The Future of Scalability: Sharding and Its Benefits

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Aug 29, 2023

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The Future of Scalability: Sharding and Its Benefits

In the world of blockchain technology, scalability has always been a challenge. The scalability trilemma states that a blockchain can only achieve two out of three properties: scalability, decentralization, and security. However, with the introduction of sharding, this trilemma can finally be overcome.

Sharding is a solution that allows a blockchain to process more transactions than a single regular node can verify while maintaining decentralization and security. It is the future of Ethereum scalability and will play a crucial role in enabling the ecosystem to handle thousands of transactions per second at an affordable cost.

Traditional blockchains rely on every participant running a full node to verify each transaction. While this ensures decentralization and security, it lacks scalability. On the other hand, high-TPS chains can process a high volume of transactions and are secure, but they sacrifice decentralization. Multi-chain ecosystems offer scalability and decentralization but compromise on security.

Sharding takes a different approach by randomly distributing the verification process among a group of validators called a committee. This prevents attackers from concentrating their power on a single shard. Even in a multi-chain ecosystem with 100 chains, an attacker would need just 0.5% of the total stake to cause significant damage.

However, sharding is not without its challenges. One key concern is the tight coupling of shards. If even one shard contains a bad block, the entire chain reorganizes to avoid it. This requires a social contract and technological enforcement to ensure the removal of any chain with even one bad block.

To enhance the security of sharding, researchers have been exploring methods that avoid relying on an honest majority assumption. The goal is to replicate the security properties of traditional blockchains without the need for each node to verify every transaction. Validating computation and data availability are two areas of focus.

In the case of Ethereum sharding, the plan is to make sharded blocks data-only. Shards will serve as a "data availability engine," while layer-2 rollups will utilize fraud proofs or ZK-SNARKs to achieve high-throughput secure transaction processing.

While sharding offers numerous benefits, there are still some vulnerabilities. Sharded chains relying solely on committees are susceptible to adaptive adversaries and have weaker accountability. Additionally, data availability sampling requires a sufficient number of online clients to ensure secure sampling.

Another proposed alternative to sharding is a chain structured like a centralized high-TPS chain. This approach incorporates data availability sampling and sharding for verification. However, it poses challenges in detecting censorship by block producers and increases the risk of centralized infrastructure and external censorship.

In conclusion, sharding holds immense promise for the future of scalability in blockchain technology. By distributing the verification process and utilizing data availability sampling, it addresses the scalability trilemma while maintaining decentralization and security. To fully realize the potential of sharding, further research and developments are necessary to overcome its vulnerabilities and ensure robustness in extreme networking conditions.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace sharding: If you are involved in the blockchain space, familiarize yourself with the concept of sharding and its potential benefits. Stay updated on the latest advancements in sharding technology to leverage its scalability advantages.
  • 2. Support research on security models: Sharding still faces challenges in terms of security. Support ongoing research and development efforts aimed at enhancing the security of sharded blockchains. This includes exploring methods that avoid relying on an honest majority assumption.
  • 3. Diversify blockchain infrastructure: While sharding offers scalability, it also introduces new risks, such as increased vulnerability to attacks on individual p2p subnets. Encourage the diversification of blockchain infrastructure to minimize the concentration of power and reduce the risk of simultaneous failures.

By adopting these actionable steps, we can contribute to the evolution of sharding and pave the way for a more scalable and secure blockchain ecosystem.

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