The longer I spend in the cryptoverse, the more I am drawn to the architecture behind blockchains and the infrastructure we use to access these networks. I’m not really technical in the developer sense, but I am fascinated by the ways in which blockchains evolve and the degree of coordination required to move the technology forward. It’s this interest that has drawn me to the Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIP) process, which governs how upgrades progress from idea to adoption on the Ethereum network. For example, EIP-3675 implemented The Merge and ended proof-of-work, and before that, EIP-1559 kickstarted Ethereum’s fee-burning mechanism.
The most recent EIP to catch my eye is EIP-4844, adorably titled ‘Shard Blob Transactions’. While this update is a precursor and doesn’t actually introduce sharding to the network, it does implement “the transaction format that will be used in sharding.” The term ‘sharding’ refers to the blockchain architecture — the chain is split into multiple parallel shard chains, each one responsible for processing transactions of a given type. Shard blob transactions essentially allow for commonly repeated rollup transactions to be executed as shortcuts, reducing costs and improving computational efficiency. The full ‘danksharding’ (Ethereum’s brand of sharding) specification will be implemented in a future EIP, hence this EIP’s beloved nickname: proto-danksharding. The ‘Proto’ prefix also refers to crypto researcher Proto Lambda, who brought blobs to danksharding, and the enthusiastic modifier prefix ‘dank-’ is also a nod to Ethereum’s famed sharding proposer, Dankrad Feist.
Interestingly, The Merge was a precondition for danksharding. While much of the attention was on the 99.95% energy reduction, the full transition to the proof-of-stake consensus mechanism also set the stage for much of Ethereum’s remaining development. The full Ethereum Roadmap is long and complex, but the architecture change coming in EIP-4844 will make the Ethereum network much more scalable.
How Does the Ethereum Network Scale?
As Ethereum users know, the network needs to support higher transactional throughput; the success of Layer 2 rollups and sidechain scaling solutions are testament to that fact. Although Layer 2 networks have allowed transaction-heavy applications to sidestep Mainnet’s high gas fees, additional scaling is still needed at the network level; this is what danksharding is designed to accomplish. It should be noted, however, that danksharding is not intended to reduce the demand for Layer 2 scaling solutions. Rather, it is designed to make the network even more suitable for rollup technology, while also reducing the computational load on the EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine).
As you probably know, a ‘shard’ is a sharp-edged piece of brittle material. In terms of blockchain architecture, sharding is the idea that network data can be broken up into fragments, or shards. Each shard would contain its own set of independent blockchain data, including token balances and smart contracts. The short-term downside is reduced decentralization and security, since the validating nodes of the network would be split amongst the shards. Over time, however, the cost of running a node should substantially decrease, leading to a more robust and decentralized network.
Currently the Ethereum blockchain contains about 1TB of data, which makes the storage capacity required to run a node relatively expensive and the access or syncing of relevant data time-consuming. The more costly and difficult it is to run a proof-of-stake validator node, the less decentralized the chain will be. [As a brief aside: you can actually run a node without validating the network — this is still a great contribution to the ecosystem.] The Ethereum blockchain, like most blockchains, requires that each transaction be processed by every node, which makes network-based scaling nearly impossible with the current blockchain architecture. Sharding can eventually solve this issue by splitting up the blockchain data into independent parts, resulting in lighter requirements for client nodes. The network scales successfully, in theory, because each node does less work.
What Is Danksharding?
Danksharding is a particular type of sharding architecture. While previous sharding frameworks sought to simply create more lanes of traffic, danksharding is a rollup-centric solution that will use these shard ‘blobs’: dynamic memory spaces for serving data-hungry Layer 2 applications (and in the future, other network-level applications). Blobs are large stores of data, but are relatively cheap to transact with because the blob data is stored on the consensus layer (how the network agrees on what data is to be added) rather than the computation-heavy execution layer (where transactions are executed in the EVM and the latest snapshot of the network data is stored). With shard blobs, the execution layer needs only to know what the commitments of the blob data are, not the details of that data. Because the EVM is not accessing the data directly, these types of transactions are less expensive to execute.
While danksharding includes a number of complexities that are not in scope for this article, the main innovation behind it is the merged fee market, which separates the job of building blocks and proposing that they be included on chain. The big change from current practice is that only the block builder needs to process all the data, while network validators verify the blocks through data availability sampling; this allows nodes to verify large amounts of data just by ‘sampling’ some of it. This in turn means the Ethereum network will be able to process much more data than it could before, providing a faster, cheaper network that is primed for both network-based scaling and rollup optimization.
All of that probably sounds both confusing and amazing, and I’m with you, but the danksharding utopia is still a way off. Getting the Ethereum network ready for sharding is going to take years. This is where EIP-4844 comes in, as this proposal introduces proto-danksharding.
What Is Proto-Danksharding?
Proto-danksharding is the first step on the path to danksharding. EIP-4844 introduces a new transaction format that adds space for the data ‘blob’ to accompany ordinary transactions. Full danksharding would add about 16 MB of space to each block for rollup data; proto-danksharding, however, will only add about 1 MB of space. Even this small measure will make a big impact, as transacting on rollup-based scaling solutions will immediately be less expensive, perhaps up to 20 times cheaper. Right now, blocks can only carry roughly 50–100 kilobytes of data, so the 1 MB of data availability will reduce rollup transaction costs, as fewer transactions will be needed.
In addition to the new transaction format, EIP-4844 will also introduce some verification rules, logic, and gas fee adjustments in preparation for complete danksharding. Notably, this proposal also includes a provision that historical network blob data will be deleted after 30 days, ensuring that data that is no longer useful will eventually fall out of the blob.
It’s also important to note that while the proto-danksharding upgrade will introduce major changes to the Ethereum network, each node will still need to process all data. Mainnet will continue to be congested and expensive, due to the high demand for secure blockspace. Nonetheless, proto-danksharding is a huge upgrade that will likely make transacting on Layer 2 networks far cheaper, while also preparing the Ethereum network for future roadmap milestones.
Bring On the Dank
Blockchain architecture is a complex topic, and the Ethereum Roadmap even more so. The key takeaways are that proto-danksharding will make transacting on rollup scaling solutions significantly cheaper in the short term, and provide the infrastructure needed to ensure that Ethereum can scale while remaining secure and decentralized.
While full danksharding is not yet implemented, providing just 1 MB of data availability per transaction through proto-danksharding will make a big difference for Layer 2 users. At 1/16 of the eventual blob size of 16 MB, perhaps this change will be impactful enough to expand our minds and help us imagine what interacting with a fully scaled Ethereum may be like in the not-to-distant future.
Hiro Kennelly is a writer, editor, and coordinator at BanklessDAO and the Editor-in-Chief at Good Morning News. He is also helping to build a grants-focused organization at DAOpunks.
Tomahawk has been writing and editing at BanklessDAO from inception, and entered the crypto space as an investor in 2017. He’s a big believer in the power of tokenized mission-aligned communities and the massive potential Ethereum offers to solve humanity’s most pressing coordination failures.
Trewkat is a writer and editor at BanklessDAO. She’s interested in learning as much as possible about crypto and NFTs, with a particular focus on how best to communicate this knowledge to others.
Tonytad is a graphic designer who has worked locally and internationally with organisations and firms on over 200 projects, which includes branding, logo, flyers, cards, and covers
BanklessDAO is an education and media engine dedicated to helping individuals achieve financial independence.
This post does not contain financial advice, only educational information. By reading this article, you agree and affirm the above, as well as that you are not being solicited to make a financial decision, and that you in no way are receiving any fiduciary projection, promise, or tacit inference of your ability to achieve financial gains.
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