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Databases and the Blockchain

Cryptocurrency and Blockchain technologies have the potential to be as powerful and disruptive as the internet itself. Database systems need to evolve to leverage Blockchain capabilities.

The Blockchain represents a new type of database:

Immutability is Revolutionary

They say history is written by the winners. In databases, history is written by the developer or the DBA. There’s no practical way to detect back-dating or tampering with historical data, but there’s no arguing with Blockchain data.

Once sealed on the Blockchain, historical data is immune from modification.

Wall Street Journal

“Trust is a foundational feature of the Blockchain as the data written into it is immutable, and can never be changed, modified or removed.”

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Blockchain proofs and the law

The immutability of data within a Blockchain constitutes a revolution in computer science. For the first time, we have a way of storing data which cannot be altered and whose creation data and integrity can be cryptographically proven.

Data in a traditional database can be altered at any time by a database administrator or a privileged developer. In contrast, data in a public Blockchain is immutable. We now have an absolute mathematical proof of the veracity and provenance of a data item.

Blockchain cryptographic proofs are increasingly being recognized as legal proofs. We can foresee a day in which Blockchain records are held to the same evidentiary standards as DNA or fingerprint records.

Hangzhou Internet
Court (China)

“The usage of a third-party Blockchain platform that is reliable without conflict of interests provides the legal ground for proving the intellectual infringement.”

Arizona Bill HB2603

“A signature that is secured through Blockchain technology is considered to be in an electronic form and to be an electronic signature.”

National Conference of
State Legislatures

Blockchain legislation pending or passed in at least 18 US states.

2016 Vermont
Statutes Title12

“A digital record electronically registered in a Blockchain shall be self-authenticating pursuant to Vermont Rule of Evidence 902.”

Blockchain vs DBMS

Compared to a traditional DBMS, the Blockchain has many drawbacks:

High latency and
low throughput.

Limited data storage

Transactions are
publicly visible

No Schema or
data model.


Poor developer

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Why use ProvenDB?

To prove you created some content.

To prove the date of a legal or official document.

To prove that a document or data has not been tampered with or altered.

To prove the exact history (provenance) of some data.

ProvenDB is particularly useful for:

Document Management

Legal Records


Intellectual Property and
Media Management Solutions

Government and Regulatory

Audit and Access
Management Systems

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How ProvenDB works

ProvenDB can prove multiple documents with a single hash using a Merkle tree. We don’t need a whole tree to prove an individual document that is included in the final hash - we only need the “Merkle path.” Thousands of documents can be included in a single Merkle tree - all anchored to a single Blockchain transaction.

What is a hash?

A hash is a mathematical “signature” of a document - a digital fingerprint. The chances of two documents having the same hash are infinitesimally small. Hashes are far, far more precise proofs of document identity than DNA or fingerprints.

Blockchain proofs

ProvenDB can generate proofs for a database version or a single document. Although only the hash for a complete version is anchored on the Blockchain, ProvenDB can supply a Merkle tree path which provides cryptographic proof that a given document was included within the Blockchain hash. In this way, users of ProvenDB may obtain proofs for individual documents that can be validated without the need to access any other documents within the database.


ProvenDB presents a MongoDB compatible API to the database user. Every change to the database creates a new logical version within the database. The user can view the older versions at any time.

The database user requests a proof be placed on the Blockchain for a specific version. This proof can be used to prove the timestamp of the entire version or any document in that version.

Performance and Economics

Blockchain is sometimes called “the world’s worst database”; it offers truly terrible transactional throughput and storage costs. For instance, the Ethereum Blockchain can process only 15 transactions per second with a storage cost of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars per Gigabyte.

The architecture of ProvenDB results in a penalty on storage overhead and throughout. However, this overhead is trivial compared to that of the Blockchain. While ProvenDB might be marginally slower and more expensive than a traditional database server, it is massively faster and cheaper than the Blockchain. ProvenDB offers a perfect compromise between the two technologies:

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Document Model

  • MongoDB compatible Database service.
  • Data is represented as JSON documents.
  • Documents contain metadata to track and manage version information.

Strict Consistency

  • Serializable consistency ensures that versioning requests execute as if they had executed one at a time.


  • ProvenDB keeps all versions of each document.
  • An update to a document creates a new version of a document without modifying the previous version.
  • A delete operation that marks the document as logically deleted without removing its content.
  • The user can query directly against previous versions of the database.

Right to be Forgotten

  • “forget” allows all data for a document to be purged without compromising any existing proofs.
  • Forgotten documents are removed, but their hash value is retained.
  • Proving or viewing a forgotten document is impossible; however other documents in the database version remain provable.

Fast Bulk Load

  • ProvenDB can be placed in a fast bulk load mode which only insert, and query operations are permitted.
  • Inserts may be submitted without the overhead of creating a new database version.


  • ProvenDB allows data between two proven versions to be compacted.
  • This saves storage without compromising the integrity of any database proofs.


  • ProvenDB can export the data and proofs for the entire database, a database version or individual documents.
  • These exports can be independently verified against Blockchain proofs using open source tools, ensuring that your Blockchain proofs remain valid even if you no longer have access to ProvenDB

Full Database Proofs

  • The entire state of the database can be established with a single Blockchain proof
  • Proofs can also be obtained for individual documents.

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ProvenDocs: A ProvenDB application

ProvenDocs is an open source application designed to demonstrate the capabilities of ProvenDB. It allows you to prove your personal documents with an easy to use web application. The integrity, ownership and creation date of your documents are reliably stored on the Blockchain. The content of the documents can be private or shared.

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