Valid Points: How Ethereum’s Governance Process Alters ‘The Merge’

Ethereum developers have turned their attention to The Merge.

Mar 24, 2021 at 11:30 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:31 p.m. UTC

The Ethereum developer community is pushing with guns blazing toward proof-of-stake (PoS). But a few speed bumps remain in the way, especially when reflecting on the Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) process.

Last Friday, Ethereum developers began spitballing possible dates for merging the Eth 2.0 client, the Beacon Chain, and the current Ethereum network, Eth 1.x, also known as Ethpow. One idea circulating among developer communities slates "The Merge" for after July’s London hard fork in the subsequent hard fork, Shanghai.

For context, Ethereum has two more hard forks in the immediate future: The Berlin hard fork in April and the London hard fork. Those two hard forks will introduce technical changes to Ethpow, but are unlikely to include any updates necessary to The Merge. Indeed, as Vitalik Buterin spelled out two weeks ago in the “quick merge” write-up, the Beacon Chain and Ethpow could likely be mushed together with few alterations to either chain.

Slow and steady governance

However, that’s not how governance is done on Ethereum. Proposals take as long as three months to six years for inclusion, EIP editor Micah Zoltu said in a private message. Every proposal requires a “champion” to spearhead the proposal and ample amounts of free time to shepherd the idea into production. In fact, given the hype for PoS, Zoltu said the rate of future EIPs being accepted for inclusion will likely decline as everyone focuses on The Merge.

“It'll probably slow things down tremendously as everyone will be busy with The Merge,” he said. “Everyone will be focused on The Merge and so the rate at which people get feedback on EIPs will slow.”

In terms of similarly large proposals, EIP 1559 may act as a guiding star for implementing the merge. Both proposals have large support among Ethereum developer and user communities, both proposals introduce outsized changes to the Ethereum blockchain and both proposals have had or will have to jump through numerous hurdles before being included in the code bank.

For context, EIP 1559 was first submitted in April 2019 and took about two years of research and analysis before being selected for inclusion. However, enthusiasm for the proposal was whipped into a fury this past summer, particularly with the emergence of decentralized finance (DeFi). 

Similar to DeFi rousing support for EIP 1559, resentment and frustration between Ethereum developers and the mining communities is already proving to be a catalyst for The Merge. So, when will PoS happen? Ethereum developers planned on implementing the change by the end of the year. Yet, if history is any guide, one calendar year is perhaps the best approximation. 

Pulse check: Our validator ‘Zelda’ signs a second block

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Source: CoinDesk Data Dashboard and beaconcha.in (As of 3/16/2021 @ 20:12 UTC)

If you’re new to Valid Points and the topic of Ethereum 2.0 in general, be sure to check out our 101 explainer on Eth 2.0 metrics to get up to speed about terminology used throughout this newsletter. 

Zelda signed her second block this past week, boosting her total income earned since being activated on the Eth 2.0 network by 5% to 0.2354 ETH, worth roughly $392 at time of writing.

Eth 2.0 validators can go days, if not weeks, before being assigned the responsibility of proposing and signing off a block. This is because a single validator is randomly assigned this responsibility at every slot, which means Zelda has a one in 110,000 chance of being chosen. The 110,00 figure is the total number of active validators in the system. The higher this number gets, the lower the probability of being assigned a block. 

The rarity of these events is part of what makes them special. The other parts include being able to include “graffiti,” which are custom messages you can write onto Eth 2.0’s immutable blockchain ledger, and earning a 60% higher daily reward for validator operations. Each time Zelda was assigned to sign a block, our daily rewards for that day increased from roughly 0.007 ETH to 0.011. 

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Zelda’s Eth 2.0 validator responsibilities CoinDesk Data Dashboard

CoinDesk data dashboard

Most days, Zelda’s responsibilities are block attestations, of which there are two main types. The more frequent of the two is known as unaggregated attestations. The Ethereum 2.0 network is split in 64 sections, also known as “subnets” or “sub-networks.” Each time a validator makes a block attestation it publishes the associated data on one of these subnets. 

At times, Zelda will perform an extra step after publishing her block attestation. She may also be responsible for aggregating attestations communicated by other validators on different subnets into one succinct message. This message gets pushed up into a higher level of Ethereum 2.0’s network on which blocks are ultimately produced, processed and finalized. 

While aggregated block attestations are more infrequent than unaggregated ones, they still happen more frequently than block proposals. Since being activated on Eth 2.0, Zelda has made two block proposals, 960 aggregated block attestations and roughly 7,600 unaggregated block attestations.

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Number of Unaggregated and Aggregated Block Attestations By Zelda CoinDesk Data Dashboard

As a final note and fun fact about Eth 2.0, this multi-level system depends in large part on Boneh-Lynn-Schacham (BLS) signatures, which is the cryptography that enables messages from Ethereum’s subnets to be aggregated efficiently and securely every few minutes on the network. 

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Validated takes

  • DeFi trader tricks Ethereum miners for $250,000 profit (Article, CoinDesk)
  • Ethermine adds front-running software to help miners offset EIP 1559 revenue losses (Article, CoinDesk)
  • Financial watchdogs have DeFi in their sights and have altered wording around NFTs (Article, CoinDesk)
  • Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sells for $2.9 million as an NFT (Video, CoinDesk)
  • On covering the NFT hype (Op-Ed, CoinDesk)

Factoid of the week

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Open comms

Feel free to reply any time and email research@coindesk.com with your thoughts, comments or queries about today’s newsletter. Between reads, chat with us on Twitter.

Valid Points incorporates information and data directly from CoinDesk’s own Eth 2.0 validator node in weekly analysis. All profits made from this staking venture will be donated to a charity of our choosing once transfers are enabled on the network. For a full overview of the project, check out our announcement post. 

You can verify the activity of the CoinDesk Eth 2.0 validator in real time through our public validator key, which is: 

0xad7fef3b2350d220de3ae360c70d7f488926b6117e5f785a8995487c46d323ddad0f574fdcc50eeefec34ed9d2039ecb.

Will Foxley and I will be continuing the conversation on Ethereum 2.0 with Consensys’ Ben Edgington in a CoinDesk podcast series called “Mapping Out Eth 2.0.”  New episodes air every Thursday. Listen and subscribe through the CoinDesk podcast feed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocketcasts, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Stitcher, RadioPublica, IHeartRadio or RSS.

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