Wondering if blockchain bloat can ever be solved? This is an interesting question that we will answer in this article.
Blockchain Bloat Problem: “Distributed Ledger Technology” (DLT) – Another Aspect of Blockchain
The distributed nature of blockchain is a key to understanding the blockchain bloat problem. Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious person or group behind Bitcoin had a specific motive behind creating this digital currency. Nakamoto wanted to conduct financial transactions without the intervention of banks or governments.
This required the following:
- If a government or a malicious agent shut down one server, the network must still operate.
- This means that the network needed to be a decentralized one.
- Such a network also needs built-in redundancy, so that shutting down one server doesn’t cripple it.
- Effectively, each node in the network should have all the transaction records.
- This essentially means that each node has a complete ledger of all transactions in the blockchain.
- As the number of blocks increases in the blockchain, all nodes sync up and store all blocks.
You can now see why we call blockchain a “Distributed Ledger Technology” (DLT). Read “Distributed ledgers definition” for more insights.
The obvious upside of this distributed nature of blockchain is that hackers have fewer incentives to hack. This built-in redundancy makes blockchain permanent.
Blockchain bloat: The downside of built-in redundancy
As a blockchain network grows, there are ever more transactions. Consequently, there are more blocks. The built-in redundancy of the decentralized network requires that every full node stores every one of these blocks.
The volume of data duplicated in every node increases over time, and we now have “Blockchain bloat”. This Cryptomaniaks definition explains it well. Bloat impacts the transaction speed, consequently, transaction fees tend to increase.
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Running a new Node becomes harder. A user needs to download the entire blockchain first, to run a full node. This process is called “Initial Block Download” (IBD). Bitcoin, the highly popular cryptocurrency has such a large network now that IBD can take weeks!
Read this Bitcointalk thread to get an idea of this challenge.
Bloat impedes blockchain adoption
Blockchain has significant potential, and the following indicators attest to that:
- The technology has key use cases in sectors such as financial services, supply chain management, identity management, energy, healthcare, etc. Read about a few blockchain use cases in “Top 5 most compelling use cases for blockchain technology”.
- Blockchain technology market will likely reach $23.3 billion in 2023, as one Statista report claims.
However, slow transaction processing, which is a direct result of blockchain bloat, can adversely impact the adoption of the technology. Experts cite this as a key challenge, as you can read in “Five things that must happen for blockchain to see widespread adoption, according to Deloitte”.
How to solve blockchain bloat?
Blockchain experts are working on quite a few solutions to solve blockchain bloat. I will now explain a few such solutions, as follows:
1. Apollo’s “Sharding protocol”
Apollo, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency has come up with a solution using sharding, to solve blockchain bloat. Before reviewing this solution, let’s first understand sharding, as follows:
- Sharding is originally a concept from the world of database management. Database experts use this technique to improve the efficiency of databases.
- A shard is essentially a horizontal portion of a database. Database experts store each shard in separate server instances. They programmatically manage the querying process so that appropriate shards are used depending on the database query. This makes the database faster.
- When we implement sharding in a blockchain, it’s a bit different. Software architects identify different nodes and segregate parts of the blockchain database to create shards. Nodes in a particular shard only maintain that part of the database, and not the entire blockchain.
- Since each node no longer loads the entire blockchain, the transaction speed improves.
- The transaction validation process no longer involves full nodes. Naturally, POW consensus algorithm can’t work with sharding, and “Proof of Stake” (PoS) needs to be used. Each shard has its own set of transaction validators.
Read “Blockchain FAQ #3: What is sharding in the blockchain?” for more insights.
Apollo (APL) has implemented its “Sharding protocol”. The key characteristics of this protocol are as follows:
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- This protocol uses the sharding technique.
- Apollo’s sharding protocol also uses “forging”. Forging is the transaction validation process in PoS algorithm. Here, unlike POW, only a few nodes take care of the transaction validation. This algorithm chooses transaction validators based on the number of crypto tokens they have “staked”, i.e., kept in deposit for transaction validation. Validators with longer duration and higher amount of stake have a higher probability of getting transactions to validate. Read more about forging in “What is proof of stake?”.
- Sharding reduces the size of the database that every node needs to maintain.
- Apollo claims to have successfully implemented sharding at a protocol level, which they claim to be unprecedented.
- Their solution is based on a key design premise. Apollo finds that most operations in a blockchain use only a relatively smaller part of the database, and not the entire database. This is why they believe that sharding at a protocol level is the right solution.
- Apollo claims that they have achieved two-second block speed, which is significant considering how blockchain bloat slows down networks.
You can read about Apollo’s solution in “What is blockchain bloat?”.
2. Ephemeral blockchains
Ephemeral blockchains could offer a way out of the bloating challenge. It would work as follows:
- Ephemeral blockchains have a basic difference with blockchain networks we commonly hear about. Commonly known blockchain networks are permanent, whereas ephemeral blockchains are not!
- Consider a blockchain you are building from scratch.
