Today saw the first Ethereum mainnet shadow fork go live. The developers of the second-largest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization continue to transition the network to Proof-of-Stake (PoS).
Ethereum developers currently working on a multi-stage transition to a PoS consensus algorithm, reached a significant landmark today. Developer Marius Van Der Wijden tweeted earlier, “We’re very close to a historical event. We’re testing PoS on #Ethereum. Today will be the first mainnet shadow fork ever. We’re roughly 690 blocks (~2 h) away from TTD.”
According to Marius Van Der Wijden’s block explorer page, the new shadow fork merge launched on the Ethereum mainnet, a trial for the actual merge. The shadow fork merge has processed 1,558,014 transactions, with an average block time of 13.8 seconds at the time of writing.
What is the merge for?
The actual merge, slated for later this year, will replace the existing energy-intensive proof-of-work mechanism (PoW) currently used to validate Ethereum transactions. PoS will see transactions validated by nodes run by “stakers” rather than “miners.” Users will be able to validate transactions based on how many coins or stakes they have contributed to the network. Users who stake more coins have a greater chance of being selected to validate transactions on the network and receive a reward.
The main disadvantage of PoS is the need for high levels of crypto expertise to navigate the migration process. It is also imperative to be comfortable with the entire process, as each step is expensive and potentially risky. Even a simulation cannot wholly predict the crypto-economics involved.
The exact date for the actual merge is not yet confirmed. The next test will be on April 22. Developers will then have a better idea of when it might happen. Tim Beiko, an Ethereum developer, predicts that the merge will occur in July. However, he said that it’s a “rough estimation.” Although the actual merge is still months away, today’s test proved it possible.
How have other testnets fared?
The Ethereum Foundation had previously tried shadow forks on the Goerli testnet, which is used to test decentralized applications. There were multiple issues with the Goerli testnet shadow fork with respect to timeouts. A second fork was later launched, followed by a third.
Another subsequent testnet, Kiln, merged the PoW execution layer with PoS Beacon Chain. Parithosh, an ethereum developer, said of the Kiln testnet, “The aim of Kiln merge testnet was to allow the community to practice running their nodes, deploying contracts, testing infrastructure, etc. However, since its a “fresh” testnet with little activity, we needed a way to stress test our assumptions around syncing and state growth. We additionally wanted a way to check if our assumptions work on existing testnets and/or mainnet.” Hence, the mainnet shadow fork was released.
Now, ethereum currently has proof-of-work and proof-of-stake chains running simultaneously. Both have validators but only the proof-of-work chain processes transactions. After the merge is completed, ethereum’s blockchain will transition fully to the proof of stake chain, known as the Beacon Chain.
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