There’s more than one way to scale a blockchain. In fact there are dozens, each with its benefits and trade-offs in terms of privacy, security, settlement, and fee reduction. The topic of blockchain scaling entered the conversation in 2017, when the Bitcoin network was heavily congested and Bitcoin Cash forked off as a bigger block alternative. Over the past 12 months, however, scaling has been debated almost exclusively in the context of Ethereum, whose popularity has seen it succumb to the same fate as Bitcoin did three years earlier.
The defi explosion of 2020, increased stablecoin volume, yield farming, ponzi games, and gas-hungry smart contracts have all taken their toll on Ethereum, causing its mempool to fill and transactions to run into the hundreds of gwei during the September peak. Scaling Ethereum so that it can handle more transactions per second (tps) and at lower cost is a complex and multifaceted challenge that will take years to complete. The much vaunted network upgrade to ETH 2.0 is still months away, if not longer. In the here and now, one project believes it has found a way to lighten the strain on Ethereum. But to achieve that, Cartesi must woo the next wave of dApp developers.
The Trouble With Smart Contracts
Smart contracts are the code that binds Ethereum together. Their self-executing code automates a wide array of tasks that were once performed manually, from settling insurance claims to paying out bets. Smart contracts are what makes Ethereum, Ethereum – and EOS, EOS for that matter. Without this capability, second- and third-generation blockchains would be dumb networks, capable of nothing more sophisticated than routing payments peer-to-peer.
With smart contracts, particularly those on Ethereum, deploying and interacting with them incurs a cost commensurate with the amount of computation involved. The more work the contract has to perform onchain, such as executing multiple queries or transactions inside a single block, the more you’ll pay. And while it’s users who pay in ETH to interact with the smart contract in question, it’s the developers who must pay to deploy it on the mainnet. This summer, the cost of deploying a standard ERC20 contract rose to over 1 ETH, pricing many would-be developers out of the market.
Cartesi Wants to Take Things Offchain
Cartesi’s solution to Ethereum’s scaling problem – and to that of other blockchains too, should they achieve similar congestion – is to take the bulk of the computation offchain. The idea is that dApp developers can make most of the processing occur away from the Ethereum network, with only the final outcome of the calculation to be broadcast on the mainchain.
To achieve this, Cartesi has developed two products. The first, Descartes, is an SDK that enables developers to code smart contracts using mainstream software rather than Solidity – Linux to be precise. This makes it easier for developers who haven’t been raised in the Ethereum trenches to deploy applications working with a familiar programming language.
The second product, Noether, is a sidechain for temporary data storage. It’s been designed specifically for Cartesi dApps that will run on Ethereum. Much of the data that’s utilized when interacting with apps – be they decentralized or conventional – does not need to be permanently stored. Noether will make cheap data storage available to dApp developers on demand, and with high throughput.
Of the two products, it is Decartes, with its ability to make dApp logic processable within a real, offchain operating system, that has the potential to drive down smart contract costs. However, it is Noether that will convince devs to deploy dApps using Cartesi, in the knowledge that they won’t be crippled by rising storage costs or transaction bottlenecks.
The Future Is Faster
The future of Ethereum, and of similar smart contract chains, is a faster one in which value can be transferred almost instantly, at scale, and at extremely low cost. This will be achieved through the implementation of a range of scaling solutions, at both the protocol and level and layer 2.
When Segwit was introduced to the Bitcoin network in 2017, it reduced the size of BTC transactions, lowering fees and allowing more tx to be processed per block. It’s the subsequent upgrades that Segwit enables, however, such as Schnorr signatures, that will do more for onchain scaling and privacy in the long run.
It’s a similar story with Ethereum. Even before ETH 2.0 launches, multiple scaling solutions will come onstream, helping to ease network congestion for all users. Sidechains, zk-rollups, Plasma, xDai, and Cartesi’s dApp-hosting framework will all be instrumental in achieving this. While no single scaling solution can fix Ethereum at this time, the tools are in place to ease the demands made on the main chain. If Cartesi can convince more developers to build on its dApp framework, and to conduct their computation offchain, it won’t just be doing devs a favor – it’ll be helping the entire Ethereum community.