Simplifying The Ethereum Roadmap (Byzantium to Constantinople)
Ethereum is many things. A golden goose of 2017. An ICO enabler. A beautiful iteration on blockchain technology. It is indeed those things, and many more.
But first let's talk a moment about what Ethereum is not: scalable. Ethereum can now process about 20 transactions per second. As we all know, that's actually quite slow compared to Paypal (500/s+) and Visa (50,000/s+). Below, I'll discuss where we are today, and take you through to where we're going next.
Why is this important to you? Well, knowledge is power. And the knowledge is out there for the taking...
First, why is transaction speed important?
Well, because people, markets and digital cats are impatient -- and the deluge of ICOs means that Ethereum transaction volume is only set to increase. Remember, they all use the same blockchain network. As I have said before, running enterprise applications on 2018 Ethereum blockchain is like trying to play Call of Duty on a 28kbs modem from 1995.
At the time of this writing, about 7,000 transactions are backlogged on the Ethereum blockchain, and it's ballooned far higher than that in the past.
Why is Ethereum so slow?
Ethereum runs across a whole bunch 'nodes' sitting on servers around the world. Like Bitcoin, every node stores every transaction that was ever made on the entire blockchain. As of today, it looks like we're at 411 gigabytes for a full node.
And every transaction has to be cryptographically solved by every node on the network so that every computer has the entire chain. Rinse and repeat about a million times a day, and you can see why the highway can get clogged.
Today and Tomorrow
I've been a longtime follower of the Ethereum product roadmap and I can tell you that it's been a crazy ride.
For those who want to nail the specific details: we are currently on the Byzantium release of Ethereum, the first part of the Metropolis stage. Byzantium was released in October of 2017 and, in summary, did the following:
Upgrade 1: Set the stage for private transactions (though it did not implement them). Privacy is important, but does not really exist on the current Ethereum network.
Upgrade 2: Sped up the transactions by allowing them to solve problems in parallel (we'll get back to "Sharding" later)
Upgrade 3: Smart Contract improvements for developers. In short, it made it less expensive to cancel smart contracts once they start.
The second and final part of Metropolis will be Constantinople.
This release, currently without a specific timeline (though I have a rough guess, holler at me as I don't want to spread FUD) will introduce the stage for the Casper proof-of-stake upgrade.
To be technical, Constantinople won't actually turn Ethereum into a purely proof-of-stake mechanism (aka miners aren't going anywhere), but it will likely provide a secondary, hybrid verification system for transactions based on how many coins the miner holds, and is willing to "stake". A lot of staked coins means the staker will typically win more block rewards, but will lose the entire stake if they try to cheat the system and are caught.
This sets the stage for eventually going off of proof-of-work entirely (going full Casper!), and saving a small part of the environment from blockchain destruction.
In a later write-up, I will describe the next stages of the Ethereum product roadmap being planned. In my view, these upgrades are a race against time -- new Gen 3 blockchains are sprouting up like weeds, and have incorporated some really interesting features into their technology. Ethereum still controls a massive network, but it needs to get enterprise ready... and fast.