The Cardano network was engineered to be the best possible foundation for the future of decentralized technology - but a foundation is only as good as what can be built upon it. Smart contracts are one of the most powerful ways a distributed network can generate value, allowing individuals and organizations to agree to conditions and automatically execute exchanges of information and wealth, all in a trustless way without relying on third parties. But smart contracts are still code, which means that the languages and tools they’re written with make a difference to their final level of security, efficiency, and reliability.
That said, understanding the potential of smart contracts is different from realizing their integration and adoption. Existing smart contract languages provide the basis for a solution, but are not the final answer. Current smart contracts are complex and difficult to program, partly because they’re built with languages created at the emergence of distributed technologies, and are vulnerable to malicious actors. Blockchain technology has changed drastically since it first emerged, and the conditions that underpinned the first languages are no longer true. The first answer to a problem is rarely the best, and any enterprise-focused solution cannot be gated by complexity or threaten network security.
Bringing functional programming to smart contracts with Plutus
We’re big fans of functional programming here at IOHK and are proud to be able to say that the code underpinning the Cardano network is written in Haskell, the world’s foremost functional programming language. Plutus is no different. Compared to their object-oriented counterparts, functional programming languages are less prone to ambiguity and human error - always a good thing - as well as being easier to verify and test. By using Plutus to write smart contracts on the Cardano network, developers benefit from all of the above, as well as the ability to use the same language for both on and off-chain code.
While developers will have to wait for the Goguen era to launch smart contracts on the Cardano network, they can begin testing their smart contract skills in the Plutus Playground. IOHK has also created a Plutus ebook and Udemy course to help developers hit the ground running once Plutus is available on the Cardano mainnet.
And bringing Plutus to everyone with Marlowe
The problem with smart contracts, however, is that sometimes the people who know how to write the code don’t have the industry expertise to know how to structure the contracts themselves. Enter Marlowe, IOHK’s domain-specific language (DSL). Marlowe is designed for use by anyone that wants to write a financial smart contract without the programming skills to implement it. Users can try out Marlowe via the Marlowe Playground, a web utility with a user-friendly GUI and drag and drop components, where they can create financial smart contracts which, when complete, will generate fully-functional, implementation-ready Plutus code.
Marlowe gives anyone the ability to gain familiarity with smart contracts while protecting them from unexpected outcomes. It also protects the developer and the system by ensuring that ill-formed smart contracts cannot be run. Finally, Marlowe focuses on commitment-of-funds and time-outs. These make certain that both parties have dedicated funds in the agreement while ensuring that money will not be left in the system after a contract has concluded.
Laying solid foundations
Plutus, Marlowe, and the Cardano ecosystem continue to evolve to provide the safest and most efficient conditions to build decentralized applications. The next generations of Plutus and Marlowe will be announced at the WyoHackathon at the University of Wyoming on September 20, ahead of their release on mainnet at the start of the Goguen era. Marlowe advances include a high-fidelity development system that aids the writing of executable contracts and the new iteration of Plutus will allow users to access their contracts from web or mobile applications. To get the latest news from the event, you can follow the WyoHackathon’s Twitter feed.
At IOHK, we’re focused on creating the safest, most efficient platform for the building of decentralized applications. Plutus and Marlowe will be the first building blocks to be placed on the foundation which is the Cardano network - and they won’t be the last. With this new suite of accessible, inclusive tools, Cardano becomes more capable of serving the diverse audiences that stand to benefit from a secure, decentralized network platform.
Artwork, Stephen Walker