Scalability has always been a problem for blockchains, and it’s the main reason blockchain technology hasn’t reached mainstream adoption. Whether in blockchain fintech—where comparisons of the Bitcoin blockchain’s 10 TPS to Visa’s 24,000 TPS abound—or in other sectors blockchain has touched, this is holding many otherwise promising companies back from delivering new, innovative kinds of value to the public. While larger and better-resourced companies have managed to overcome this problem through sidechaining and/or sharding, there is no substitute for the real thing. DApp scaling frameworks may be a foundation to build widespread solutions to this problem.
What are DApps?
DApps (decentralized apps) use blockchain technology to deliver peer-to-peer value through product offerings, services, or new forms of value. Built on blockchain technology, dApps use its decentralized, trustless, peer-to-peer structure to let users transact between each other without a centralized authority through an encrypted medium (such as NASGO’s platform that we’ve reported on previously).
While this is an otherwise revolutionary solution to the problem of over-centralization, it comes with its own set of baggage. Imagine if every transaction or purchase you made had to be confirmed by a network of other people before completing. This, the consensus protocol—on which Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other leading blockchains are built—is one of blockchain’s greatest strengths, but also one of its greatest weaknesses. For any blockchain to work as intended, every node participating in it has to confirm every transaction that happens on it.
On the positive side, this massively increases transaction immutability, verifiability and transparency. Unfortunately, it also makes transaction per second (TPS) speed very low. Slow processes usually don’t scale. And without scalability, blockchain technology cannot reach mainstream usage. Right now, only about 8 million people globally use any form of cryptocurrency. To reach mainstream usage, 800 million people must consistently use it.
It sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem, but the blockchain space is already developing resources to overcome this issue. DApp scaling frameworks are one way. They are bundles of code inside blockchain protocols that let distributed apps distribute themselves in a semi-scaled way, letting a blockchain scale improve its TPS and allow more transactions than ever before. Unfortunately, not many developers have access to these, and the few that do have only built the earliest versions of this technology, which brings up the question: is this really a workable solution right now?
What We Have Now
DApps are hard interact with. They’re slow, confusing, and rely on 3rd-party software which only the most sophisticated consumers can readily use. Yet the chief issue here is speed—the key performance measurement of all distributed systems is scalability, and without it, dApps have no real business case or value proposition, let alone any realistic user acquisition strategy. Yet there are fixes for this problem, but little implementation and even less progress on their collective maturation. They exist in five categories, below:
1. Low-Level Optimizations
2. Parallel Blockchains (“sharding”)
3. Homogenous Vertical Scaling
4. Heterogeneous Vertical Scaling
5. Heterogeneous Interconnected Multichains
6. Multilayered dApp development toolboxes
There’s not much to be said for the solutions in the first category. Most of them—consensus algorithms, PoS migrations, parallel processing on transactions and code optimizations in the Ethereum Virtual Machine—are low-level and impermanent band-aids to the deeper problem.
The best of the solutions in the second, third, and fourth categories are at this stage still in the proof-of-concept phase, being built almost exclusively by and for Ethereum and Bitcoin, such as projects like Plasma and the Lightning Network. These are getting the most traction here only because they’re developing out of Bitcoin and Ethereum, but are nontheless still are very early-stage.
The idea behind Plasma is to take smart contracts, give them self-governing alongside self-execution properties to let the Ethereum root chain essentially create buds or “shards”—tiny sidechains each monitoring one aspect of a transaction instead of putting that combined pressure on the root chain—to distribute consensus, letting blockchains dramatically scale their TPS. Lightning Network deals more exclusively with payments—it’s a second-layer payment protocol next to the root blockchain, using a peer-to-peer system to let users make cryptocurrency micro-payments. Both platforms are examples of how some blockchain companies are using secondary and tertiary parallel blockchains to scale their TPS.
Concepts like Polkadot—scalable heterogeneous multichains—provide foundations for later functionality in the area of relay-chains, where the goal is to build validatable, globally connected, frequently-changing data structures on top of these frameworks.
Companies like MenloOne—multilayered dApp development toolboxes—create and deploy digital tools for dApp developers to use when they’re building. They include:
- A layer for communication.
- A layer for governance (given lack of server admins to ban malicious users in a decentralized network).
- A local wallet for smooth transactions (no more MetaMask popups).
- A core layer, a network of content nodes which cache mirror versions of blockchain data.
These incorporate fragmented systems to make dApp development easier for professionals.
Together, solutions in these categories are working to help top blockchains scale TPS to thousands per second.To become adopted by the mainstream public, these frameworks will need to use a variety of different tools to make transactions effortless for blockchains to process.
What do you think about the scalability of blockchains today? Is it a problem for you or are you unaffected? And, what do you most want to see happen in this area of blockchain technology in the near future? Post in the comments below to let us know!