Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum 2.0 (Serenity) With Its Promise of ‘1000X Scalability’ Is ‘Really Not So Far Away’

Siamak Masnavi

On Wednesday (31 October 2018), Vitalik Buterin, while delivering the keynote speech at the 4th annual "builders" conference (Devcon4), held this year in Prague, Czech Republic, said that Ethereum 2.0 was "really not so far away."

Vitalik started by listing what will be in Ethereum 2.0 ("Serenity"), features that Ethereum's core development team has been "talking about for several years", "researching for several years", and "actively building for several years":

  • Proof of stake ("Casper")
  • Scalability ("sharding")
  • Virtual Machine Improvements (EWASM)
  • Improvements to cross-contract logic 
  • Improvements to protocol economics

The Long Road to Ethereum 2.0 ("Serenity")

It all began on 15 January 2014 with a post by Vitalik for the Ethereum blog titled "Slasher: A Punitive Proof-of-Stake Algorithm"), in which he described an algorithm called Slasher. Right in the first paragraph, he explained the purpose of Slasher:

"The purpose of this post is not to say that Ethereum will be using Slasher in place of Dagger as its main mining function. Rather, Slasher is a useful construct to have in our war chest in case proof of stake mining becomes substantially more popular or a compelling reason is provided to switch."

During the summer of 2014, various ideas for improving scalability were explored and eventually abandoned: "Proof of Proof of work"; Hub-and-spoke chains; and Hypercube chains. However, there was still some progress made, such as becoming certain that "algorithms with much stronger properties than existing PoS are possible."

During 2015 and 2016, while research on Casper and the virtual machine was going on, there were "a series of abortive attempts at solving the core problems."

Then, in 2017, "The Industrious Age" began. During this period, various strands of research were going on:

  • "Minimal slashing"
  • "Conditions (February 2017)"
  • "Casper FFG (Fall 2017)"
  • "Casper CBC (2017–2018)"
  • "Erasure coding data availability "

Verison 1.0 of the Casper FFG paper ("Casper the Friendly Finality Gadget") was published in October 2017. This introduced Casper, "a proof of stake-based finality system which overlays an existing proof of work blockchain."

At last year's Devcon conference, Vitalik introduced a new sharding design, which essentially kept the main chain, and created sharding as a kind of layer two system on top of the existing main chain, the idea being that sharding would get upgraded to layer one once it got "solid enough." 

In December 2017, Vlad Zamfir published the Casper CBC paper (titled "Casper the Firendly Ghost: A 'Correct-by-Construction' Blockchain Consensus Protocol"). 

In June 2018, the team made the decision to merge Casper and sharding in Ethereum 2.0 (Serenity). Serenity is "a new blockchain, though with a link to the existing PoW chain." The "long long term goal" (which has not been finalized yet) is that once this Proof-of-Stake system is stable enough, "all of the applications on the existing blockchain can be sort of folded onto a contract on one shard of a new system that would kind of be an EVM interpreter written in EWASM."

Vitalik said that Serenity is "The World Computer" as "it's really meant to be," even though it is still decentralized. The expected phases are:

  • Phase 0: "Beacon chain PoS"
  • Phase 1: "Shards as data chains"
  • Phase 2: "Enable state transitions (EWASM)"
  • Phase 3 (and beyond): "Iterate, improve, add tech"

The expected features are:

  • "Pure PoS consensus"
  • "Faster time to synchronous confirmation (8–16 seconds)"
  • "'Economic Finality' (10–20 minutes")
  • "Fast VM execution via EWASM"
  • " ~1000x Higher Scalability"

As for post-Serenity innovations, the team expects to deliver:

  • "Layer 2 execution engines" (for privacy, cross-shard transactions, and "semi-private chains")
  • "Proof of stake improvements"
  • "Upgrade to STARKs"
  • "Stronger base-layer cross-shard transactions?"
  • "Even faster single-confirmations?"

Medium term goals for Serenity include:

  • "Eventually stablize at least the functionality of layer 1"
  • "Think about issuance, fees..."
  • "Agree on the guarantee that people expect from the protocol"
  • "Think about governance"

As for what's expected to occur before the big launch of Serenity, first, the protocol spec needs to be stabilized. Next, the development and testing of the various implementations of Ethereum 2.0 need to continue. Also, more work is expected to occur on cross-client testnets. And finally, there will need to be several security audits before the launch can take place. As for when the launch would take place, all Vitalik would say was "“really not so far away.”