- You create the genesis block, i.e., the first block in the blockchain.
- Users of the blockchain network execute transactions, and new blocks are added to the blockchain.
- Over time, it builds up a certain volume of data.
- You define a cut-off point, based on how much transaction data the blockchain should record.
- Once the chain reaches this cut-off point, it has fulfilled its objective.
- Blockchain developers can then take a snapshot of the entire blockchain at that point.
- The project team can save this state on a public blockchain like Ethereum blockchain. This end-of-state snapshot is now permanently saved, thanks to the decentralized security of a public blockchain.
- Subsequently, you destroy this blockchain and create an entirely new ephemeral blockchain. The genesis block of the new ephemeral blockchain reflects the end-of-state snapshot of the earlier blockchain.
- This process continues, with subsequent sets of snapshots capturing the incremental changes to the blockchain.
This approach limits the amount of data every node will need to load. Read more about this solution in “Ephemeral µBlockchains: the mayflies tackling data storage limitations on the blockchain”.
3. Using zk-SNARKs to solve blockchain bloat
Yet another method to solve the bloating challenge is to use “Zero-Knowledge Succinct Not-Interactive Argument of Knowledge” or “zk-SNARK”, which is a relatively new technology. This technology works as follows:
- Zk-SNARKs are built on the “Zero knowledge proof” (ZKP) concept.
- “Zero knowledge proof” enables one entity to prove the possession of a piece of information, without disclosing it. Read “Explain like I’m 5: Zero knowledge proof (Halloween edition)” to learn more about zero-knowledge proof.
- Think of a hypothetical scenario where you log into a website by providing proof that you have the password, without actually entering the password. The user authentication program on the website doesn’t ask for the password. It allows you to login since you have given the proof that you have the password. At no point did you divulge the password!
- Blockchain experts have built zk-SNARKs based on this foundation, and several blockchain projects use it.
- Since the users don’t need to reveal the underlying information, some privacy-focused blockchain-crypto projects use zk-SNARKs to build privacy-oriented cryptocurrencies. Zcash is one example of a cryptocurrency that uses zk-SNARKs. Read more about zk-SNARKs in “What is zk-SNARKs? An introduction to this privacy protocol”.
Now that we have a brief understanding of zk-SNARKs, let’s see how this can help in addressing the bloating challenge. Coda cryptocurrency protocol has such a solution, which works as follows:
- This project uses zk-SNARKs to compress the blockchain.
- The solution creates a ZKP of the blockchain, which is a small set of data, compared to several Terabytes (TB) of data that well-known cryptocurrency blockchains have.
- The entire state of the Coda blockchain is compressed and represented as a 1 KB zk-SNARK proof.
- This is proof of the authenticity of the blockchain. Nodes have no need to store the entire ledger of the blockchain, rather they use this zk-SNARK proof to validate the ledger.
- Along with the proof, the nodes need to store a small quantity of data. This data represents the path from the ledger to a users’ account.
- This drastically reduces the amount of data each node needs to store. Users of Coda require merely 22 KB space to run a Coda node!
- One can understand the impact of this in a different way. Running a full node of famous cryptocurrency blockchains requires a laptop computer at the minimum. You can’t operate a full node using a smartphone. However, Coda users can use their smartphones to run a Coda node!
- The team at Coda uses the term “Succinct blockchain” to refer to their blockchain.
- Irrespective of the number of transactions on the network, the size of the zk-SNARK proof remains constant. Synchronizing a node takes very less time.
Read “Reducing blockchain bloat: Coda protocol & instant-sync Bitcoin nodes” to gain more insights into Coda.
Exploring the right solution for addressing blockchain bloat?
Blockchain is a relatively new technology. While blockchain bloat has emerged as a challenge over the last few years, solutions to this major problem are only recently emerging.
These solutions are also complex. Blockchain sharding, ephemeral blockchain, and zk-SNARK are all new innovations, and solutions based on them are evolving.
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Given this complexity, finding the right solution to address this challenge can be tricky. You need the right expertise to evaluate available solutions, to choose the right approach, plan your blockchain project, and finally develop your blockchain app.
Planning is a major exercise here since it involves infrastructure, platform, development approach, as well as in many more aspects. Consider engaging a reputed development partner for your project. Before you do so, consult our guide “What to plan for when undertaking blockchain software development?”.
If you are still skeptical on how to build blockchain development team, let DevTeam.Space help you through its blockchain-expert developer community. Write to us your requirements for blockchain development project via this quick form and one of our technical managers will get back to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Blockchain bloat occurs as more and more information is added to the blockchain. Since each node on the blockchain is required to store and process this information, processing times slow over time as the blockchain grows.
To date, the Ethereum network is only around 1TB in size. This makes blockchain unsuitable for the vast majority of processes that large businesses rely on every day. Even as a currency, a single blockchain is unsuitable for everyday adoption by the masses due to blockchain bloat.
Solutions such as sharding offer temporary respite from blockchain bloat. However, no fix has yet been found.