Urbit ID

Every time you post a comment, like something, send a message, or use any app or service, you need an account. (And, behind the scenes, a network address.) Neither of these things belongs to you. The way things are going, they never will. No matter what you’re up to with your phone or laptop, you’re dependent on MEGACORP.

We don’t like being owned by someone else. We think your identity and wallet should feel like a unique and precious object that you can always carry with you. So we built Urbit ID.

Urbit ID is meant to feel like a civilizational key. If your Urbit ID were a piece of hardware, you could tap it to unlock a door, swipe it to buy a coffee, and plug it into any computer to log in. It’s a unique, beautiful object that’s both an address and a wallet. It’s a key to a secret club and the ticket to your digital life.

Your Urbit ID isn’t a physical object (yet). Instead, it’s even simpler. Your Urbit ID is a name and passkey that’s easy to memorize.

If you wake up in the desert, unsure how you got there, you’ll be fine so long as you remember your Urbit ID and passkey. With it, you still own your digital identity and your digital assets. If you remember your friend’s Urbit ID you can always connect and send them money or messages.

Urbit ID is a simple, decentralized system for people to own their digital addresses and crypto wallets. Urbit ID is a system owned by its users, designed to last far into the future, that’s live and usable today.

Urbit ID is a completely separate system from Urbit OS. It’s finished and deployed to Ethereum already. We designed Urbit ID to log in to Urbit OS, but it can be used for anything.

For those curious to understand Urbit ID a bit better, we’ll cover the basics of how Urbit ID works.

Your Urbit ID is a short, memorable address that anyone can use to connect with you that doesn’t depend on any company. It’s an address you own completely and can keep forever.

For most people, an Urbit ID looks something like ~tinbel-picpel. You own it with a simple, memorable key twice its length, like ~winter-paches-palfun-foslup. Urbit IDs are designed not to have any personally identifying information attached to them at all, sort of like a phone number. Each name and password is automatically generated — so we don’t accidentally leak data when we meet a stranger in the digital world.

Your Urbit ID and passkey are all you need to log into Urbit OS and send and receive crypto payments. Together, they’re a simple keypair that are easily memorizable. We think it’s the perfect form factor for ordinary people to take control of their digital lives.

We want everyone to own their own identity and wallet. One way to do this would be to build a MEGACORP or a Centralized Naming Authority of Urbit. But we prefer decentralized, collectively owned systems. So that’s what we built. Let’s look briefly at the basic mechanics of Urbit ID.

Each Urbit ID is just a number. From that number we generate a pronounceable name and visually identifiable sigil. ~dalwel-fadrun is 3,509,632,436, for example.

Urbit IDs are distributed by a sponsorship tree. At the top of the tree are 2^8 (256) galaxies. Each galaxy issues 2^8 stars, making a total of 2^16 (65K). Stars then each can issue 2^16 planets, making for 2^32 (~4B). As you might expect, each planet issues 2^32 moons.

Every Urbit ID needs a sponsor. Stars and planets can always move to a new one. The galaxies act as a senate to upgrade the system by majority vote.

And that's it. It's a simple system. What's important is why it is the way it is. Let's take a look at that.

At a high level, there are three important things to understand about the overall Urbit ID system design.

First, there are only so many Urbit IDs, so they cost something. Since they cost something, people are less likely to use them to spam or abuse the network. And, when you meet a stranger with an Urbit ID, you know they have some skin in the game without them leaking any personal data in either direction. Each Urbit ID is purely pseudonymous. ~dalwel-fadrun, for example, is only proof of some stake in the network.

Second, Urbit IDs are distributed by a sponsorship tree. Each sponsor issues a fixed number of addresses. Since there are lots of sponsors, there are lots of ways to get an Urbit ID — not just one central authority.

Urbit IDs need a sponsor even after they’re issued, but you can always change sponsors and sponsors can always reject children. This means bad actors can be banned and abusive sponsors can be ignored. We think this strikes a nice balance between accountability and freedom.

Finally, galaxies (the top of the sponsorship tree) form a senate that can upgrade the logic of the Urbit ID system by majority vote. We think Urbit ID should last for quite a long time, but if it ever needs to be changed, the galaxies can facilitate upgrades. Code may be law, but ultimately we acknowledge that human judgment can’t be factored out.

(For a bit more on how all this works, see the FAQ.)

Urbit ID isn’t just a design. It’s live and deployed to the Ethereum blockchain.

Urbit IDs are digital property, and we think of the entire address space of Urbit IDs as a vast territory of digital land.

The scarcity tree of Urbit ID address space drives decentralization even while the project is young, which is great. If Urbit ID is going to last a long time and succeed as neutral infrastructure, it has to be owned and controlled by a wide variety of people.

When we launched the Urbit ID system, in January of 2019, there were a few thousand different star and galaxy holders – stewards of this digital land. Since then, that number is on the rise.