❄️ Frozen — Issue No. 55

📰 News

The team of researchers developing the specifications for Ethereum 2.0 has announced they've frozen the spec for the network's initial phase. This means, barring any show-stopping bugs, the various client teams working on implementations of the "Phase 0" spec now have a stable target to build toward and test against. If all goes well, we might see a launch of the new Proof-of-Stake network as soon as the first quarter of 2020. The network will be independent of the current 1.0 chain, but users will be able to migrate their ETH to the 2.0 chain and stake it for a reward. The "Beacon Chain" may also be used to finalize blocks on ETH 1.0. Link.

The news of the spec freeze was welcomed by various client implementors. Of the 7+ teams known to be working on ETH 2.0 clients, none seems further along today than Prysmatic Labs. Their client, which is written in Go, already has testnet. Now that implementors are no-longer trying to a hit moving target, it's only a matter of time before a multi-client network is launched. Link.

Among the other client implementations, two stand out for making good progress. First, there's Nimbus, which is written in Nim, and is under development by the team at Status. Second, there's Lighthouse, written in Rust, lead by the Sigma Prime team. Those two clients recently ran a test showing they could talk to each other over a peer-to-peer network. With the spec frozen, it will be interesting to see which of these clients achieves a testnet first, and how long until mult-client testnets are in operation. Link.

My posture towards ETH 2.0 has long been that of a hopeful skeptic. I want it to work. Its success would be a huge boon toward building a more decentralized world. I have enormous respect for the researchers creating the specs and the developers implementing the clients. But I also have a healthy appreciation for everything that could go wrong. It's an extremely ambitious project attempting more than one completely unprecedented feat. Its realization is far from a fait accompli.

So how does this latest milestone, the Phase 0 spec freeze, move the needle?

Certainly it's an important and impressive occasion. An enormous amount of work went toward getting to this point. My guess is we'll see client development accelerate significantly without teams having to worry about churn in the underlying spec. I'm hoping we'll see multi-client testnets in a matter of months, and while I doubt we'll see the mainnet launch during Q1 2020, as currently planned, having it launch sometime in 2020 seems within reach.

It's also critical to remember, though, that this is just the beginning for Ethereum 2.0. For one, it's literally only the first of three phases. In Phase 0, the functionality of the new network will be extremely limited, and a large amount of complex work will be needed to achieve the grand plans of Phase 1 and Phase 2.

More importantly, though, we must remember that even when Phase 2 launches-- assuming, of course, that we get there-- the network will still have much left to prove. Can the new Proof-of-Stake algorithm remain decentralized in a highly adversarial environment? Can and will high profile projects migrate from the ETH 1.0 chain? How well will lateral scaling actually work out in practice? Will most activity accrue to a few special shards, where critical smart contracts are deployed, thereby negating most of the scaling benefits of a parallelized system? All of these are open questions that can't really be answered until the network is rolled out and running for years.

Overall, I'm heartened by this latest landmark, but I'm also not getting overly excited. As a hopeful skeptic, I recognize the vast majority of the journey still lies ahead. There are many dangers still to navigate, many places where the trail might be lost. I'm rooting for Ethereum 2.0 to succeed. No matter what happens, though, the odyssey ahead is bound to be exciting. Onward!


540. The number of BTC locked (custodially) as collateral for WBTC ERC-20 tokens, which can be used on the Ethereum network. This number is up sharply in the last month. Interestingly, it's now more than half the Bitcoin locked as liquidity on the Lightning network, which has dropped below 1,000 BTC after peaking at 1,100. File this under: comparisons that aren't exactly fair but are interesting nonetheless.  Link.