Technically accurate overview

Computer networks around the world and beyond are susceptible to loss of connectivity that may last anywhere from a few milliseconds to a number of days. In some cases, there may be no connection at all between two nodes that require communication due to a lack of network infrastructure.

Establishing communication in such circumstances is the concern of the Delay-Tolerant Networking field, also known as Disruption-Tolerant Networking or DTN for short, which for decades has been led by space agencies, the military, and the academia.

The purpose of this project is to complement the DTN ecosystem with a new protocol suite, Relaynet, to extend DTN to consumer and enterprise systems with user interfaces.

Relaynet is also the name of the overlay, store-and-forward, onion network resulting from the protocol suite, which will offer asynchronous message passing in client-server and P2P architectures.

English translation

If your phone, tablet or laptop isn’t connected to the Internet, you can’t talk to your friends on WhatsApp, read an article on Wikipedia or post something on Facebook. Even if you really needed to send or receive some information, there would be nothing you could do until you get the device connected to the Internet.

But what if someone else could physically transport the information on a pen drive, for example? They could then plug it into a computer with access to the Internet in order to send or receive the information (e.g., a friend’s WhatsApp message, your Facebook post).

Relaynet is a technology that will enable computers to exchange information relayed outside the Internet in a secure manner. It’s meant to help Internet-dependent software (e.g., WhatsApp, Google Chrome, Facebook) support this type of communication without sharing your password, whilst making it impossible for the information to be read or changed if intercepted.

This technology can be useful in times or places where the Internet is unavailable, as opposed to when it’s restricted and technologies like VPNs can be used. It’s meant to support scenarios such as:

  • Working around Internet blackouts in oppressive regimes by allowing dissidents and the general public to communicate securely, and even broadcast information from opposition leaders.
  • In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, survivors could communicate with their family and friends if disaster relief services could relay the information.
  • People in remote settlements with no access to the Internet could have their information relayed periodically.

Current status

Relaynet is at an early stage of design by Gustavo Narea as part of his dissertation project at Oxford.