Toward Metropolis: After Blockchain Repairs, Ethereum Looks Ahead

(@AlyssaHertig) | Published on December 8, 2016 at 19:30 BST
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Ethereum

Ethereum's developers are shifting focus.

Following efforts to make the blockchain-based distributed application network more resistant to attacks, two planned hard forks and one unintentional split, ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, at least, is turning his attention to a new milestone.

In a blog post this week, Buterin revealed he's now focusing his efforts on Metropolis, the next "stage" of the project (loosely scheduled for release in Q1 or Q2 2017).

The upcoming changes will clear the way for what Buterin calls "abstraction", or moving most of ethereum’s complex rules into its virtual machine as part of an effort to reduce the complexity of the system as a whole.

Analysts say the move would help realize long-planned features expected for integration in the network.

Blockchain consultant Ciaran Murray told CoinDesk:

"'Abstraction' is probably the most defining philosophy of the ethereum community in my opinion."

Metropolis, according to Murray, is about making ethereum as "innovation-friendly" as possible to developers, without compromising the security of the blockchain.

What to expect

Metropolis is the third in a series of four planned releases for the project, as originally envisioned. Currently in a phase called 'Homestead', the network was launched in July 2015 as part of a release dubbed 'Frontier'.

Buterin said that 'Metropolis', like the prior and current stages, will bring many small protocol improvements, "which are altogether much more substantial than Homestead".

The changes include the addition of two ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs) first proposed in April.

The biggest perhaps is EIP 86, which would move ethereum's security logic into contracts so that developers have more control to experiment with different security schemes. EIP 96, in turn, helps to simplify client implementations.

One result of moving complex details out of the clients would be to make future hard forks safer, an upgrade that is increasingly relevant following a split in its community over such an issue earlier this year.

Another forward-looking example of abstraction, according to Murray, is for users to be able to pay for ethereum transaction fees with any cryptographic token, including bitcoin.

On the other hand, much-anticipated features such as proof-of-stake and sharding, are for now, not mentioned in the 'Metropolis' roadmap. Those are anticipated for inclusion in the final 'Serenity' release, which will also see the start of what Buterin has called 'Ethereum 2.0'.

Tensions ahead

One of the more notable metrics to watch for the project during this time will be sentiment – specifically, how well ethereum is able to keep pace with the expectations of its users.

A survey conducted by CoinDesk Research earlier this year suggests this gap could become more pronounced after the excitement of initial launch this year.

For example, early 50% of respondents polled suggested they believed 'Casper', ethereum's proof-of-stake blockchain and one of its foundational elements, was likely to be released in 2017.

Further, in an experimental environment, issues remain a possibility.

As an example of the difficulties inherent in any fork, Spurious Dragon, introduced last month, led to an unintentional fork because the two most popular ethereum clients implemented the new changes with slight differences.

Distorted screen image via Shutterstock

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