Vitalik Buterin weighed the opportunities and risks of expanding the Ethereum protocol


Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin discussed in a blog the advantages of including some functions in the main protocol code versus implementing them on top of the blockchain.

Among the solutions discussed, Buterin named the ERC-4337 token standard for account abstraction, ZK-EVM, private mempools, code precompilation and liquid staking.

According to him, the initial philosophy of Ethereum was “protocol minimalism” – the desire to make the core of the blockchain as simple as possible, implementing most of the solutions on top. Recently, however, there has been “cautious interest” in incorporating many of these features into core code, Buterin acknowledged.

He believes that there are a number of advantages in favor of enshrining the ERC-4337 protocol, including:

  • more efficient use of gas and reduction in fixed transaction costs;
  • reducing the risk of errors in the function code;
  • resistance to censorship in the protocol.

Regarding the potential inclusion of ZK-EVM in the main code, Buterin noted that there are currently a large number of implementations of ZK rollups. The developers of all these solutions like PSE ZK-EVM, Kakarot, Polygon ZK-EVM, Linea, Zeth and others are forced to “write fairly similar code to check the execution of blocks.” In theory, a basic EVM could be used for this function, but there are a number of technological nuances.

“Fixing the ZK-EVM is both promising and challenging,” Buterin opined.

He noted that the development of MEV has turned block production into a large-scale activity that generates more income for participants than the default algorithms. The community is trying to overcome this problem with off-protocol implementations of the PBS concept of separating the block proposer and the block builder.

Solutions such as MEV-Boost allow validators to delegate block creation to specialized participants, but require trust in a new category of entities – relays.

However, Buterin considers the danger of consensus overload to be a strong counterargument for including PBS in the protocol code.

Regarding the private mempool projects that have recently received, the programmer noted that there are serious obstacles to enshrining this function in the protocol. Such solutions keep transactions encrypted until they are irreversibly committed to a block. At the same time, the encryption technologies used have certain weaknesses, Buterin believes. In his opinion, the task of introducing private mempools at the first level of the blockchain without technological breakthroughs seems to be a “challenging task.”

Regarding liquid staking, Buterin recalled fears of centralization. In his opinion, there is a “natural centralized mechanics” in this segment. Users concentrate on the largest and most well-known platforms, but the increase in the number of base nodes carries a 51% risk of attack.

The programmer noted that the protocols resort to various protection measures. For example, Lido uses a whitelist, and Rocket Pool allows you to launch a node only after making 8 ETH (¼ capital) as a deposit. According to Buterin, neither of these approaches is without drawbacks. He believes it would be advisable to secure some kind of “intra-protocol functionality” that would make liquid staking less centralized. However, it remains unclear what exactly this decision should be.

Buterin recalled that precompilations are Ethereum contracts that implement complex cryptographic operations, the logic of which is implemented in the client code. This compromise approach initially made it possible to reduce EVM overhead for some complex applications by solving some problems in the main code, making them faster.

According to the programmer, work is currently underway to add a precompilation for the elliptic curve secp256r1. In recent years, there have been attempts to integrate contracts for the BLS-12-377, BW6-761, and several other functions.

The counterargument to adding more precompilations was that many of them were used much less frequently than expected. Buterin admitted that there are certain cryptographic operations that are valuable for speeding up and that are worth including in the protocol. It might be worth withdrawing some of the existing contracts from there, he added.

He highlighted several takeaways from considering the possibility of including the discussed functions in the Ethereum protocol:

  • consolidation can reduce the risks of centralization in a number of areas;
  • Integration that is too broad can lead to excessive consensus and governance burden, as well as overly complex code;
  • The long-term disadvantage is the unpredictability of user needs.

“Which features should be included in the protocol and which should be left to other layers of the ecosystem is a complex trade-off, and we should expect it to continue to evolve over time as we understand user needs and the range of ideas and technologies available,” concluded programmer.

Let us recall that in September Buterin spoke about the timing of solving the problem of centralization in Ethereum.

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