Decentralized identifiers are open-standard digital identifiers. They enable the creation of verifiable, decentralized identities, hence, helping protect individual data.
Decentralized identifiers allow users to connect and share data with each other without using intermediaries (Facebook, Google, etc). Furthermore, credentials used by these identifiers are easily verifiable since they are stored on the blockchain.
Interest in this technology is increasing mainly because the World Wide Web Consortium announced that decentralized identifiers (DIDs) have become an official Web Standard.
Decentralized identifiers are part of the Decentralized Privacy meta trend.
This meta trend is mainly driven by the growing demand for decentralized data systems (searches for “decentralized data” have grown by 200% in the last two years).
Decentralized social networks, decentralized applications and decentralized search engines are examples of platforms that utilize blockchain technology to develop privacy-focused products.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
Question: What is a Decentralized Identifier?
Answer: A Decentralized Identifier (DID) is a new type of identifier that enables verifiable, decentralized digital identity. It is a unique identifier that is cryptographically verifiable and does not require a central issuing agency. A Decentralized Identifier (DID) is a unique identifier that enables individuals, organizations, or things to have control over their digital identity and the associated data. Unlike traditional identifiers such as usernames or email addresses, DIDs are decentralized and do not rely on a central authority for validation or management. DIDs are designed to be persistent, privacy-preserving, and portable, allowing individuals to manage and control their identity information across different systems and platforms.
Question: What is a DID document?
Answer: A DID document is a set of data describing the DID subject, including mechanisms, such as cryptographic public keys, that the DID subject or a DID delegate can use to authenticate itself and prove its association with the DID.
Question: What is a DID method?
Answer: A DID method is a specification that defines how a DID resolver can apply the CRUD operations to create, read, update, and deactivate a DID document using a particular type of identifier. Each DID method has a name that appears between the first and second colon in the DID syntax, e.g., did:example:.
Question: What are the benefits of using Decentralized Identifiers?
Answer: The benefits of using Decentralized Identifiers include enabling verifiable, decentralized digital identity, providing greater privacy and security, and reducing the risk of identity theft. Using Decentralized Identifiers offers several benefits. Firstly, DIDs empower individuals and entities to have full control over their digital identity and personal data. They enable selective disclosure, meaning users can choose what information to share and with whom, enhancing privacy and minimizing data exposure. DIDs also promote interoperability between different systems and platforms, allowing for seamless identity management and verification across various applications. Additionally, DIDs reduce reliance on centralized identity providers, mitigating the risks of data breaches and identity theft.
DIDs have several benefits over traditional identifiers, such as:
- They are decentralized: there is no central issuing agency or authority that can revoke or censor them.
- They are persistent: they can exist as long as the DID controller wants them to, without depending on any external service or organization.
- They are cryptographically verifiable: they can be proven to be controlled by the DID controller using cryptographic proofs, such as digital signatures or zero-knowledge proofs.
- They are resolvable: they can be used to discover metadata about the DID subject, such as public keys or service endpoints, by resolving them against a distributed network of nodes.
Question: How do Decentralized Identifiers work?
Answer: Decentralized Identifiers work by enabling users to create unique identifiers that are cryptographically verifiable and do not require a central issuing agency. These identifiers can be used to verify identity and access across different systems and platforms. A Decentralized Identifier works by utilizing a combination of cryptographic techniques and distributed ledger technologies. Each DID is associated with a public-private key pair, where the private key is securely held by the entity that owns the DID. The public key is published on the underlying decentralized ledger, which serves as a tamper-proof and verifiable record of the DID’s existence. DIDs can be resolved using decentralized resolution mechanisms, allowing entities to authenticate and interact with each other without relying on a centralized identity provider.
Question: How are DIDs used?
Answer: DIDs are used to identify any subject (e.g., a person, organization, thing, data model, abstract entity, etc.) that the controller of the DID decides that it identifies. DIDs enable a new model of decentralized digital identity that is often referred to as self-sovereign identity or decentralized identity. DIDs are also used to enable trusted interactions associated with the DID subject through the use of verification methods and service endpoints expressed in the DID document.
Question: What is the difference between a Decentralized Identifier and a traditional identifier?
Answer: The main difference between a Decentralized Identifier and a traditional identifier is that DIDs are cryptographically verifiable and do not require a central issuing agency. This makes them more secure and less prone to identity theft.
Question: Are Decentralized Identifiers compatible with existing identity systems?
Answer: Yes, Decentralized Identifiers are designed to be compatible with existing identity systems. They can be used in conjunction with traditional username/password-based authentication systems or integrated into more advanced identity frameworks such as Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) or Verifiable Credentials (VC). DIDs provide a foundation for building decentralized and interoperable identity solutions, enabling seamless integration with existing infrastructure while enhancing security, privacy, and user control.
Question: How can I create a Decentralized Identifier?
Answer: There are several ways to create a Decentralized Identifier, including using open-source software or working with a vendor that specializes in decentralized identity solutions.
Question: How can I use my Decentralized Identifier?
Answer: You can use your Decentralized Identifier to verify your identity and access across different systems and platforms. This can include logging into websites, accessing online services, and more.
Question: Are there any downsides to using Decentralized Identifiers?
Answer: While there are many benefits to using Decentralized Identifiers, there are also some potential downsides. These include the complexity of implementing decentralized identity solutions and the need for users to manage their own cryptographic keys.
Question: How do I manage my cryptographic keys for my Decentralized Identifier?
Answer: There are several ways to manage cryptographic keys for your Decentralized Identifier, including using open-source software or working with a vendor that specializes in decentralized identity solutions.
