Ethereum Upgrades - The Daily Gwei #234

Sometimes it may take months, sometimes it may take years, but the Ethereum network receives upgrades all the same.

I was doing some digging around earlier today and managed to find myself down an EIP-1559 rabbit hole because I wanted to answer one question: when did the idea for EIP-1559 first come about? Well, it turns out that it started all the way back in July of 2016 (my tweet says August 2018 but I ended up finding an earlier post from Vitalik here). So if you take that post as the very “beginning” of the what inspired EIP-1559, then it’ll be 5 years(!) since then once EIP-1559 is on mainnet (July 14th, 2021).

This got me thinking - what other core protocol upgrades have taken years to be deployed to production on Ethereum? Obviously we can point to Ethereum proof of stake as the prime example here since it has been talked about since the idea for Ethereum was conceived (late 2013/early 2014) and sharding also falls into this same area. Though there are also plenty of other, lesser-known upgrades that are still in active research and development after many years that are just as important for Ethereum’s future as proof of stake, sharding and EIP-1559 are.

One of the major upgrades coming to Ethereum sometime in the future (probably 2022/2023) is the “stateless client” concept. The idea for this was first posted on the Ethereum Research forum back in October of 2017 here. Since then it has evolved greatly and, from what I can tell, Piper Merriam is leading the efforts on this front (see his latest post on the effort here). You may be wondering, what benefits does a “stateless Ethereum” give us? Well if statelessness is implemented on the Ethereum network it would mean that full nodes only need to keep the state that they want to which means we could greatly increase the gas limit (block size) leading to much greater scalability for layer 1 Ethereum. I don’t think I have to spell out why this would be the holy grail of scaling for Ethereum but this is not an easy problem to solve!

Next up we have the “data availability problem” that was detailed here in September of 2018 by Vitalik. From what I understand, this problem would need to be “fixed” before any implementation of statelessness could be safely deployed onto the Ethereum mainnet. In a nutshell, the data availability problem posits that if you place the burden of retaining data onto users who care about that data (rather than all full nodes) then there is a chance that data can either be lost or withheld maliciously by an individual or group. As you can imagine, solving this problem is very hard and is still an open research area in Ethereum.

Lastly, we have basically the entire layer 2 ecosystem that has been in heavy research and development for many years now. What started as state channels and plasma has evolved into the rollup technologies we all know and love today (though state channels and plasma still play their own roles). These are obviously critical technologies that will usher in a new age of scalability for Ethereum but even these are not “finished” yet - there are still plenty of open research problems to solve to get even greater scalability and the innovation will definitely not cease in this area for a very long time (if ever).

As you can see, a lot of the major upgrades that have already come to Ethereum and will be released in the future have taken years of research and development to get right. There’s plenty more that I haven’t mentioned here that are just as exciting (if not more exciting) but these are just some that I came across while digging into EIP-1559’s history. With so many upgrades to look forward to, there really has never been a more exciting time in Ethereum core protocol development!

Have a great day everyone,
Anthony Sassano

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All information presented above is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice.