Constellation: an open-source software for sharing distributed peer-to-peer scientific databases


Database documentation and sharing is a crucial part of the scientific process, and more and more scientists are choosing to share their data on centralised data repositories. These repositories have the advantage of guaranteeing immutability (i.e., the data cannot change), which is advantageous in the context of preserving published data "as-is" but is not so amenable to developing living databases (e.g., in continuous citizen science initiatives).

Distributed databases offer an innovative approach to both data sharing and evolution. Since these databases exist entirely on peer-to-peer systems, the distinction between "server" and "client" is blurred and the data residing on each individual device that is accessing it (whether personal computer, mobile phone or server) are equally valid sources of truth that can share data with new peers. These systems therefore have the distinct advantage of becoming more resilient and available as more users access the same data, with significant potential to decrease server costs and entry barriers for citizen science initiatives. At the same time, behind-the-scenes cryptography automatically ensures that the data is valid and cannot be tampered with by intermediary peers.

Distributed databases can also be configured to mirror exising databases in other formats, so that scientists can keep working in their preferred Excel, OpenOffice, SQL or other software while automatically syncing database changes to the decentralised web in real time.

This workshop will present the general concepts behind distributed, peer-to-peer systems with a particular emphasis on the context of scientific data sharing. Attendees will then be guided through an interactive activity on Constellation, a new scientific software for distributed databases, learning how to both create their own databases as well as access and use others' data from the network.

Convener: Julien Malard-Adam | Co-conveners: Joel Harms, Johanna Dipple
Wed, 25 May, 13:20–14:50 (CEST)
Room -2.61/62