Relaynet is a computer network that will allow people to circumvent Internet blackouts caused by repressive regimes or natural disasters.

How it works

Imagine you have a phone and want to use your social media accounts, but there’s no access to the Internet in the region where you live. You could use Relaynet to send and receive data from the Internet if someone else could physically transport the information between your phone and a computer connected to the Internet in another region.

Let’s also say that Twitter supports Relaynet. When you create a tweet, the app sends it to a Relaynet gateway installed on your phone. Another person (the relayer) will periodically collect the data from your gateway and take it to a relaying gateway that will send the data to Twitter. Twitter can also send data to you via the relaying gateway.

Your information is also secure despite being transported by a third party. Thanks to end-to-end encryption, gateways can’t see or change the data they get from Twitter apps or Twitter servers (the parcel), and relayers can’t see or change the data they get from gateways (the cargo).

Simply put, Relaynet turns a sneakernet into an Internet Service Provider, and provides the basis for making software tolerant to delays lasting anywhere from milliseconds to months. You can read the Relaynet Core specification if you’re interested in the technical details.

Current status (as of February 2019)

Relaynet was designed by Gustavo Narea at the University of Oxford and its development is now led by Relaycorp, which was founded to support and scale the project whilst keeping it as open and inclusive as possible. There is a working proof of concept integrating Twitter, and working drafts of the specifications are also available.