How to Scale Ethereum: Sharding Explained

UTC by Adedamola Bada · 6 min read
How to Scale Ethereum: Sharding Explained
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While scalability remains one of the main issues of blockchain, sharding is viewed as one of the most promising methods to address it. This guide will help you to learn more about it.

The blockchain trilemma is one of the challenges facing blockchain networks and peer-to-peer (P2P) transactional operations, with most cryptocurrency platforms having to choose two features between decentralization, security, and scalability.

Each of these features poses their own advantages to the overall performance of the blockchain, but coexistence with one another poses the main issue. With one of these having to be forgone, debates are going on about which is more important, but projects are in the works with the aim of achieving all three features.

Scalability is the main challenge of networks with its own benefits and drawbacks. Scalability helps in increasing the entire capacity output of any system. It can be achieved alongside decentralization on a network, but this would increase the security risks of the platform.

There are solutions which can be implemented to improve the scalability of a blockchain, one of these strategies being sharding.

What Is Sharding?

In traditional terms, sharding is a partitioning and management database method which involves splitting huge quantities of data into smaller parts which makes the data easier to manage. This serves to achieve scalability as well as to improve the overall performance of the database.

Smaller databases allow for efficient allocation of resources which helps in reducing costs and paves the way for new effective levels of capacity. 

How does Sharding Work?

Also known as horizontal partitioning, sharding involves splitting a data table into rows which would serve as new tables, these tables are known as partitions and contain distinct data which is not dependent on the data stored in the other tables.

These partitions, also known as shards, helps in reducing the size of a database on each node which increases the performance output of the database. However, sharding brings its own form of complexity to the database and improves the centralization of the system in which the data corruption of a shard could bring down the entire table.

How does Sharding Work in Terms of Blockchain?

Sharding employs the use of nodes to store separate sets of data which doesn’t store the whole data on the entire blockchain. This practice, however complex, makes irrelevant the traditional practice of nodes carrying all their data on the blockchain, which, in its turn, guarantees the accuracy of all transactions.

Sharding is still being heavily researched, although the field of study, under distributed computing, is one that is being dabbled into only by people who have an interest in it.

Sharding on blockchain makes use of Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus algorithm which makes use distinct nodes to take charge of transaction validation. In terms of consensus algorithms, Proof-of-Stake is more beneficial than Proof-of-Work (PoW) in the sense that transactions specific to a node will be validated by it and not by the entire blockchain.

This helps in decreasing the entire load over the whole blockchain and helps in increasing the throughput of the blockchain.

Ethereum Sharding

This entails the splitting of the state and history of Ethereum into smaller entities which are stored on nodes with their own transaction details and history. Each of these nodes has only a subset of the data which is used to verify transactions but is able to communicate with other nodes.

The information which is required by a node that doesn’t possess it will communicate with a node that does and access the data it needs. This means nodes would have to depend on other nodes for information which they don’t have, but Ethereum intends to solve this using crypto-economic incentives which employ actors to perform in an intended way on the system.

Implementing the practice on Ethereum could be rather complicated due to the size and complexity of the blockchain technology.

Alternative Solutions to Sharding

There are some other methods which can be used to solve the scalability issue being faced by blockchain networks,/ Among them, we could name: 

  • Increasing the number of transactions in a block

This can be achieved by either making use of fewer bytes to hold information in the block or by increasing the block size. Increasing the size of a block will ensure that more transactions can be held by it, a gas limit is used in Ethereum to impose a restriction on the transactions a block can contain. Also reducing information size on a block helps in achieving an increased throughput.

  •  Increasing the rate of block addition

The rate at which a block is being added to the blockchain determines the transaction rate which the network can handle. Reducing the time difference between block-creation will assist in making transactions get processed at a faster pace.

  • Off-chaining

This involves decreasing the processing load on the blockchain by moving some of the transactions off the main chain. This helps in solving the interoperability issues of blockchain systems as well as improve the throughput and increase decentralization.

  •  Sidechains

A sidechain is a blockchain which exists separately from the main blockchain but still attached to it using a bi-directional link. The sidechain would then exist as a child chain linked to the root chain. This helps in reducing the workload on the main chain as well as the amount of information stored on it.

What Is the Future of Blockchain Sharding?

Blockchain sharding will play an important role in solving the scalability issues of blockchain systems, as it will help in scaling down Ethereum blockchain which would, in turn, increase the number of transactions it can process in a second.

The sharding technique is one that holds great potential but is still a concept in development and not being adopted widely because of the drawbacks that comes with it. Communication between shards is not one that is easy to implement and requires its own separate set of rules to govern the operations.

Solving this main issue would help in increasing the adoption of the sharding technique, which would, in turn, help in further advancements in this field.

Conclusion

Sharding has its benefits as well as its drawbacks but still holds its place as a solution that would greatly help in achieving blockchain scalability. Although the sharding technique might come with its own complexity, it offers better transparency in the operations being handled by a blockchain system. Now it can be viewed as a potential future of Ethereum but beforehand some issues of its implementation are to be solved.

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