After Geth, Parity is the most important Ethereum Client. The 1.4 release introduces two groundbreaking upgrades; the Warp synchronization and its own graphical interface. Both are big steps for Ethereum’s path to mainstream adoption. And as if this was not enough, Ethcore, the company behind Parity, announces Polkadot, a “Multi Chain Framework.”
Some software releases come without warning but excite enthusiasm. The recent update of Parity, the Ethereum Client written in Rust, is such a case. You might say that Parity solves one of the most urgent problems current blockchain development faces.
While the new graphical wallet might be the most obvious new feature of Parity 1.4, the newly introduced option of “Warp” syncing is likely more far-reaching.
With the option “--warp,” Parity synchronizes with the Blockchain in 'warp mode;' the client only needs ten minutes to be ready for operation.
This is a breakthrough reaching far beyond Ethereum. To understand this you should know, that a blockchain sits on many nodes which have exactly the same information about a database. Every node runs a client, and all clients share a consensus about the state of the database and the conditions to change it.
Running a node is the only method to really know if a transaction or a contract is valid. Without a client, you remain dependent on middlemen.
However, to start a node, you have to download and verify the whole database. With Bitcoin you can expect this to need 10 to 12 hours, with Ethereum around six to eight hours, depending on your system. Syncing is annoying, but necessary to possess independence from third parties.
Besides this, the synchronization seems to be the single biggest obstacle of scaling a blockchain. While other factors, such as CPU, memory, hard disk, bandwidth, should allow both Bitcoin and Ethereum to multiply its capacity by a factor of anywhere between five and ten, the tiresome process of syncing is already a burden given the current capacity.
With the Warp mode, Parity introduces a possible solution for the syncing problem. Ten minutes to make a node ready to operate. How can this be possible? Ethereum’s blockchain has already reached the size of some dozen Gigabytes. How can such a big amount of data be synced in such a short frame of time?
The trick uses so-called snapshots of the state of the Ethereum blockchain, in which each Parity node captures the state for every 30,000 blocks. A new node can download these snapshots from other Parity nodes, use them to discover the balances of their accounts and reconstruct the whole chain starting at these points.
Ethcore elaborates on this further in their blog:
“Cryptographic manifests ensure you are downloading the right data and because it progressively downloads the blocks and receipts in the background, you will end up with a node exactly as if you had done a full sync. You should be able to synchronise, from nothing, in around ten minutes, assuming your internet connection is decent.”
After warping to the state, Parity downloads the whole blockchain. However, if you combine the warp option with the option “--pruning fast,” you can build the historic blockchain in as little as two hours. Pruning deletes data you do not need to keep the consensus and reduces the size of the Ethereum blockchain to less than five Gigabytes.
Both options are, more or less, experimental. They should be used with care, especially when you handle bigger amounts of money. Our testing setup synced fast but failed later to keep up with newer blocks. To get the new blocks, we had to restart Parity without the Warp option, which worked amazingly fast.
These restrictions do not limit the excitement about the new release of Parity. It creates something Bitcoin has strived for over a long period of time; a real light client which connects relatively secure, fast, and with low hard disk requirements to a blockchain without the need for a middleman.
The most surprising news from the developers of Parity, however, has nothing to do with the Client.
Parity Technologies Ltd. (former Ethcore) “announced the immediate availability of the Polkadot technical vision paper. Polkadot is a third-generation public, permissionless blockchain technology designed to be at once scalable and extensible, solving two of the greatest problems preventing widespread adoption of blockchain technology today,” as the company stated in a press release.
Both problems, that is those of scalability and extensibility, are a product of “the underlying consensus architecture,” as the Polkadot paper explains:
“The state transition mechanism, or the means by which parties collate and execute transactions, has its logic fundamentally tied into the consensus “canonicalization” mechanism, or the means by which parties agree upon one of a number of possible, valid, histories.”
The approach of Polkadot is to “decouple the consensus architecture from the state-transition mechanism.” This aims to allow, as Gavin Wood explains:
“...diverse kinds of blockchains to interoperate within the same consensus network” and can enable “a new level of freedom and protection. Innovative new technologies can be quickly integrated, and divisive hard forks can become a thing of the past.”
Polkadot has the potential, adds Parity co-founder Ken Kappler, “to integrate so-called ‘private’ chains into the same consensus network as public chains like Ethereum."
To learn more about Polkadot, the white paper can be found here. In addition, Parity have managed to convince Melonport AG with this concept. Melonport, the development company of the asset management software Melon, will finance the development of Polkadot and aims to integrate within its platform.