Scalability is a constant issue on public blockchains, which can be solved at a few different levels. You have the giant, complex long-term solutions on the protocol level itself, as encapsulated by Ethereum's long-term roadmap, and then you have "layer 2" scaling solutions like Arbitrum, which can be thought of as blockchain attachments of sorts.
It's a rich field for development. There's now a whole world of Ethereum applications demanding more performance than Ethereum can currently muster, and layer 2 scaling solutions present a flexible range of solutions, delivering potential benefits well beyond scalability alone.
This may prove to be key to their longevity even if and when Ethereum achieves its neeeded scalability at the base layer. This reassurance that layer 2 scaling solutions can be more than just a temporary stop-gap may also be part of the reason Coinbase Ventures has plonked down an investment in Arbitrum.
In Arbitrum's case, the additional benefits beyond scalability include:
These kinds of solutions are getting a lot of attention from all echelons. Arbitrum is led by former White House deputy chief of technology Ed Felten, and the starup behind it, by the name of Offchain Labs, raised $3.7 million seed round in April 2019.
"We believe that blockchains have a distance to go in terms of being enterprise-ready, with the primary issue being scalability," Felten said. "We've built a solution that enables dApp developers to improve the performance of their applications without any significant cost or development time. Coinbase Ventures has invested in some of the most well-known and innovative companies in the space and we’re thrilled to see that they share in our vision to make blockchains ready for prime time."
In simple terms, Arbitrum works by bundling smart contracts - which typically consist of a lot of different actions - into one convenient package, which can then be efficiently executed inside the Arbitrum box, which sits off the main Ethereum chain.
To ensure it all works as intended, and maintains its blockchain tamper-proofing, contract creators select validators who are responsible for collectively checking the correctness of the contracts as they're executed. Validators are required to put up some ETH as collateral and it's expected that all validators will unanimously agree on the correctness of a contract, so it can quickly be finalised.
In this way Arbitrum is a bit like a highly specialised miniature blockchain, where every smart contract creator can choose their own validating nodes.
In the event of any disagreements between validators, the system will automatically hone in on the exact part of the contract that's being disputed, and let validators argue it out. In the end, the incorrect validator gives up some of their collateral to the correct validators, which provides a financial incentive for validators to stay honest.
If things get really messy Arbitrum can look to the main Ethereum blockchain to act as an overarching referee.
In the end, a contract is guaranteed to execute correctly as long as there's a single honest validator online.
Disclosure: The author holds BNB, BTC at the time of writing.
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