Vitalik Buterin Proposes Major Overhaul to Ethereum’s Proof of Stake System

ByGavin Cole

Dec 28, 2023

Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, has recently proposed substantial changes to the blockchain’s proof-of-stake (PoS) system.

Central to Buterin’s proposal is a fundamental shift in how Ethereum handles validator signatures. Currently, Ethereum supports a remarkably high number of validators, with about 895,000 validator objects. 

This extensive network of validators is designed to promote greater decentralization, allowing a wider range of individuals and entities to engage in staking.

However, this structure necessitates the processing of a vast number of signatures per slot, leading to a considerable computational burden on the Ethereum chain.

Optimizing Ethereum’s PoS

Buterin highlights that Ethereum’s existing PoS system demands intricate technical solutions, including the spread of attestations across numerous subnets and the enhancement of signature processes.

Furthermore, the current framework is yet to incorporate an effective solution resistant to quantum computing threats and is burdened with complexities in applying fork choice adjustments and handling SNARKs for signatures.

This complexity in the system has somewhat hindered the original objective of democratizing staking, as reflected in the persistently high threshold for staking, which currently stands at 32 ETH.

To tackle these issues and streamline the system, Buterin proposes a shift in the protocol’s approach, particularly by reducing the expectation of handling a growing volume of signatures in each slot, thereby aiming for a more efficient and user-friendly PoS mechanism.

Investigating New Methods for Ethereum’s Staking Mechanism

Buterin’s proposal includes three innovative strategies to reduce the signature burden in each slot. 

Firstly, he suggests a greater focus on decentralized staking pools, which may involve increasing the minimum stake required and setting a limit on the total number of validators. 

Secondly, he proposes a dual-layered staking system: a robust primary layer dedicated to finalizing transactions and a secondary, lighter layer to enhance network security. 

Lastly, the concept of rotating participation is introduced, where a select group of validators is chosen for each slot, with their selection likelihood proportional to the size of their stake.

Each of these methodologies presents a unique combination of challenges and benefits, varying in their levels of complexity, security, and inclusivity for stakeholders. Selecting the most appropriate path forward will require careful consideration of how these elements are balanced.

Buterin’s Vision for a Streamlined Ethereum Protocol

In his concluding remarks, Buterin emphasizes the benefits of maintaining a consistent number of signatures in Ethereum’s post-SSF protocol.

Setting a standard at 8192 signatures per slot would greatly simplify the work for technical implementers and developers of auxiliary infrastructure, like light clients. 

Such a standardization would ease the process of running a consensus client, enabling users, staking enthusiasts, and others to rely on a stable, predictable framework.

This approach also provides clarity about the future demands on the Ethereum protocol, allowing for potential increases in the number of signatures-per-slot through hard forks, but only when technological advancements ensure these changes can be managed efficiently.

The remaining challenge lies in choosing the most suitable approach from the three proposed or possibly an entirely different solution. This decision involves carefully weighing the trade-offs of each option, particularly considering aspects like liquid staking.

With the technical aspects becoming more straightforward to address, the focus shifts to resolving these broader, strategic questions, shaping the future trajectory of Ethereum’s development.

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