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    ETH symbol with smart contract, a cog, a gas pump and stacked layers bursting out

    Key Takeaways
    • Ethereum, known for DeFi, Web3, and NFTs, faces scalability challenges despite its transformative smart contracts and ERC token standards.
    • Ethereum’s roadmap, influenced by EIPs and network performance requirements, evolves to address slow transaction speeds, high fees, and the blockchain trilemma.
    • The roadmap outlines upgrades like The Merge, The Surge, and others, aiming to balance decentralization, scalability, and security.
    • The latest ETH upgrade, the Dencun Upgrade, introduced Proto-danksharding (EIP-4844) for Layer 2 efficiency.

    Ethereum is one of the key voices driving the crypto ecosystem, making the Ethereum Roadmap an important barometer for the future of the space.

    As the birthplace of decentralized finance (DeFi), Web3, and NFTs, billions are locked into its network, changing our perception of finance and digital assets. Ethereum’s journey began with smart contracts and ERC token standards, laying the groundwork for decentralized applications. Yet, scalability issues have always been a dark cloud hanging around Ethereum. 

    The Merge was crucial for faster processing and lower energy consumption, but what comes next? Vitalik Buterin gave some hints in January, including a roadmap for future Ethereum upgrades

    In this article, we explore Ethereum’s upcoming advancements and what they mean for its future in blockchain.

    What’s the Ethereum Roadmap?

    Ethereum’s roadmap is a living document, developing as the network grows and adapts. Some of its objectives are rooted in the original 2013 Ethereum Whitepaper. For example, The Merge, a major upgrade, was initially set out as part of the Serenity phase. However, many new proposals come to life through Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs), which resulted from community input and network performance requirements. The dynamic roadmap helps Ethereum tackle its biggest challenges and innovate continuously.

    For all of Ethereum’s success as a global coordination platform, it faces considerable hurdles. Ethereum’s most prominent issues are slow transaction speeds and high fees during heavy congestion periods. Expensive and lagging transactions are major obstacles to broader Ethereum adoption.

    If Ethereum were to achieve mainstream usage in its current form, it would likely be unreasonably slow and expensive. Often referred to as the scalability issue, Ethereum’s main hindrance concerns the network’s ability to scale up and accommodate more users while maintaining performance.

    Addressing scalability brings up the blockchain trilemma, a concept introduced by Vitalik Buterin. The trilemma states a blockchain can only optimize for two out of three attributes:

    • Decentralization
    • Scalability
    • Security

    For instance, a fully decentralized and highly secure blockchain won’t be scalable. The blockchain trilemma forces Ethereum to continually seek a balance among these three elements while remaining adaptable to integrate new features and applications.

    Ethereum’s roadmap guides its continuous evolution. It outlines changes to make Ethereum a cheaper, user-friendly, secure, and future-proof network.

    Ethereum Roadmap for 2024 – upgrades still to come

    Vitalik recently gave a roadmap for Ethereum’s future, detailing the Ethereum upgrades that will shape its immediate future. These phases address current challenges and pave the way for a more robust, scalable, and secure Ethereum network. Here are the key phases:

    • The Merge – Transition from Proof-of-Work (PoW) to Proof-of-Stake (PoS).
    • The Scourge – Enhance scalability with rollups and achieve 100,000 transactions per second (TPS).
    • The Verge – Improve transaction reliability and minimize risks from Maximal Extractable Value (MEV).
    • The Surge – Simplify block verification using Verkle Trees.
    • The Purge – Reduce historical data storage and eliminate technical debt
    • The Splurge – Implement various smaller but critical upgrades to refine the protocol.

    So how will this roadmap of aspirations be implemented in real life? Let’s take a closer look

    The Merge November 2022

    The Merge marked Ethereum’s transition from a PoW to a PoS consensus mechanism. Vitalik Buterin proposed this upgrade, intending to improve Ethereum’s scalability, security, and sustainability. Officially implemented in November 2022, The Merge sought to address environmental concerns and computational inefficiencies associated with PoW.

    Transitioning to PoS involved several critical steps, each step crucial in the new consensus mechanism integration. They were:

    • Beacon chain
    • Shanghai upgrade
    • Single slot finality

    Beacon chain

    Beacon Chain was a precursor to The Merge, introduced to test and stabilize the PoS mechanism before its full Ethereum mainnet implementation.

