An Overview of the DIF Identifiers & Discovery Working Group

· 4 min read
An Overview of the DIF Identifiers & Discovery Working Group

By Markus Sabadello

I would like to take this opportunity to write a few words about the Identifiers & Discovery Working Group at the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF), which is a group where I have been contributing as co-chair for many years.

The fundamental role of the DIF I&D WG

DIF was established in 2017, and has grown a lot in terms of members, working groups, and work items. The I&D Working Group is one of the working groups that has existed since the beginning DIF, unlike many others which were added later. The reason for that, I would argue, is the fact that the concepts of “identifiers” and “discovery” are fundamental to pretty much any digital identity system.

In digital identity, we always need identifiers — digital addresses that we can use to refer to individuals, organizations, and things. Without identifiers for participants of a network, and without the ability to discover metadata about such identifiers, we cannot express connections or relationships, we cannot share data or exchange messages, and without that, we cannot establish higher level concepts such as reputation and trust. Another factor for establishing this working group was the (back then) new technology that became Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) and would later be standardized at the W3C. So in the early days of DIF, it was logical to dedicate one of the initial working groups to the topic of identifiers.

The scope of the DIF I&D WG

The scope of this working group is defined in its Charter. It includes pretty much any topic related to the specification and implementation of decentralized identifiers (including, but not limited to W3C DIDs). For example, topics include the creation and resolution of DIDs, discovery data formats and protocols, relationships between different identifer systems (e.g. DIDs and domain names), the establishment of control authority over an identifier, security and trust in identifier infrastructure, and the work on concrete DID methods.

Explicitly out-of-scope are complex higher-level topics and protocols that use identifiers but are not primarily about the identifier infrastructure themselves, for example authentication or credential exchange protocols. For those topics, there are other exciting DIF working groups!

Noteworthy work items of the DIF I&D WG

The working group maintains a list of work items it has worked on in the past or is currently working on. In general, work items may be specifications or code or anything else that falls withing the working group’s scope. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of our work items:

  • The Universal Resolver is one of the best-known work items that has existed since the beginnings of DIF. It provides resolution capabilities for many DID methods developed by the decentralized identity community.
  • The .well-known DID Configuration specification provides a way of linking a DID to a web origin.
  • The DID Registration specification defines functions for creating, updating, and deactivating DIDs in an interoperable way.
  • The Linked Verifiable Presentation specification defines how to discover Verifiable Presentations using simple DID Resolution, without requiring more complex protocols such OpenID or DIDComm.
  • Work items also include various open-source tools and libraries, such as did-resolver (JavaScript), did-jwt (JavaScript), did-common-java (Java), (Rust).
  • Concrete DID methods did:peer and did:ion have also been developed in this working group.

Interesting topics in the DIF I&D WG

Besides “formal” work items such as the ones listed above, our working group also frequently discusses various topics related to decentralized identifiers, or receives guest presentations. In the past, such topics have for example included:

  • Presentations about new DID methods, e.g. did:dht, did:oyd, did:self, did:webs, did:key, did:bid, did:plc, did:algo, did:polygonid, did:cheqd, and others.
  • Management of DIDs over time, rotating keys, referencing historical versions of DIDs.
  • Trust in DIDs and the DID Resolution process, DID document validation, and the relationship between DIDs and existing trusted infrastructures such as domain names or X.509 certificates.
  • Proposals for new functionalities related to DIDs, such as Linked Resources, service profiles, DID method enumeration, and much more.

We have recently also seen demonstrations of browser plugins, and even a ChatGPT plugin that can resolve DIDs! And we are always happy to receive suggestions for new topics.

How to participate in the DIF I&D WG

Easy! Join DIF and participate in our working group. We have a Slack channel and bi-weekly meetings where we can discuss any topic related to decentralized identifiers and discovery!

Our working group page is here, and our agenda including recordings and notes is here.

We welcome you!

The activities of the author in the DIF I&D WG are carried out with the support of BlockStand funds. BlockStand aims to create an online blockchain community that shall engage in continuous collaboration and exchange of ideas to bolster the European Union’s leadership in the field.