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The Stack Archive

Google attempts ‘universal’ file-sharing protocol

Wed 22 Feb 2017

A team of software engineers at Google have devised a new file-sharing protocol which aims to provide direct agnostic links to content wherever it is hosted.

Dubbed Upspin, the framework is entirely open source, with full implementation possible via the scheme’s GitHub repository. The naming convention follows Unix/Linux standards, beginning with the user’s unique ID, in the form of an email address, such as [email protected]/dir/file. The very nature of the naming system obviously makes anonymity problematic; comparisons with Bittorrent systems are therefore not valid, since the resolution does not support CDN-style recombination of data.

UpSpin supports Unix-like symbolic links, i.e. links which resolve to other links, which resolve to the actual material being shared. It also employs directory-level file-based permissions – Unix/Linux standards wherein text files accompanying the information determine to what extent, if any, it can be shared.

Though intended to support fixed, static content, UpSpin can also resolve to dynamic URIs, which may contain any number of parameters affixed to the source location.

Access is encrypted at any stage in transfer, with the naming resource existing in clear text form only on the hosting server. Extending the scheme into cloud-based systems does compromise the essential security of the format in any way.

The team, which includes Andrew Gerrand, Eric Grosse, Rob Pike, Eduardo Pinheiro and Dave Presotto, intends to add support for Google’s Transparency Server soon.

The announcement notes that the scheme is zero-knowledge by nature – users who lose encryption keys will likewise lose the data.

Upspin is an unusually abstract solution, since it is neither an app nor a service, but a method of routing information similar to the http protocol. It follows on 15 years of development, particularly in the OSX environment, which has downplayed the importance of knowing where information was stored, in favour of soft, hard or symbolic links which make the matter irrelevant – so long as you can remember the right search terms.

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