IPFS: The (Very Slow) Distributed Permanent Web

IPFS stands for InterPlanetary File System, but you could simply consider it as a distributed, permanent, but ridiculously slow, not properly functioning version of web. You could upload any static file and static website to IPFS. And the whole swarm would probably distribute your files to the moon, that might be why IPFS is so fucking slow.



Install on macOS.

$ brew install ipfs

You might want to run a IPFS node in a Docker container.

# docker-compose.yml
version: "3"
    # https://hub.docker.com/r/ipfs/go-ipfs/
        image: ipfs/go-ipfs:v0.4.14
        working_dir: /export
            - "4001:4001"
            - "5001:5001"
            - "8080:8080"
          - ./ipfs/data/ipfs:/data/ipfs
          - ./ipfs/export:/export

Start your IPFS node.

$ ipfs init
initializing IPFS node at /Users/vinta/.ipfs
generating 2048-bit RSA keypair... done
peer identity: QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6

$ ipfs daemon



Show Node Info

$ ipfs id
    "ID": "QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6",
    "PublicKey": "A_LONG_LONG_LONG_KEY,
    "Addresses": [
    "AgentVersion": "go-ipfs/0.4.14/5db3846",
    "ProtocolVersion": "ipfs/0.1.0"


Add Other Nodes to Your Bootstrap List

This one is from Muzeum, https://muzeum.pro/.

$ ipfs bootstrap add /ip4/

# you could also connect to a node directly
$ ipfs swarm connect /ip4/


Add Files to IPFS

Every IPFS node's default storage is 10GB, and a single node could only store data it needs, which also means each node only stores a small amount of whole data on IPFS. If there is not enough nodes, your data might be distributed to no one except your own node.

Your content is automatically pinned when you ipfs add it.

$ ipfs add -r mysite
added QmRticJ3P5fnb9GGnUj3U9XMkYvGEnv9AQfk6YmgRhivYA mysite/index.html
added QmY9cxiHqTFoWamkQVkpmmqzBrY3hCBEL2XNu3NtX74Fuu mysite/readme.md
added QmTLhFgeWLacpbiGNYmhchHGQAhfNyDZcLt5akJFFLV89V mysite

If files/folders under the folder change, the hash of the folder changes too.

$ vim mysite/index.html
$ ipfs add -r mysite
added QmQTTe3deLfeULKjPHnQTcyFuCmY5JZiwSTiPT4nSt1KVK mysite/index.html # changed
added QmS85tb3aKQNurFm51FaxtK6NyNei4ej3gDR21baDZXRoU mysite            # changed


Pin Files from IPFS

Pinning means storing IPFS files on local node, and prevent them from getting garbage collected. Also, you could access them much quickly. You only need to do ipfs pin add to pin contents someone else uploaded.

$ ipfs pin add -r --progress /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/

$ ipfs pin add --progress /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_group/index.json
pinned QmZwTEhdjT4MyvEnWndVEJzBjp8zGGZH1cEBpshBQs75rY recursively

$ ipfs pin add --progress /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_album/index.json
pinned QmSAuGU5xt5SdR2ca2EDgeHFATSrAQhTfTYpYs9K9qmqED recursively

$ ipfs pin add --progress /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_recording/index.json
pinned QmcTiadA9jRMXx77tydPa6492QJAtjXkKkA4gERaFksy94 recursively

$ ipfs pin add --progress /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_composition/index.json
pinned QmTfqVaGVRnaPRQgYypGYXUvTK1UcDfK5VWYvU4rwK3m26 recursively

P.S. Sometimes when I ipfs pin add a file which is not on my node, the command just hangs there. I'm not sure why that once I access the file first (through curl or any browser), then ipfs pin add works fine. But it does not make sense: if I already get/access/download the file, I could just ipfs add the file and it would be automatically pinned.


Get Files

You have several ways to get files or folders from IPFS:

  • ipfs get dir-hash -o readable-dir-name
    • ipfs get QmbMQNcg8TTo5dXZPtuxbns1XVq6cZJaa7vNqZzeJpKwfk -o mysite
  • ipfs get file-hash -o readable-file-name.ext
    • ipfs get Qmd286K6pohQcTKYqnS1YhWrCiS4gz7Xi34sdwMe9USZ7u -o cat.jpg
  • ipfs get /ipfs/dir-hash/path/to/file.txt
    • ipfs get /ipfs/QmYwAPJzv5CZsnA625s3Xf2nemtYgPpHdWEz79ojWnPbdG/readme
  • ipfs get /ipns/example.com/path/to/file.txt
    • ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_group/index.json

You could also access IPFS files through any public gateway:

  • curl https://ipfs.io/ipns/peer-id/path/to/file.txt
    • curl https://ipfs.io/ipns/QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6/index.html
  • curl https://ipfs.io/ipns/example.com/path/to/file.txt
    • curl https://ipfs.io/ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_group/index.json
  • curl
    • curl

Download IPFS objects with ipfs get.

