Atomic swaps, as a concept, have been talked about for a fair while now, but it looks increasingly likely that they will take centerstage by the time the year 2018 bows out.
That’s because a whole new generation of crypto users have begun investing in the technology, and this rapid growth has led to concerns about the infrastructure of this whole space. Developers are now turning their focus on usability, at a time when billions of dollars are held within these digital honeypots.
Yet, while there still remain a lot of hurdles, many are assured that advances in atomic swaps are close.
New clear vision
The concept is simple enough — cross blockchain trades to allow two people holding tokens on two different blockchains to trade directly and instantly, without the risk of one party running away with the other’s money before the trade is complete.
This is where the word atomic comes into play.
Basically, this either means that either the trade happens in its entirety, or it doesn’t happen at all. If an issue arises with the network, blockchain, or user, everyone gets their money back.
In order for atomic swaps to work, Lightening has to be up and running on at least two different blockchains. Litecoin pioneered this development, but multiple chains are now running the technology, including Bitcoin, where it is still in testing.
And while the idea of atomic swaps is nothing new, ways to do cross chain trades have been proposed multiple times in the past, the fact that with the Lightning Network in place, the building blocks for the technology are already in place.
The board is set for blockchains to allow for instant clearing, with transactions that occur on the spot, with no waiting involved.
Are we there yet?
Depending on your definition, atomic swaps are already here. Early examples of the atomic swaps technology emerged in various stages in 2017, and we already saw demonstrations of swaps executed between cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Decred.
Many believe that 2018 will be the year when they become available to the public at large.
James Lopp, a BitGo software engineer is optimistic enough.
From a recent conversation I had with someone who is building it: "Nearly instant atomic swaps via Lightning Network are coming sooner than everyone thinks. Definitely not a year away, but mere months."
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) January 4, 2018
Of course, atomic swaps between cryptocurrency tokens on the same blockchain are becoming more and more commonplace. Decentralized exchanges like 0x, Altcoin.io are adding instant trades between tokens on Ethereum compatible protocols.
The situation with cryptocurrencies that are running on blockchains with different codebases is different, though. Purpose-built tools are necessary to facilitate these kinds of transfers today, and that involves building a good amount of infrastructure.
Which, some still believe will take time.
Regardless, no matter how optimistic you are of the mainstream rollout of atomic swaps, there is cause for encouragement by the development that is happening on this front. One website provides a breakdown of how close each cryptocurrency is to supporting cross chain atomic swaps.
To date, there are still very few that can interoperate.
Yes, the developers looking to create these atomic swaps between these vastly different protocols are faced with a lot of challenges. For example, the infrastructure needed to interface between Bitcoin and Ethereum is still in development.
To make things even worse, these cross-chain platforms will also have to go over the main issues that the blockchains themselves are trying to solve, like scalability.
But everyone knows that this is a big thing for the crypto space, and a necessity for it to transition to the next level of public and enterprise acceptance. It is all the more important for smaller, more innovative projects that want to succeed.
The atomic age is coming.
And very soon, what cannot be swapped will be left behind.