A new Ethereum Improvement Proposal, EIP 1167: Minimal Proxy Contract, will likely be finalized in the next two weeks. This will make clone contracts lighter on the Ethereum network and less expensive to implement. According to the proposal’s GitHub page:
“This standard [allows] for use-cases wherein it is [desirable] to clone exact contract functionality with a minimum of side effects (e.g. memory slot stomping) and with super-cheap deployment of duplicate proxies.”
The new proposal will, in more practical terms, reduce the gas costs demanded by cloned Ethereum contracts. Clone contracts are simply smart contracts which are duplicated for re-use—and this puts a heavy load on the Ethereum network.
Up until now, developers changed the addresses in each clone contract, resulting in a lot of unnecessary traffic. But EIP 1167 will allow clone contracts to redirect transactions to one ‘master contract’ that reuses addresses. This will lighten the load on the network. Bowen Sanders explains:
“Thousands and thousands of contracts are routinely cloned, taking up unnecessary space and bloating the data segment of the blockchain. This data space could be used for things other than multiple clones of the same contract.”
If clone contracts can rely on master contracts, that means that master contracts must be immutable—otherwise, creators of master contracts could essentially control the clone contracts by editing the master contract’s code after the fact. Security can be further guaranteed via a self-destruct mechanism: in the event that a vulnerability is found, the master contract (and cloned contracts) will stop working.
There is still room for the old type of clone contracts: Sanders notes that some smart contracts, such as those used by certain wallets, will need to be cloned with custom addresses for security reasons.
Ethereum is continually pursuing solutions to its scalability issues, and this is just one of the many adaptations the community is making until sharding is implemented. Anything that suddenly increases the traffic on the Ethereum network can drive up gas costs and transaction fees: various ICOs and collectible games that went viral have notably bogged down the network for other reasons—meaning cloned contracts are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to scalability.