What is Handshake?

Handshake Developers

July 9th, 2018

Handshake is building an alternative to digital certificate authorities using blockchain technology. It’s a new system for the internet namespace that builds security, openness, and reliability into the protocol right from the start.

We believe that Handshake will spark a new era of development in decentralized and secure internet protocols, which aims to redistribute ownership and control among internet users around the world.

We’re helping jump start a public internet commons, where critical infrastructure is owned by the developers who build and sustain it. Blockchain technology has the potential to create the internet imagined by its first pioneers: one free from corporate or government control. With your help, Handshake will be a key part of this movement.

Handshake’s decentralized namespace distributes ownership among the community through its own cryptocurrency, HNS, using a direct airdrop to 300,000 FOSS community members. Upon launch of the main net, the community will be able to auction and reserve top-level domains using HNS or trade their HNS as they see fit.


Today, the core technology for internet naming (DNS) is owned and controlled by one company, located in L.A. With Handshake, the core naming technology is owned and controlled by the entire developer community. This is done in a transparent, verifiable way enabled by the crypto that the blockchain provides. ​ Handshake prevents names from being censored or taken over; it also helps prevent tracking and retention of name requests by users. This system takes the power from the hands of corporations and instead gives it to the developer community.


Rather than paying money to faceless corporations for registering names, Handshake lets you obtain and relinquish names using Handshake coins. To help jump start Handshake and ensure that it’s owned by the community, we’re giving away these coins, first to the free and open source contributors of the world, and then to the world itself in what we call the ‘airdrop to humanity.’ Names are used across the globe, so the core naming service should be owned and operated by the world.

VCs and other firms are publicly backing the Handshake system and its future impact on the internet by backing the value of these coins. With this investment, obtaining publicly available names is given an inherent cost and value. Thanks to the blockchain powering it, concrete name ownership and censorship resilience is guaranteed.

​Handshake can work with the existing TLDs (e.g., com, net, org) to ensure existing names continue to work as expected. Handshake manages this by deprecating the need for the root DNS servers. Right now, anyone can point existing TLDs towards their respective nameservers. Eventually, we hope to provide the names currently associated with TLDs using Handshake’s core protocols and are actively working to facilitate that. In addition to this, major privacy and security-focused TLDs such as onion are given first-class support within the Handshake system.

General information


Why is Handshake donating $10.2 million USD to nonprofits?

We believe in social good as a motivating factor. Our commitment to the free and open source software community is absolute. Instead of enriching ourselves, we’ve taken the validation value from this project and shared it with the world.

Building a new DNS for the world is not something any single organization can do on its own. That’s why we’re giving away the $10.2m USD we’ve raised from investors to well-known open source organizations and developers, including Mozilla, Open Rights Group, and the Apache Software Foundation.

Why do we need decentralized names on the internet?

DNS today is not secure and is vulnerable to DDoS attacks. Compromised certificate authorities threaten SSL. Billions of dollars in cryptocurrency are currently being moved around on potentially insecure websites. If you’re personally identifiable as the owner of a valuable asset, there’s a risk to your personal safety. Anonymised registration would end the risk of being held for ransom.

How is Handshake different from other decentralized naming projects?

Some naming projects were too early. The systems do not allow for secure “light clients” (simple payment verification mode), so you would need to run a full node, equivalent to saving all the domains in the world on your computer. Also, prior efforts didn’t pre-reserve names for existing rights holders.

In contrast, Handshake creates a shared investment on time and interest that represents support in the project. We make certificate authorities obsolete and secure SSL. With our robust technology, name lookup is faster than regular DNS (2msec/JJ). Handshake is more resilient to DDoS attacks and makes censorship exceptionally difficult because of the blockchain. We are not replacing domain names but your username for the entire internet, with secure services on top of that. Also, the top 100,000 pre-reserved names will be given to existing rights holders (e.g., Apple and Google) to prevent name squatting.

Why is Handshake distributing coins to free and open source developers?

We want to establish the means for free and open source developers to provide a gift to the world. The handshake blockchain will start with 1.36 billion coins, of which 77.5% will be distributed to open source developers. [add more about social incentives]

Why should I trust a new blockchain project with critical internet naming?

Firstly, Handshake will initially work alongside the current domain name system, co-existing with the root zone. The most visited 100,000 top-level domains will be reserved for existing name holders, so we will support users who want to preserve their conventional DNS.

Crucially, Handshake has clear advantages over the traditional naming and signature systems. Using the Handshake blockchain means avoiding the security vulnerabilities of conventional DNS, which include DDoS attacks on name servers and cache


How do I register a name?

To start, it will be a simple command-line interface for the name buying and auction process.

Technical users can bid directly by interacting with the blockchain using the auction mechanism. Users are in full control and responsible for maintaining their keys.

Non-technical users can use the websites/services that appear wherever they register. These services will participate in the decentralized auction system on the user’s behalf, similar to going to godaddy.com and registering there. The service would bid on the user’s behalf and after they win the auction, the service would maintain the keys for the user.

What does the auction process look like?

All possible names are released weekly over the first year after launch. People can submit blinded bids any time afterwards. After the first bid, everyone else can place bids; after one week, bidding is closed. Everyone who bids has one week to reveal their bid price. After the second week, a winner is chosen. The losers get back their coins, and the winner receives the name with their coins being permanently removed from the system (“burned coins”).

How do I transfer ownership?

If one owns a name directly, the current recipient can give the destination address/key of the new recipient. They create a transaction to send the domain to someone else and is minded in a block on the blockchain. After a week, the transaction is confirmed and the transfer is locked in. This transaction transferring ownership can also have payments embedded so that the recipient will receive coins if and only if the transfer is successful (This means that one does not need to use a third-party escrow to pay for transfer.).

What is the challenge for secure name resolution?

The largest challenge is the “key exchange problem.” This can be solved by putting the certificate and names on the blockchain.

What if I have an open source project – how do I apply?

If your open source project isn’t a non-profit, don’t worry! You can still benefit by participating in our FOSS community airdrop. Handshake coins are being distributed now.

I am involved with an open source project but we are not an incorporated entity.Can we still apply?

If your open source project isn’t a non-profit, don’t worry! You can still benefit by participating in our FOSS community airdrop. Handshake coins are being distributed now.

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