Question: Can a Decentralized Identifier be revoked or deleted?
Answer: One of the key principles of Decentralized Identifiers is user control. Entities that own a DID have the ability to revoke or delete their identifier if needed. Revocation can be done by updating the associated decentralized ledger with a revocation entry, indicating that the DID is no longer valid. However, it’s important to note that the immutability of the decentralized ledger ensures a historical record of the revoked DID, preserving the integrity and auditability of past interactions. The ability to revoke or delete a DID may also depend on the specific implementation or framework being used.
Question: How can I ensure the privacy of my Decentralized Identifier?
Answer: You can ensure the privacy of your Decentralized Identifier by using encryption and other security measures to protect your personal information.
Question: How do Decentralized Identifiers ensure security and privacy?
Answer: Decentralized Identifiers employ cryptographic techniques to ensure security and privacy. The private key associated with a DID is securely held by the entity, providing control over the use and disclosure of identity information. Cryptographic signatures are used to verify the integrity and authenticity of data associated with a DID. Selective disclosure mechanisms enable users to share only necessary information, reducing the exposure of personal data. By leveraging decentralized ledger technologies, DIDs provide a tamper-proof and auditable record of identity-related activities, enhancing security and privacy assurances.
Question: What are some use cases for Decentralized Identifiers?
Answer: Some use cases for Decentralized Identifiers include verifying identity for online services, providing secure access to medical records, and enabling secure voting systems.
Question: What are some examples of DID methods?
Answer: There are many different types of DID methods, all of which must conform to the DID standard. Some examples of DID methods are:
- did:key: A simple method that uses a public key as the identifier and embeds it in the DID document.
- did:web: A method that uses a domain name or URL as the identifier and hosts the DID document on a web server.
- did:ethr: A method that uses an Ethereum address as the identifier and stores the DID document on the Ethereum blockchain or IPFS.
- did:sov: A method that uses a UUID as the identifier and stores the DID document on the Sovrin ledger, a public permissioned blockchain for identity.
Question: Can Decentralized Identifiers be used for enterprise applications?
Answer: Absolutely, Decentralized Identifiers can be utilized for a wide range of enterprise applications. They offer enhanced security and privacy features, making them suitable for managing employee identities, customer authentication, supply chain management, and more. Enterprises can leverage DIDs to establish trusted relationships with partners, streamline identity verification processes, and enable secure data sharing while maintaining control over sensitive information. The decentralized nature of DIDs also aligns with the principles of trust and transparency, making them well-suited for enterprise use cases.
Question: Are there any standardization efforts for Decentralized Identifiers?
Answer: Yes, there are standardization efforts for Decentralized Identifiers to ensure interoperability and consistent implementation. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the Decentralized Identifiers (DID) specification, which provides a set of standards and guidelines for creating and resolving DIDs. Additionally, various working groups and organizations, such as the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF), contribute to the development and adoption of interoperable identity solutions based on DIDs. These standardization efforts aim to establish a common framework for managing decentralized identities across different platforms and systems.
Question: Can Decentralized Identifiers be used for verifiable credentials?
Answer: Yes, Decentralized Identifiers can be used in conjunction with verifiable credentials. Verifiable credentials are a digital representation of identity information or attributes that are issued by trusted parties and can be cryptographically verified. DIDs provide a secure and decentralized foundation for issuing, managing, and verifying verifiable credentials. By combining DIDs with verifiable credentials, individuals can have greater control over their identity information, share trustworthy credentials with others, and simplify the process of identity verification in various contexts.
Question: How can developers implement Decentralized Identifiers in their applications?
Answer: Developers can implement Decentralized Identifiers in their applications by following the specifications and guidelines provided by organizations like the W3C. There are open-source libraries and software development kits (SDKs) available that simplify the integration of DIDs into applications. These tools provide APIs and utilities for generating DIDs, managing associated keys, resolving DIDs, and interacting with decentralized identity ecosystems. Additionally, developers can participate in decentralized identity communities and forums to collaborate, share knowledge, and seek assistance in implementing DIDs effectively within their applications.
Question: How are DIDs resolved?
Answer: DIDs are resolved by using a DID resolver, which is a software or service that takes a DID as input and returns a DID document as output. A DID resolver may use different mechanisms to resolve different types of DIDs, such as querying a blockchain, accessing a web server, or contacting a peer-to-peer network.
Question: How are DIDs updated or deactivated?
Answer: DIDs are updated or deactivated by using a DID update or deactivate operation, which is defined by each DID method specification. A DID update operation modifies the existing DID document associated with a DID, while a DID deactivate operation marks the DID as no longer in use. Both operations require proof of control from the DID controller, such as signing with a private key or providing a zero-knowledge proof.
Question: How are DIDs related to verifiable credentials?
Answer: Verifiable credentials are digital documents that contain claims about an entity, such as name, age, or qualification. Verifiable credentials can be issued by one entity to another entity and can be verified by any entity that trusts the issuer. DIDs can be used to identify the issuer, holder, and subject of verifiable credentials and to provide verification methods for proving control over these identifiers. DIDs can also be used to express service endpoints for requesting or presenting verifiable credentials.
Question: How are DIDs standardized?
Answer: The W3C Decentralized Identifier Working Group developed a specification for decentralized identifiers to standardize the core architecture, data model, and representation of DIDs. The W3C approved the DID 1.0 specification as a W3C Recommendation on July 19th 2022. The W3C also maintains a registry of DID methods and other related specifications.