$ ipfs ls QmW2WQi7j6c7UgJTarActp7tDNikE4B2qXtFCfLPdsgaTQ
Qmd286K6pohQcTKYqnS1YhWrCiS4gz7Xi34sdwMe9USZ7u 443362 cat.jpg

# you could get a folder
$ ipfs get QmW2WQi7j6c7UgJTarActp7tDNikE4B2qXtFCfLPdsgaTQ
$ ls QmW2WQi7j6c7UgJTarActp7tDNikE4B2qXtFCfLPdsgaTQ

# as well as a file
$ ipfs get Qmd286K6pohQcTKYqnS1YhWrCiS4gz7Xi34sdwMe9USZ7u -o cat.jpg

# get files and rename them
$ mkdir -p soundscape/music_group/ soundscape/music_album/ soundscape/music_recording/ soundscape/music_composition/ && \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_group/index.json -o soundscape/music_group/index.json; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_album/index.json -o soundscape/music_album/index.json; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_recording/index.json -o soundscape/music_recording/index.json; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_composition/index.json -o soundscape/music_composition/index.json

# get whole folders
$ ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_group; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_album; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_recording; \
  ipfs get /ipns/ipfs.soundscape.net/music_composition


Display IPFS object data with ipfs cat.

$ ipfs cat Qmd286K6pohQcTKYqnS1YhWrCiS4gz7Xi34sdwMe9USZ7u > cat.jpg
$ ipfs cat QmS4ustL54uo8FzR9455qaxZwuMiUhyvMcX9Ba8nUH4uVv/readme

Publish a Website to IPNS

IPNS stands for InterPlanetary Naming System.

Everytime you change files under a folder, the hash of the folder also changes. So you need a static reference which always points to the latest hash of your folder. You could publish your static website (a folder) to IPNS with the static reference, which is your peer ID as well as the hash of your public key.

By default, every IPFS node has only one pair of private and public key. Therefore, you could only publish one folder with your peer ID. But you could add new keypairs through ipfs key gen and publish multiple folders.

$ ipfs add -r mysite
added QmeqHWZgvgx5C7T6DakX75CJDRgAUoSDZayLYrcnAP8Fma mysite/index.html
added QmUtuRphD9rJgRkfxwj7DcyFEAcSeH3Q1fK8nHxxoDiKK5 mysite

$ ipfs name publish QmUtuRphD9rJgRkfxwj7DcyFEAcSeH3Q1fK8nHxxoDiKK5
published to QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6: /ipfs/QmUtuRphD9rJgRkfxwj7DcyFEAcSeH3Q1fK8nHxxoDiKK5

$ ipfs name resolve QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6

Click following links to see contents.

After you change something, publish it again with new hash.

$ vim mysite/index.html
$ ipfs add -r mysite
added QmNjbhdks8RUgDt6QiNFe5QGe2HrbCsq5FKda9D9hLVkkU mysite/index.html # changed
added QmbMQNcg8TTo5dXZPtuxbns1XVq6cZJaa7vNqZzeJpKwfk mysite            # changed

$ ipfs name publish QmbMQNcg8TTo5dXZPtuxbns1XVq6cZJaa7vNqZzeJpKwfk
published to QmfNy1th16zscbpxe8Q2EQdQkNFn7Y3Rp9kGZWL1EQDyw6: /ipfs/QmbMQNcg8TTo5dXZPtuxbns1XVq6cZJaa7vNqZzeJpKwfk


Create a Domain Name Alias for Your Peer ID

The hash is not very friendly for humans. Fortunately, you could and probably should associate a domain name with your peer ID.

First, you need to add a TXT record whose value is dnslink=/ipns/YOUR_PEER_ID to your domain name. In the following article, we assume the domain name you choose is ipfs.kittenphile.com.

$ dig +short TXT ipfs.kittenphile.com

$ ipfs name resolve -r ipfs.kittenphile.com

Click following links to see contents.


Public Gateway

If you have a public gateway and people retrieve files through it. Your public gateway fetches and stores the data, but it doesn't pin them. Files get removed with the next garbage collection run.