By Ana Farr December 31, 2018

A Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain Programming

You’ve likely heard of the concept of cryptocurrency and their mining process, which means you have likely heard the term “blockchain” at least once or twice.

If you still aren’t really sure what it’s all about, don’t worry. You aren’t alone, as there are many programmers out there who can’t accurately describe blockchain and cryptocurrency, and a far smaller number actually puts one or both terms to use on a regular basis.

Getting to Know Blockchain Technology

As you might have deduced from the name, a blockchain is a type of digital ledger that stores blocks of data in an interconnected fashion. New data is added to the blockchain from a theoretically limitless number of nodes that a blockchain can support. As the digital ledger is also decentralized, these nodes can be located anywhere in the world.

Being decentralized also means that there does not need to be a single controlling authority telling the blockchain how to operate; it will go through the motions of taking in data, offloading the verification process, adding new blocks to the chain, and updating the nodes with the newest version of the chain, all automatically.

Aside from storing a wide variety of data, each block also includes a timestamp about its generation along with other classification data to ensure the chain easily knows how to sort the data. This is only one of the ways in which blockchain technology promotes automation and ensures its decentralized nature never needs to be compromised.

Blockchain offers an unprecedented ability to allow users access to their own transactions while at the same time ensuring that all of the data in the blockchain remains both secure and immutable. If a transaction ends up not matching what the chain expects, either when the block is first added to the chain or at a later point, it is automatically deleted and replaced with an earlier, already verified, version of the corrupted data (if applicable).

Additionally, if somehow a block is added that includes false data, it will still be detected, as 51 percent of all currently active nodes have to sign off on the logical legitimacy of the new block before it will be accepted permanently into the blockchain as a whole.

While this security protocol makes blockchain technology virtually tamper-proof these days, this may not always be the case. The way to successfully crack blockchain’s security is well-known; it is just a matter of someone coming along who is able to execute it.

Now, let’s move on to learn how one can become a blockchain programmer. Remember, learning to program a blockchain is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You first need to learn programming languages, take blockchain programming courses online, and read eBooks and the latest news to come up with a working protocol.

The Best Programming Languages for Blockchain

Here is a look at a few blockchain programming languages, the purpose they serve, and some resources for further learning. Each section will be purely introductory, as the topic can get pretty extensive and full of code.

1. C++

blockchain programming

Let’s start with the oldest of them all, C++. The language came to life in 1985 through the efforts of Bjarne Stroustrup. By then, the rudimentary C language existed, but it was process-oriented; C++ cropped up as an upgraded extension that is object-oriented (where data and functions are bundled up into a package called “Objects”). For the complete freshman, an object-oriented product can be reused on other platforms without the need for fresh coding.

C++ retained the efficiency, security, and flexibility of C. Its evergreen nature has made it the core language for blockchain coding, including the bitcoin blockchain. Warning to the newbies, though: As a type-only language with fairly outdated syntax, the learning curve is a bit steep. However, as most blockchain technologies are written in this language, any efforts you put in to learn this language will pay forth abundantly.

Here are a few more reasons why C++ is preferred for blockchain coding:

Better memory control. There are a lot of demands in the blockchain ecosystem. For instance, the platform needs to be a secure fortress but at the same time execute transactions and interact with all the nodes at a faster speed. For all these to happen, you need to have better control over memory and CPU usage. C++ can offer you that.

Superb multithreading. Threads are a bundle of instructions that are to be executed at the same time. During blockchain development, you will come across tasks that parallelize and those that do not. Most languages can only handle one of these tasks and not both. Guess what, C++ allows you to handle both simultaneously.

Compile time polymorphism. As was said before, C++ is an object-oriented programming (OOP) language. It also happens that polymorphism (using a certain feature in several ways) is a property of OOP. Now, by coding your blockchain through C++, you will be able to execute some tasks separately, thus enhancing the performance of the entire digital ledger.

Code isolation. This archaic but revolutionary coding language has namespace features that can be shipped from one place to another. But at times, collisions can occur and distort the entire system. However, thanks to the language’s segmentation ability that groups various APIs differently, code isolation/separation can become a little easier.

Maturity. As one of the oldest coding languages, C++ is mature and gets updated on a regular basis. Besides that, the language sports practical features like debuggers and special analytical tools that can detect or optimize various functions. This complexity and up-to-dateness of the language may be some of the reasons why Satoshi used it for bitcoin’s source code.

2. Python

blockchain programming

Python is another simple coding language for a beginner programmer who is afraid of C++’s complex nature. It was developed in 1991 by a Dutch programmer by the name of Guido van Rossum. The language’s structure is based on a simple premise: simplicity, readability, and minimalism.

The simple nature of this language has seen it be supported by a massive crowd of both new and established developers. Rather than the curly brackets and keywords used in C++ to represent code blocks, Python uses simple and less-scary white spaces.

Simplicity can be easily translated to mean inefficiency. However, Python is good enough to build complex digital ledgers that are stable and reliable. And here is the best part: This language is scripted and can be compiled and uncompiled. For instance, when you find a bug in your code, you just fix it and reload your application.

For other languages like C++, you need to stop the app, fix the bug in your source code, and recompile it before restarting the application. It’s quite a lot of work that can be avoided by choosing Python. Additionally, the language offers developers a vast, free resource center that they can use to write their blockchain code.

