Innovative Steps Towards a Streamlined Ethereum
Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin has put forth a groundbreaking proposal aimed at enhancing the efficiency of the Ethereum blockchain. This proposal, which centers on making the proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus mechanism both simpler and lighter, could be a game-changer in blockchain technology.
Reducing the Burden: A Shift in Validator Signatures
On December 28, Buterin introduced a strategy to reduce the number of signatures required from validators. This reduction is expected to significantly lighten the load on the Ethereum network. The current system supports a vast number of validators — approximately 895,000 — in an effort to achieve decentralization and facilitate broader participation in staking.
However, this high number of validators leads to considerable technical challenges. The network is tasked with processing around 28,000 signatures per slot, which Buterin describes as an excessively high load.
Addressing Technical Challenges and Participation Issues
Buterin highlighted several compromises that come with supporting such a load, including limited quantum resistance, complex forking processes, and the need to scale signatures through sophisticated methods like zero-knowledge proofs (SNARKs). Moreover, the current system falls short of its goal to enable widespread participation due to the high minimum stake required to become a validator.
Proposing a Balanced Solution
To address these issues, Buterin suggests a moderate approach, reducing the number of signatures per slot to approximately 8,192 from the existing 28,000. This change would lead to significant technical simplifications, enhance quantum resistance, and maintain a high total of slashable ETH (1-2 million ETH). Slashable ETH is a critical mechanism for encouraging proper validator behavior.
Buterin proposed three potential methods to achieve this goal: fully decentralized staking pools, a two-tiered staking system with both ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ options, and a rotating participation model with accountable committees.
Anticipating a Manageable Future Load
The primary benefit of Buterin’s proposal is the establishment of a predictable and manageable future signature load. This foresight would greatly simplify protocol and infrastructure development. “The future load of the Ethereum protocol becomes no longer an unknown,” Buterin stated, adding that the signature load could be increased in the future through hard forks, but only when technological advancements can support a larger number of signatures-per-slot efficiently.
Buterin’s Caution Against Overextension
In May, Buterin had cautioned against overstretching Ethereum’s consensus mechanism beyond its primary functions of block validation and network security. This new proposal is in line with his vision of a streamlined, efficient blockchain that remains true to its core purposes.