnecessary risks while fragmenting liquidity across different chains.

Cosmos blockchains are natively interoperable with each other. Cosmos blockchains utilize the Inter-Blockchain Communication Protocol (IBC) to seamlessly communicate with each other. 

The IBC enables users to instantly and securely transfer tokens between independent blockchains in a completely decentralized manner. Native Cosmos tokens can be transferred across Cosmos blockchains without the need for a third party bridge. Through IBC, applications built within the Cosmos ecosystem are interoperable seamlessly across different blockchains, allowing borderless transactions and money-lego potentials. 

Sovereignty

Regular businesses are all subject to rules and regulations in the jurisdictions in which they operate. When an organization is no longer willing or able to follow the rules in one jurisdiction, they may choose to relocate to an area with less restrictions.

In crypto, decentralized applications are not limited by a single jurisdiction and are only subject to the parameters of the underlying blockchain which they are built on top of. If there is a critical bug in an application which requires a change to the blockchain, the blockchain’s governance must be in agreement in order for anything to be done about it - otherwise the application developers will likely need to build their product on another blockchain with more favorable parameters. In addition to scalability and interoperability issues, the lack of sovereignty and customizability for applications is another area many existing blockchains fall short.

Cosmos’ vision for an ecosystem of interoperable application-specific blockchains gives developers more freedom to customize a blockchain for their specific needs. Rather than having thousands of decentralized applications relying on the same underlying blockchain and thus being subject to the governance decisions (or lack of action) by that blockchain’s governance, Cosmos blockchains can focus on making the changes needed to enhance the key application(s) on top without affecting other unrelated apps. 

Environmental Impact

Many of the most well known blockchains like Bitcoin use a Proof of Work consensus mechanism that involves an unlimited number of network participants competing to propose transaction data and earn crypto for their work. This highly competitive process requires serious network participants to operate a lot of equipment in order to increase their chances of earning rewards, and thus consumes a lot of energy. Many people are hesitant to embrace blockchain technology due to the environmental concerns commonly associated with it.

Cosmos blockchains like Umee use a Proof of Stake consensus mechanism that involves a limited number of network participants taking turns proposing transaction data. Since network participants are randomly selected to propose transaction data, there is no need for them to compete against each other and consume large amounts of energy in order to profit. Additionally, network participants often use renewable energy to offset their carbon footprint. Proof of Stake blockchains are viewed as environmentally friendly.

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