Polkadot — a dive into the architecture of Dot-Sama.
Polkadot is proof-of-stake blockchain that aims to solve scalability, security and become an infrastructure that becomes a decentralized web of the future. Co-Founder Robert Habermeier said in ‘Robert Habermeier on how Polkadot works’, that Polkadot aims to be interoperable with older technology, versions of blockchains imaginable now as well as upgradable in the future. At a high level, Parity are the architects of Substrate which was created to help build Polkadot, Kusama and other blockchains. The Web3 Foundation also exists as another entity which guides the ethos of how Parity are aiming to rebuild the internet itself moving forward.
What is Polkadot aiming to do in the blockchain sphere?
- It is aiming to help blockchains, old and new, connect with each other
- To help buildouts with the Substrate framework
- To host blockchains that have been onboarded (Parachains) so that they can share security and scale transactions
- Finally, to help to bridge other blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, to Polkadot so that it can enable interoperability across the entire decentralized web
We will explore all of these elements in this blog and hopefully clear up some misconceptions about the technology. There are a lot of moving parts that have been carefully constructed and are gradually implemented since having launched the genesis block of its Relay Chain in May 2020. The Polkadot project headed by by the Web3 Foundation and Parity Technologies, has its own tokens DOT and KSM and gaining traction with goal of decentralization, governance and fervent community of developers and projects being onboarded. In this article, we will highlight some of the core elements to the ecosystem and how they work with one another. If we were to visualize their hierarchy, it might be something like the following:
Parity and Substrate
In 2016, Gavin Wood founded EthCore, promptly raising pre-seed funding. With over sixty developers across fifteen countries, EthCore later became Parity Technologies. The ecosystem later expanded to create the aforementioned Web3 Foundation and then Kusama and Substrate. Substrate is a DIY blockchain framework that uses specialised logic to create new blockchains from it to create unique blockchains to exist externally or be hosted own Polkadot itself with benefits of security, cross-chain interoperability and the ability to access dApps in the Polkadot ecosystem. When building Polkadot, the team realised that there were several elements that a blockchain could be composed from and set about to make a bespoke chain from those elements optimised for the project that each team intends to use the blockchain for.
Generally, blockchain nodes need:
- A database
- A P2P network
- Block Authoring
- Fork Choice Rule
- Transaction Handling
- State Transition Functioning
- Runtime and more.
As Parity developer Joshy Orndorff said a February 2020 video titled Intro to Substrate, in order to write a blockchain ‘you either had to be an expert or know an expert in each one of these areas in order to get something that actually worked, and that meant that blockchain development would take a really long time. The goal of Substrate is to ease that pain so that users could spin up their own chains, being an expert only in whichever aspect that makes your chain unique. From Polkadot came Substrate — Parity had a codebase that they were building to make Polkadot and they realised that so many pieces of it were reusable for any kind of chain, and they asked the question “What if we just rename this whole thing from Polkadot to Substrate and then extract out the few pieces that really make Polkadot unique?”. Therefore Parity realised that many of the pieces were reusable and could be extracted out to become a framework for building blockchains and that’s how Substrate was born.
As the company puts it, “Substrate-based chains are designed to seamlessly connect to Polkadot, granting access to its system of parallel transactions, cross-chain transfers, and an expanding support network.” To differentiate, Polkadot is a layer-0 protocol and multichain network laying the foundation for the future of Web3. Substrate is the primary blockchain SDK used by developers to create the parachains that make up the Polkadot network.
The Kusama Network
“The Web3 Foundation has launched the ‘canary network’ Kusama that allows developers to explore the finer intricacies of Polkadot in a real economic environment before launching their tech on mainnet. Kusama’s launch proved to be a valuable waypoint toward the launch of Polkadot network, the sharded multi-chain interoperability network Dr. Wood co-founded after leaving Ethereum.”
Gavin Wood on the introduction of Kusama
In order to be thorough and set up a live, test network for Polkadot, the Web3 Foundation along with Parity created a fully functional network called Kusama which came on mainnet in 2019, a year before Polkadot itself. Also sharing the namesake of one of the inspirations for the ecosystem, Yayoi Kusama, Kusama itself ‘allows developers to explore the finer intricacies of Polkadot in a real economic environment before launching their tech on mainnet’. It has proven to be a valuable waypoint towards the launch of the Polkadot network.
Therefore it should be no surprises that Parity’s preeminent blockchain is called Polkadot and their experimental or, canary chain, is called Kusama. Named after the artist herself, Kusama is a network built as a risk-taking, fast-moving ‘canary in the coal mine’ for its cousin Polkadot. Kusama says the network is focused on “Risk and Danger” for those who want to experiment with their dApps with fewer barriers.
Also built in Substrate and featuring a very similar codebase, it was founded in 2019 as a chain that is faster to deploy on and prepare for Polkadot which came online main net the following year in 2020. Governance, upgrades and lower barriers to entry than Polkadot itself, it is a chain in it’s own right where many teams have preferred to host their projects on Kusama, rather than the premier chain Polkadot. Some teams have also taken a two-pronged approach and sought to implement projects on both chains.
