Urbit address space – Azimuth

Now that we know what Urbit IDs are, we can learn how the identity management platform (Azimuth) works.

At its core, we can see Urbit as having two main components: Arvo (the operating system) and Azimuth (the identity system).

Urbit is not just a decentralized computing platform, it is a platform that preserves the state and ownership of computers.

Identity management in Urbit is done by the Azimuth PKI. PKI stands for “Public-Key Infrastructure“. We can imagine the PKI as a system that allows secure communication and data exchange on a network using cryptography. It provides a framework in which entities (such as individuals, organizations, or devices) exchange information securely while verifying each other’s identity.

The PKI relies on a pair of cryptographic keys: a public key and a private key. Both are used in encrypting messages, where the public key is information known to everyone, while the private key is kept secret and used to decrypt messages. This allows for secure and efficient communication.

Blockchain platforms perform these functions very well, in addition to providing the concept of digital scarcity.

Therefore, in 2019, the Azimuth PKI was implemented as a set of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, which provides a secure, transparent, and decentralized way to track the ownership and delegation of addresses.

Each address space on the Urbit network has a corresponding Azimuth point, which is a non-fungible token (NFT) on the Ethereum blockchain.

An NFT is like a certificate, a unique identification of ownership of an asset. In the case of Urbit, that asset is an identity capable of creating a ship within Urbit.

Your personal operating system (Arvo), called your ship, needs to be able to cryptographically prove that it is who it says it is. This proof comes in the form of a keyfile, derived from your identity, which you use to start your ship. That is why Azimuth plays such an important role.

Here is a brief overview of the role Azimuth plays for Urbit:

Ownership: Urbit Azimuth allows users to have verifiable ownership of their identity on the network. Cryptographic keys can be securely stored and managed by users themselves, giving them full control over their online identities.

Delegation: High-level address spaces, such as galaxies and stars, can delegate subspaces (planets) to other users. This delegation process is managed by Azimuth smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, ensuring transparency and security.

Transfer: Azimuth points (NFTs) can be bought, sold, or transferred like any other asset on the Ethereum blockchain. This enables a market for Urbit address spaces, allowing users to trade or monetize these assets.

Voting and governance: Urbit Azimuth also includes a governance system that allows higher-level address space owners (such as galaxies) to participate in the network’s decision-making process. They can propose and vote on updates or changes to the system, ensuring that the network remains decentralized and under the control of its users.

In summary, Azimuth is a key component of the Urbit network, providing a decentralized PKI that manages ownership, delegation, and transfer of address spaces, utilizing the Ethereum blockchain. Combining the knowledge you already have, we can summarize that short names like ~datsyr-radser are Urbit addresses, also called “Azimuth points.”

“Azimuth” is considered the technical nomenclature for Urbit’s PKI, while “Urbit ID” is the common nomenclature.

Note: Azimuth is not a restricted system that works only for Urbit’s Arvo. Being open source and made with smart contracts on Ethereum, it can also be used as a generalized identity system for other projects.

How do users interact with Azimuth?

The primary way users interact with Azimuth is via Bridge. It’s a tool where users can easily manage their Urbit identity.

Some important functions that Bridge offers are:

  • Claim an invite (Bridge allows you to claim a planet if you have received a planet invite code or link);
  • Generate planets/stars;
  • Accept sponsorship request (accept a sponsorship request for a galaxy or star);
  • Transfer (send the Urbit identity to another Ethereum address);
  • Accept transfer (receive an Urbit identity if someone is trying to send one to you);
  • Generate Arvo keyfile (generate the keyfile to initialize a ship with your Urbit identity).

To learn more about Bridge, read this article.

Naive Rollups

Anyone who has used the Ethereum network knows that making transfers on the main network can be expensive due to the fees involved. One of the solutions adopted by many projects is rollup technology, which acts as a second layer (layer 2) that bundles operations before sending them to the main layer (layer 1).

In 2021, a rollup for Azimuth was created to reduce the cost of using the Urbit address manager. This method is called “naive rollups”. It allows groups of Azimuth actions to be sent all together as a single action, from an Urbit node known as a “roller.”

Your Urbit computer does the work for these actions, not the Ethereum system.

Since it is much cheaper, Tlon has a roller that anyone can use for free. This helps new users get started with a long-lasting Azimuth name without knowing about Ethereum, cryptocurrencies, or blockchain technology. But anyone can have a roller and use their own ship for single actions.

For more details about Azimuth rollups, read this article.

Next Steps

Continue learning how Urbit works from this organized course.

You may be also interested in: Urbit Avatars (Sigils)