What to expect after the Merge
Why did the Ethereum Foundation kickstart the merge? There are various answers to this question but one of its most notable motivations was to scale its network. The Ethereum Proof of Work was not scalable enough as it restrained users to a meagre 15-20 transactions per second (TPS) while its competitors like Solana and BNB could process thousands of transactions in the same second. The Ethereum protocol is the most popular network, with the highest number of dApps being built in its ecosystem among any other competitor. Naturally, the number of transactions occurring in the network has been increasing rapidly. But, the design of the network consensus does not allow it to meet the high demand fast enough. The Proof of Stake Ethereum won't dramatically improve the scalability of the network right away, however, it does lay an important piece to the mosaic and greatly improves the sustainability of the blockchain due to the decreased energy consumption.
The Ethereum Foundation is ushering in a wave of new features and implementations that will change the game for its scalability, while providing state-of-the-art security. The team has lined up various technological upgrades for the medium and long term future of the protocol, with the closest scheduled post-merge upgrade cleaning up the aftermath of the PoS transition. The co-founder of the foundation, Vitalik Buterin, states that the upgrade will bring about deep changes in how people think about the Ethereum protocol. Here are some of the most significant feature updates that the Ethereum network has lined up post-merge.
Short-term to Medium-term goal
1. Tie loose ends with a post-merge cleanup
The merge is a minimalist version of a full transition to the Proof of Stake (PoS) mechanism. This was important for the Ethereum protocol because it would allow the network to move to PoS half a year earlier. Buterin states that this minimalistic approach enables the Ethereum ecosystem to save potentially billions of dollars by moving to PoS more quickly. But, this also means that there is a post-merge clean-up phase required to tie loose ends. These involve minor updates like:
You may be aware that ETH stakers are not yet able to withdraw their locked staked ETH. The developers will be working on this feature in the short-term future to allow users to get back their money.
The network will be making minor changes to its code to declutter. For example, the Proof of Work (PoW) execution layer voting data continues to exist post-merge. This data is not necessary as the consensus layer is able to read the execution layer that’s living inside it directly. The Ethereum team will be working on cleaning up such nitty-gritty issues immediately after the merge.
2. Increase scalability and decentralization with Sharding
Sharding is a censorship-resistant strategy to scale the Ethereum network. Sharding was planned to be implemented before the merge. But, to prioritize the merge, sharding was left for implementation post-merge. In Ethereum's own words, "sharding will work synergistically with layer 2 rollups by splitting up the burden of handling the large amount of data needed by rollups over the entire network". Each individual node in the Ethereum network only needs to store a small percent of the data, reducing the cost of storing data as a node. This way, not only does sharding increase scalability, it allows more people to join the network as nodes, enabling the network to become more decentralized. In the future, you will be able to use just your laptop or phone to become an Ethereum network participant.
3. Increase scalability and decentralization with statelessness and state expiry
In Ethereum's context, 'state' refers to all Ethereum accounts, balances, deployed smart contracts, and associated storage. By design, the state size of Ethereum keeps growing as the number of contracts and accounts grow continuously. This is bad news for scalability as new participants require more and more data space, increasing the cost of joining the network as a node. Statelessness enables nodes to offload their current state to another participant in the network (state provider), effectively reducing the barrier to entry for becoming a validator. By introducing state providers, tasked with the core job of maintaining the history of Ethereum, you can also introduce stateless clients that make running an Ethereum node easier than ever, leading to true decentralization and resilience of the network.
4. Improve security with single secret leader election
Single secret leader election selects a single proposer using a cryptographic procedure that ensures that only the proposer knows when they are selected. Each validator submits a commitment to a secret, and then the commitments are repeatedly blinded and re-shuffled. When it comes time to choose a proposer, a random commitment is publicly chosen, but because of the blinding only the proposer knows that the commitment corresponds to them. By ensuring that the proposer of blocks are not publicly visible, single secret leader removes doxxing issues. This reduces collusion risks, which means that the network is less likely to be attacked.
Ethereum has been implementing many upgrades, changes and feature updates. Especially with the merge, the protocol is introducing new architecture design, monetary policy, and notable technological improvements to provide users more scalability and security, while maintaining decentralization. However, according to Buterin, Ethereum aims to decrease its speed of rate of change. He hopes for the Ethereum network to reach a stage of security and dependability in the long term so that it can act as a sturdy layer 1 that supports the layers above it, where most of the action should happen.
“L1 is for security and dependability and L2 is for rapid iteration and action.” - Vitalik Buterin
After Ethereum implements the changes and features outlined above, among other nitty gritty improvements, users can expect the protocol to slow down on deploying new features, and instead, focus on maintaining its basic set of ingredients for supporting L2s. These support ingredients would include providing:
Enough data for rollups
Rich statelessness to provide functioning of snarks or fraud proofs
Having an asset
The merge is an incredibly exciting Ethereum upgrade - the biggest of its kind in Ethereum’s 7-year history. There are many exciting features that will have far-reaching implications on users’ experience with the network, especially in terms of scalability and security. Buckle up and savour the journey ahead!