Featured Image Courtesy of the Ethereum Foundation

Major Ethereum Classic (ETC) Developer Updates Revealed for Q1 2019

Stevan Lohja, the Technology Coordinator at Ethereum Classic Labs, recently published an extensive blog post, which has revealed several important updates regarding the ongoing development of Ethereum Classic (ETC), a Turing Complete and proof-of-work (PoW) platform for developing decentralized applications (dApps).

ETC Labs Core was reportedly launched in January in order to extend “support and move the Ethereum Classic ecosystem forward,” Lohja wrote. He added that during the course of the “first few months” of ETC Labs Core’s establishment, the organization “reached important milestones with ETC-ETH compatibility, vital data analytic tooling, fundamental specifications to improve the DApp development environment, and significantly grew the team with prominent developers in the blockchain space.”

Ethereum Classic Developer Team Size Increases by 75%

Lohja, a former Technical Writer at ETCDEV, an organization which focused on developing Ethereum Classic that was forced to shut down recently due to lack of funding, noted in a Medium post published on April 23rd, 2019 that Ethereum Classic’s developer team size has increased by 75%.

As Lohja mentioned, the Ethereum Classic development team “began with Constantine Kryvomaz, Meowbits, Michael Collison, Mike Lubinets, Shane Jonas, Stevan Lohja, and Zachary Belford.” Recently, more developers have joined, “including Alan Li, Devon Wesley, Jake Lang, Talha Cross, Zac Mitton, and Zane Starr,” Lohja revealed.

During Q1 2019, the Ethereum Classic developer team has proposed the Ethereum Classic Improvement Proposal (ECIP)-1054 upgrade, which has been codenamed Atlantis. This update, Lohja noted, has received “tremendous support throughout the community.”

“ECIP-1054: Proposed Changes to Testnet and Mainnet Target Block Heights”

According to Lohja’s blog, the ECIP-1054 specification “contains proposed testnet and mainnet target block heights, but there needs to be more discussion with client developer groups at this time.” He added that “the motivation of the ECIP-1054 upgrade fork is to enable maximum ETC-ETH compatibility and performance improvements.”

As detailed by Lohja in his blog post, the following set of Ethereum Classic network upgrades are being worked on (or have been worked on) at present:

  • “ECIP-1054: Atlantis, EVM and Protocol Upgrades,”
  • ECIP-1053: Add OpenRPC Service Discovery to JSON-RPC Services,”
  • “Contributed to Kotti network, a public Ethereum Classic test network based on Proof of Authority,”
  • “Continued support and maintenance for Classic Geth and Multi-Geth clients.”

Staying Focused On Providing “High Quality Network-Driving Software”

Lohja further noted that the “Client team has remained focused on the task of providing high quality network-driving software,” in order to help developers create various decentralized applications (dApps).

During Q1 2019, the Ethereum Classic team addressed several issues, in addition to working on the updates mentioned, Lohja wrote. He added that in “early Q1, [the ETC team] had a double spend attack in the form of a 51% mining attack.” However, Lohja explained that the cryptocurrency platform’s team “responded with monitoring tools to help users of the network adjust number of confirmations accordingly.”

Technical Details: Optimizing The Ethereum Classic Network

To further ensure the security of the Ethereum Classic network, the team “completed an open source network supervisor to monitor network distribution in light of 51% attack” and it also “completed an ELK stack configuration for Geth clients,” Lojha noted.

As explained by Lohja:

In Q4 2018, we identified [that] there was a strong need for high-level software quality at the base layer for most application developers who engage with JSON-RPC. We examined solutions such as Open API and gRPC, but they were not a fitting solution. The idea of a tool to bring Ethereum Classic, as well as all other blockchains, up to speed with Open API and gRPC was started. So far, we have achieved a “no breaking change” of completeness in addition to releasing the spec with a number of complimenting tools.

In addition to working on these technical requirements, the Ethereum Classic developers focused on tasks related to the EVM/Compiler Team, Just-in-Time Compiler (JIT), LLVM EVM Backend, and they also ran into some “unexpected” issues. These details can be found in Lohja’s blog post.

The Ethereum Classic team also released the OpenRPC Specification 1x, and they contributed OpenRPC improvement proposals to Ethereum (ETH) and Bitcoin (BTC).