Decentralized storage protocol Filecoin has announced a new free service called NFT.Storage, touting it as a future-proof method of preserving non-fungible tokens' (NFTs) metadata and content off-chain.
“NFTs are part of humanity’s cultural legacy—and designing their data for long-term accessibility is crucial," said Mikeal Rogers, engineering manager at Filecoin developer Protocol Labs. "Content addressing and distributed storage networks ensure that digital artwork, basketball cards, and virtual real estate are guaranteed to stay secure and available long-term.”
https://t.co/lj7ntW3gQ5 is a brand new service built specifically for storing off-chain #NFT data. Data is stored decentralized on @IPFS and #Filecoin - plus it's FREE! Learn more: https://t.co/6XIMwRuyaN
— Filecoin (@Filecoin) May 3, 2021
Why is storing NFTs important?
NFTs are cryptographically unique tokens that can be used to represent digital content such as artwork and music. Because they are non-interchangeable, scarce and can be minted as one-of-a-kind or in small batches, a thriving market for NFTs has sprung up among collectors, with some fetching outrageous prices. But there is a catch.
While NFTs can nominally represent artworks, music, or videos, the blockchain tokens don’t actually contain the files themselves—or even the name of their author, for that matter. Instead, an NFT is essentially a collection of metadata—links to the files they represent, which need to be hosted by third parties such as auction platforms.
Because of this, there’s a very real risk of multi-million dollar NFTs becoming defunct if the files they represent are no longer available on the Internet—for example, if the company hosting the file goes under. NFTs can even lose their status as a digital certificate of authenticity and ownership, if there is nothing provably connecting them to an actual media file.
Keeping files accessible
To solve this problem, Filecoin developer Protocol Labs and cloud storage service provider Pinata have introduced NFT.Storage, a decentralized protocol that allows users to “back up” their NFTs and the corresponding media via content addressing and decentralized storage.
NFT.Storage is backed by Filecoin and InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) technologies. The latter enables people to create an IPFS hash of their content (called a content identifier, or CID). The CID can be used to find the corresponding files, which are hosted on IPFS nodes all around the world. This method ensures that files—including those attached to NFTs—can always be found as long as at least one host provides access to them.
According to Pinata’s website, the service provides "secure and verifiable files for your NFTs." Users upload their content via Pinata, and attach the IPFS CID to their NFT before minting it.
Per Filecoin’s announcement, this method, known as content addressing, could prevent problems such as fragile links and “rug pulls”, since CIDs are generated from the content itself.
“NFT.Storage uses Filecoin for long-term decentralized data storage—brokering storage and retrieval deals to preserve NFT data long-term. Filecoin provides a permanence layer using cryptographic proofs to ensure the durability and persistence of the NFT data over time,” the press release added.
The developers also noted that data stored via IPFS and Filecoin can be retrieved directly in a browser via any public IPFS.
Safe forever—until further notice
There are, however, still some caveats. Although Filecoin states that NFTs will be “guaranteed to stay secure and available long-term” on its service, NFT.Storage is not wholly exempt from the same uncertainty as other third-party hosting service providers.
“Data will continue to be persisted ad infinitum or until Protocol Labs decides to conclude the NFT.storage project,” NFT.Storage’s Terms of Service state, adding that “data will be stored at no cost to the user on IPFS for as long as Protocol Labs, Inc. continues to offer free storage for NFT’s. Protocol Labs, Inc. reserves the right to terminate NFT.storage at its sole discretion.”
Filecoin has promised to notify NFT enthusiasts 90 days before potential termination of the service “to allow users enough time to make arrangements for storing their data by other means.”
So while NFT.Storage offers an additional layer of security for NFT creators and owners, it's not yet a foolproof solution.