A new post by Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin on ethresear.ch has unveiled his plans for a ‘minimal sharding protocol’ project. Published on April 8, 2018, Buterin said that it is aimed at developers who wish to begin working on sharding but are uncertain about the final version of the protocol.
Sharding as a Scaling Solution
The number of transactions on the Ethereum blockchain has increased significantly in the past couple of years. Consequently, the blockchain has struggled to handle the influx of new transactions causing transfer fees to skyrocket. In response, developers proposed on-chain and off-chain scaling models, with sharding being one of the approaches chosen by the Ethereum Foundation.
Off-chain scaling models involve settling some transactions off the blockchain and only sending the net balance to the main chain. On the other hand, the concept of blockchain sharding is an example of on-chain scaling. At present, all transactions are processed in a serially sequential manner by miners. Furthermore, they must also be verified by all nodes in the network before being approved.
Since this approach increases the time required for validating transactions, developers came up with the idea of splitting the blockchain into smaller segments, called ‘shards.’ These shards would then approve transactions in a parallel manner, allowing new transactions to be localized one shard only.
With development on blockchain sharding accelerating quickly, Vitalik Buterin also described how developers could create their DApps and use the feature without worrying whether or not the final prototype will undo their efforts or not.
Minimal Sharding Protocol
It is clear that Buterin’s proposal for a ‘minimal sharding protocol’ is inspired by the common development term ‘minimum viable product,’ often used to describe a prototype in the software industry.
Under Buterin’s system, any new transaction that enters the chain can propose a shard header. The proposer then contends that the related transactional data must be present in the next update.
The protocol also has a provision for the concept of ‘notaries.’ These are essentially nodes in the network that have been given the power to check and verify whether the block data is correct or not. If approved, the block is added to the next collation, a term synonymous with blocks on a traditional blockchain.
The process of selecting a shard is repeated for every collation. However, only one of them can be added to the blockchain at any given point in time. The important condition is that as long as more than 75 percent of notaries accept a header before it expires, the transaction will be recorded and transmitted to all nodes.
Development of Sharding
As reported by a renowned news-portal on January 26, 2018, Vitalik said that the first phase of the development of Sharding was complete and would be put to the test on the real ethereum blockchain soon. “It seems like part one of phase one is getting something like being already done,” he had remarked.
While a prototype of the Sharding Solution has been in development all this time, it is needless to say that the final product developed to work on the Ethereum blockchain will be more significantly more complicated than what Buterin described. Nevertheless, the final protocol will have the same basic underlying principles and functioning as outlined.