Efforts to Improve Ethereum: A Brief History
Ethereum 1x is the latest in a series of proposals related to improving Ethereum. The best-known round of such ideas was called “Serenity” by Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum co-founder who has taken the lead in promoting the changes.
The Serenity discussion, which began in 2017, was prompted in large part by concerns about Ethereum’s ability to scale. Like Bitcoin and many other major public blockchains, Ethereum currently uses a proof-of-work consensus mechanism, which would likely lead to slow transactions and high transaction costs if demand for the Ethereum blockchain grows large enough.
Ethereum has yet to face real-world scalability issues on the same scale as those of Bitcoin, but Ethereum developers are working now to prevent those problems from occurring in the future.
The hallmark technical change proposed as part of Serenity was the idea of replacing proof of work with proof of stake as the basis for consensus in Ethereum. Running on proof of stake would basically require Ethereum users to “stake” tokens — or, in other words, hold them in reserve — in order to mine Ethereum and participate in network decision-making. By avoiding the high computational requirements of proof of work, leveraging proof of stake would allow Ethereum to continue to process transactions at an acceptable rate even if the number of users of the network increased substantially.
What’s New in Ethereum 1x
The Ethereum 1x proposals shift the conversation from proof of stake to a broader set of ideas that could address scalability problems.
Probably the most significant of them is the idea of introducing “storage rent” to Ethereum. This policy would require users to pay for data that they store on the Ethereum blockchain thereby slowing the blockchain’s growth. It’s another method for helping to prevent scalability issues.
Another key proposed change is the replacement of the Ethereum Virtual Machine with WebAssembly, or ewasm. You can check out the ewasm GitHub repository for the technical details but, in essence, the project aims to provide an alternative engine for executing smart contracts. Because ewasm developers think their engine will require less computational power than the Ethereum Virtual Machine, the solution is another way to help address scalability concerns.
A third potential idea involves chain proofs, which would make it possible to eliminate historical data from the Ethereum blockchain, and thereby reduce its size and scale without sacrificing data verifiability.
The Future of Ethereum 1x
If it sounds pretty unclear exactly what Ethereum 1x entails — or whether any of the proposals associated with it will ever be implemented — that’s because these details currently remain murky.
Several distinct groups have worked independently to birth the ideas that are being incorporated into Ethereum 1x and there is no indication as of yet that they have achieved consensus regarding whether or when to implement the changes they have discussed.
But it’s clear that demand is out there for the sorts of changes that Ethereum 1x would usher in. Afri Schoedon, who helps manage the Parity client for Ethereum, went so far as to suggest launching a new blockchain based on the Ethereum 1x ideas. That kind of talk raises the specter of a fork (although Schoedon does not appear to have had a fork in mind specifically).
What we can say is this: Ethereum developers are keen to address scalability issues before they become real problems and Ethereum 1x may or may not turn out to be the way they do it.