Interoperability, shared security and scaling
Co-founder Rob Habermeier discussed in a 2018 video about ‘How Polkadot works’ some of the core characteristics. One major motivation behind Polkadot is the idea of interoperability between blockchains, that is to connect chains with distinct state machines and consensus algorithm. In doing so to connect the past, present and the future. By ‘Past’, that is what has already been built, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero. By ‘Present’, that is to ask what are the limits of the current technologies at our disposal and what kinds of chains are going to be built that they can foresee. By ‘the Future’, the ideas that crop up are going to evolve a lot and will become vastly more complex and secure that we are working with right now and people are going to build chains that we cannot even imagine right now and Polkadot want to support in an interoperability framework all three of these scenarios; what is already built, what could be built that we know about and even things that we cannot even imagine yet.
There are 3 main parts of both Polkadot and Kusama integral to how they operate. We will explore them in the following sections.
- the Relay Chain
- Parachains or Parathreads; and
The Relay Chain, Parachains and Bridges
the heart of Polkadot — the Relay Chain
This is the core of Polkadot which is responsible for network security, consensus, and cross-chain interoperability. It is essentially a large blockchain whose key purpose is to connect other chains to itself and provide communication between them. Having the “hub and spoke” structure offers other benefits as well for the smaller blockchains attached to the relay chain.
By using Polkadot’s DIY blockchain framework Substrate, developers can build sovereign shard chains that can have their own tokens and specialized functionalities. These are deployed on to Polkadot themselves if they win a parachain auction — something that will be discussed in the following article. Essentially, these parachains connect to the relaychain via dedicated slots and are called Parachains because they work in parallel with one another, sharing security and increase throughput by parallelizing transactions.
As it is an expensive process to get a parachain slot, Parathreads come to the rescue and have similar functions to parachains. Projects can use these temporarily without the need to lease a parachain slot for a period of almost 2 years. Projects then use pay-as-you-go model that allows chains to pay for Relay Chain access on a block-by-block basis. Although they have a slower block time than parachains have, they have the same level of security and interoperability throughout. Dependent on the relay chain’s slot availability and needs, different projects can swap between being a parachain or a parathread.
Parathreads will have a slower block time than parachains but have the same security level and interoperability feature. Also, depending on the relay chain’s slot availability and needs, any blockchain can switch between being a parachain or a parathread.
Finally, bridges allow parachains and parathreads to communicate with external networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum, thereby further expanding the interoperability of the Polkadot blockchain. Bridges can, eventually, enable different tokens and coins to be swapped without a central exchange.
The final part of Polkadot are the bridges. As one of Polkadot’s main goals is to facilitate data freely between hundreds of blockchains, new and old, and create a more open internet, bridges are an essential feature to enable those chains to interoperate with Polkadot itself, as well as parachains and parathreads. Bridges will eventually enable different tokens and coins to be swapped without a central exchange.
With a breadth of experience from developing on Bitcoin and Ethereum, the team at Parity created a clear framework for what Dot-Sama (Polkadot and Kusama) would be but also clearly created the frameworks and tools to do so. The Dot-Sama community has been growing ever since inception in 2017 and as at April 2022, several dozen parachains and parathreads have been onboarded to both networks. As mentioned, the developer activity continues to grow and more and more projects are appearing. We at Bisonai are throughly impressed with the vision and frameworks created by Polkadot and this is why we have also chosen to build on the network.
In the next article, we will explore how blockchains are onboarded to Dot-Sama, some of the interesting projects that are online or contending for a place and also discuss the future of the Dot-Sama ecosystem.
- Robert Habermeier on how Polkadot works. https://youtu.be/WXq8AnGbPkE
- Polkadot Roadmap. https://polkadot.network/launch-roadmap/
- Gavin Wood: The Blockchain and Decentralized Web Pioneer. https://www.parity.io/about/gavin-wood/
- Substrate. https://substrate.io/
- Polkadot Whitepaper. https://polkadot.network/PolkaDotPaper.pdf
- Polkadot Litepaper. https://polkadot.network/Polkadot-lightpaper.pdf
- Kusama Network. https://kusama.network/
- Rob Habermeier on how Polkadot works. https://youtu.be/WXq8AnGbPkE
- Nick Garcia. https://twitter.com/NickDGarcia/status/1508464591428374534
- What is Polkadot (DOT): A beginner’s guide to the decentralized Web 3.0 blockchain. https://cointelegraph.com/blockchain-for-beginners/what-is-polkadot-dot-a-beginners-guide-to-the-decentralized-web-3-0-blockchain
- What is Polkadot? https://limechain.tech/blog/what-is-polkadot/
- What is Polkadot? The Complete Guide. https://cryptopotato.com/what-is-polkadot/
- Polkadot Bridges — Connecting the Polkadot Ecosystem with External Networks. https://polkadot.network/blog/polkadot-bridges-connecting-the-polkadot-ecosystem-with-external-networks/
Also check out our other blogs about #Polkadot
Bisonai Technology Group focuses on solving hard technical problems with the use of Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. We believe in a future of Decentralized Finance (DeFi) and we work on services that brings all benefits of DeFi closer to our lives.
Kayne is DeFi Analyst working for Bisonai, a DeFi Tech company in Seoul, South Korea. He has a prior background in law and education in Australia and Japan before he was lured into the the exciting world of crypto. Recognising that South Korea had emerged as an exciting, crypto friendly base, he relocated to Seoul. He has a passion for investing and technology, loves to dig into the latest Blockchain and DeFi developments and enjoys keeping an eye on the latest trends in the cryptoverse.
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