    Launched in 2020, the Beacon Chain operated parallel to the existing PoW Ethereum network, acting as a separate ledger that handled the PoS consensus logic. Its primary role was to ensure the PoS mechanism’s soundness and sustainability while not interfering with the mainnet operations.

    Beacon Chain initially processed empty blocks, focusing solely on validating the PoS protocol. However, The Merge required Beacon Chain to accept transaction data from the execution clients, integrate these transactions into blocks, and organize them using PoS. At the same time, the original PoW clients disabled their mining and block propagation functions, effectively handing over control to the Beacon Chain.

    Post-Merge, Beacon Chain became the consensus layer, managing block gossip and consensus logic. Meanwhile, the original Ethereum clients transitioned to the execution layer, responsible for transaction execution and state management. The Engine API facilitated the integration and seamless communication between consensus and execution layers.

    Introducing Beacon Chain also marked the beginning of staking in Ethereum. Validators were required to stake ETH to participate in block creation and validation, enhancing network security and earning rewards. The shift from mining to staking reduced the need for expensive hardware and energy consumption, promoting decentralization and security.

    Shanghai Upgrade March 2023

    The Shanghai Upgrade, also known as the Shapella upgrade, was implemented in March 2023 and represented a pivotal moment in Ethereum’s development post-Merge. It introduced a feature eagerly awaited by the Ethereum community – staked ETH withdrawal.

    Before the Shanghai Upgrade, validators had to lock their staked ETH and any earned rewards. The Shanghai Upgrade, summarized in Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 4895, allowed validators to withdraw these staked assets.

    Implementing the Shanghai Upgrade was crucial because it provided liquidity, making the staking process more flexible and attractive. Allowing staked ETH withdrawal increased market liquidity by 16 million ETH.

    As part of the Shanghai Upgrade, more EIPs were introduced to address gas fee reduction and enhance the developer experience. These included:

    • EIP-3651 – To lower gas costs related to Maximal Extractable Value (MEV) payments.
    • EIP-3855 – To reduce gas costs.
    • EIP-3860- To cap gas costs in specific scenarios.

    Single slot finality Research phase

    Single Slot Finality (SSF) is an ambitious upgrade aiming to reduce the time it takes for an Ethereum block to reach finality. In Ethereum’s PoS mechanism, finality denotes the critical point at which a block becomes irreversible on the blockchain, ensuring its permanence without incurring significant penalties.

    Currently, it takes about 15 minutes for a block to finalize. However, the concept of SSF seeks to achieve finality within the same slot as the block’s proposal, reducing this time. This improvement would enhance the efficiency and security of Ethereum’s consensus mechanism by minimizing the window for potential reorganization attacks and improving user experience.

    Finality in Ethereum is achieved when at least 66% of the staked ETH votes for a block. The current 15-minute window balances the computational load and Ethereum’s decentralization. SSF aims to optimize attestation processing for quicker finality without compromising security or decentralization.

    Implementing SSF involves improving the efficiency of the attestation process and leveraging advanced cryptographic techniques like Boneh-Lynn-Shacham (BLS) signature aggregation. These enhancements speed up attestation processing for single-slot block finalization.

    SSF represents a critical research area, aiming to strike the perfect balance between reducing finality time, maintaining network decentralization, and ensuring the system’s security. Implementing SSF would greatly advance Ethereum and pave the way for scalable blockchain solutions.

    Fast Fact
    Token Unlocks data revealed a 147% surge in the net staking ratio after the Shanghai Upgrade.

    Dencun Upgrade

    Named after Deneb and Cancun, the Dencun upgrade improves Ethereum’s scalability and efficiency. The Dencun upgrade tackles network congestion to lower transaction fees and enhances user accessibility. 

    The Dencun upgrade seeks to increase Ethereum’s appeal for rollups and Layer 2 scaling solutions. Ethereum hopes to achieve this by implementing a new data availability mechanism. The key component of this upgrade is EIP-4844, also known as Proto-danksharding, which changes data handling on the Ethereum network.

    Proto-danksharding – EIP-4844 explained

    Proto-danksharding, proposed under EIP-4844, introduced a new data storage type on Ethereum: blob space. Rollups can use blob space to post their transaction data. Using blob space separates the data storage from the execution layer, reducing competition for space and thus lowering costs.

