Vitalik Buterin Says ZCash’s ZK-SNARKs Can Scale Ethereum Up To 500 Tps

News and Analysis

A cryptography technology known as ZK-SNARKs could be used to help scale Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the platform suggested recently on a research forum.

In his post Buterin wrote:

“We can actually scale asset transfer transactions on ethereum by a huge amount, without using layer 2s that introduce liveness assumptions (eg. channels, plasma), by using zk-SNARKs to mass-validate transactions.”

ZK-SNARKs (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) works on what is known as zero-knowledge proofs with the idea coming from several MIT researchers back in the 1980s. The technology, which is currently used by several projects, including privacy-focused Zcash, means that between two parties of a transaction, each party is able to verify to the other that they have a specific set of information without revealing what that information is.

Specifically, Buterin describes a method that includes a “relayer” node, a kind of computer that performs the task of aggregating transactions in exchange for transaction fees.

“Anyone can be a relayer; there is no assumption of even an untrusted special ‘operator’ existing,” Buterin added.

As a result, he estimated that such a setup could lead to gains of “~24x for ETH transactions and ~50x for ERC-20 transfers.”

Ethereum’s ability to scale and provide a greater throughput than the current 15 – 25 transactions per second (tps), has been the subject of debate for quite some time now. Some have even postulated that the price of Ethereum could continue dropping as other faster blockchain projects are being developed to handle higher tps.

There are three main methods that have been proposed to increase the throughput on the Ethereum network: sharding, Raiden and Plasma.

Sharding allows for nodes and transactions to be divided into smaller groups rather than having the entire network to validate the transaction. Raiden scales the network off-chain by using state channel technology. Off-chain transactions allows a collection of nodes to establish payment channels between each other to facilitate transactions without involving the Ethereum network. Finally, Plasma uses a series of smart contracts to create hierarchical trees of side chains. Those sidechains can be governed using their own set of rules and only relay information back to the parent chain of the network.

In his comments, Buterin also said that while aggregating transactions with ZK-SNARKs is computationally intensive, the technology is likely to improve in the future.

“I understand that the above requires some quite heavy duty computing work on the part of the relayers… But at this point it’s widely known that optimizing snark/stark provers is super-important so I’m sure there will be more and more software engineering work going into it over time,” he concluded.

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