3. JavaScript

blockchain programming

JavaScript is one of the most-used languages on the World Wide Web. If you want an interactive site with beautiful UIs, this is the language to use. All the major browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox support it.

We already said that a blockchain is, roughly put, a system of blocks placed one after the other. However, there is something special about this ledger—it’s immutable, meaning once data has been written, there is no undoing. JavaScript is one of the go-to languages when making a simple but tamperproof blockchain that is impossible for hackers and other deceitful individuals to alter. Just one setback, though: The language lacks the SHA256 hash function.

4. Solidity

This is the most complex, high-level language that applies JavaScript’s scripts and functions as well as C++’s classes. The language is not only beginner-friendly but also offers tips and instructions on how to go about using its code. While the language is not very complicated, those who have a fair grasp of modern programming languages have an advantage.

Even though Solidity is still trying to establish its footing in the coding world, Ethereum (the second-biggest cryptocurrency after bitcoin) is already using it. Well, they made the language, so it makes sense that they be the first ones to use it. Nevertheless, Ethereum blockchain is one of the most efficient when it comes to speed and ease of creating smart contracts.

So if you are looking to create a decentralized app, hold an initial coin offering, or build a secure, immutable, and multipurpose blockchain, Solidity is the language to use. It's a must-know language for anyone who wishes to integrate smart contracts in their digital ledger. For tutorials on Solidity, you can check out ConsenSys Academy or the languages’ documentation from readthedocs.io.

5. GO

GO is the short form of GOLang, a relatively modern coding language that was developed in 2007 at Google and officially released for public use in 2012. This robust and multipurpose coding language was created in an effort to combine both the syntax and user-friendliness of other common languages like JavaScript while retaining the reliable security aspects of older languages like C and C++.

GO inherently runs in an operating system, and this means maximum flexibility, especially when dealing with several parts of a blockchain simultaneously. Ethereum’s SDK protocol is written in GO, and there are many other blockchain applications of this language.

How to Become a Blockchain Developer

Although blockchain represents only a single item, there are different parts in it that developers can work on. No one is restricting you from learning everything there is to a digital ledger, but it’s usually easier to start with a smaller branch and master it fully before moving to the next. The core parts of a blockchain you can develop include:

  • Decentralized applications (Dapps)
  • Smart contracts
  • ICOs

Don’t roll up your sleeves just yet. The most skilled programmers usually browse through a storm of resources on anything before getting started. So, once you are familiar with your preferred programming language, the next best thing to do would be to read bitcoin’s white paper (unless you don’t dream of becoming as good as Satoshi) and check out several books that go deeper into the technical details of the blockchain.

It doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with some of the terms and lexicons within the industry. If you want to immerse yourself deeper into the blockchain world, then you need to buy some cryptocurrencies (just a few) and play around with them to see how the platform works.

There are many entertaining yet in-depth courses out there that will teach you blockchain programming step by step. Space Doggos and CryptoZombies are some of the gamified courses that turn work into play so beginners can have an easier time coding.

Space Doggos is a space adventure game that teaches learners how to develop the Ethereum blockchain. The game is detailed with several chapters and notes for gamers. The player will code the game’s characters (the Dog, its costume, mood, etc.) and the environment in Solidity language.

As you move on to the next chapters of Space Doggos’ adventure, the code gets more complex. The concept is almost the same with CryptoZombies. Take a look at the next section for places where you can learn to code a blockchain in detail.

Advanced Courses

You won’t become an adept blockchain developer by creating zombies and space doggies. These tutorials only help to clear the foggy coding path. You need advanced courses in whichever language you prefer to create a useful, secure, and faster blockchain. Some of the best courses for beginners include Blockchain A-Z, Blockgeeks’ blockchain tutorial, and Build a Blockchain.

Developing a blockchain comes with a lot of challenges. Therefore, as a budding developer, you need to constantly mix with individuals of the same passion on platforms like GitHub, Reddit, Stack Exchange, and many others. Chat with participants, ask questions, and seek assistance from the mature members of the community in order to build a project with little to no errors.

For bookworms, the best books to learn blockchain include Blockchain by Josh Thompsons, Ethereum by Henning Diedrich, Introducing Ethereum and Solidity by Chris Dannen, and Blockchain by Melanie Swan.

The Bottom Line

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, particularly bitcoin, are believed to have a huge role to play in asset and data transfer. As of late 2018, only a few blockchain platforms are up and running, while many others are still in the experimental stage. So, if you dream of becoming an accomplished developer in this space, then you have to start by mastering a few of the common blockchain programming languages.

While you can do it, it’s imperative to understand that this sphere already has millions of active developers, and all of them are eyeing the few blockchain gigs out there. However, only a few firmly believe in their skills, and this means the market still needs more people who know what they are doing.

So is it too late to learn blockchain programming? No, it’s not too late for those who wish to learn from scratch. But before you grab the tools for the job, what section of the blockchain do you want to master? What problem do you want to solve? If you can provide answers to those questions, then you are ready to roll.

About the author

    Ana Farr

    Ana Farr is the Community Manager at ecommerce-platforms.com and unblock.net. She is a matcha and mindfulness enthusiast and loves to chat about the implications of blockchain technology.