    Pre-Dencun scaling solutions

    So, how did Ethereum address its data and cost efficiency issues before the Dencun upgrade? 

    • Layer 2 solutions like rollups and zero-knowledge proofs address Ethereum main chain congestion. 
    • They process transactions off-chain and provide proof to ensure security and integrity. 
    • Rollups compress and verify transaction data on Ethereum without processing each transaction. 
    • Their mechanism allows Ethereum to handle transactions in high volumes without increasing the load on the main chain.

    However, Layer 2 solutions have faced limitations. One of the major challenges is the cost of data availability on the main chain. Currently, when data is posted to Ethereum, it is stored indefinitely, which is expensive and unnecessary for rollups, as they only need the data to be available for a short period. 

    The result is high costs for Layer 2 solutions, which are then passed on to users, undermining the goal of reducing transaction fees. Ethereum’s Dencun upgrade tackles the challenges faced by Layer 2 solutions by introducing temporary data storage via EIP-4844.

    Ethereum scalability improvements post-Dencun

    How does EIP-4844 handle Ethereum’s challenges differently? 

    • EIP-4844 limits data lifespan on the Ethereum blockchain based on the rollup data requirements. 
    • EIP-4844 allows temporary data storage until the data is validated and the corresponding transactions are verified.
    • This approach reduces the cost of data storage, as rollups no longer pay for permanent storage. Users will then benefit from cost savings in Layer 2 transactions.

    EIP-4844 also includes several cryptographic updates for future scalability improvements. One such development is data availability sampling, which allows nodes to verify data availability without downloading the entire dataset. This reduces the cost and effort of verifying extensive data on Ethereum.

    The Dencun upgrade is a vital development for Ethereum, particularly in its efforts to become more scalable and user-friendly. Proto-danksharding brings innovative solutions to Ethereum, allowing it to process more transactions at a lower cost. The Dencun upgrade encourages broader Ethereum adoption and increases possibilities for diverse Ethereum use cases.

    Prague Upgrade – EIP-3074

    EIP-3074, recently approved for the next Ethereum upgrade, the Prague upgrade, promises enhancements for Ethereum wallet users. The Prague upgrade will simplify, reduce costs, and enrich the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) chain user experience.

    EIP-3074 empowers standard wallets to function like smart contracts. This integration, known as account abstraction, merges traditional wallets with smart contracts. The outcome? Streamlined transaction processes, reduced costs, and enhanced wallet functionality. Ethereum’s Prague upgrade, scheduled to go live in late 2024 or early 2025, will improve Ethereum’s user experience.

    The future of Ethereum

    With upcoming Ethereum updates like the Prague Upgrade, Ethereum’s future looks promising. As Ethereum strives to tackle its scalability issues, reduce transaction fees, and enhance the functionality of wallets, users will likely find more use cases for the platform, leading to increased adoption and improved services on the network.

    Frequently asked questions

    What is the Dencun Upgrade?

    The Dencun Upgrade, also known as the Cancun Upgrade, is part of the Ethereum Roadmap of updates. It aims to improve Ethereum’s scalability, making transactions faster and cheaper. A key feature of this upgrade is EIP-4844, or proto-danksharding, which introduces a new way to handle data on the blockchain, reducing congestion and costs.

    What is the Pralectra Upgrade?

    The Prague Upgrade, also known as the Pectra upgrade, includes EIP-3074, which changes how users interact with Ethereum. It allows users to batch and sign their transactions in a single step, making Ethereum wallets work more like smart contracts. The Prague Upgrade will make transactions simpler and cheaper.

    What is proto-danksharding?

    Proto-danksharding, or EIP-4844, is part of the Dencun Upgrade. It makes Ethereum more scalable by introducing blob space – a special area for rollups to post their data. Proto-danksharding reduces congestion on the main chain by allowing temporary data storage, rather than permanent, which is much cheaper.

    What is an EIP Proposal?

    An EIP, or Ethereum Improvement Proposal, is a set of changes developers propose to improve Ethereum. Once the submissions are received, they undergo a review process. If they fulfill Ethereum’s qualifications and are approved, they will be included in future updates. EIPs cover a range of improvements, from technical upgrades to Ethereum functionality changes, all aimed at improving the user experience.