Substrate: The Programming Language Environment for Polkadot and Kusama

By November 24, 2021DeFi
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Blockchain-based software development is quickly emerging as a high-potential industry for creating seamless apps that are set to become a part of Web 3.0, which is an evolving set of standards that will form the foundation of the Internet of the future. Although the Internet has its roots dating as far back as the early 1960’s, with a few government agencies using it for research purposes, the technology we have today has matured considerably.

Due to the rise of Internet-based, all-digital platforms, we are able to exchange ideas faster than ever before, and this has resulted in unprecedented globalization. Rapid advancements in digital and telecommunications technology have made it easier for individuals and organizations to maintain operations and carry out business activities in a seamless manner. During the past decade, we have also witnessed the rise of blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT).

This technology has allowed software architects to write advanced computer programs that leverage smart contracts, which is basically a way to automate business logic. After the launch of Ethereum and Solidity for smart contracts, many other blockchain ecosystems have been introduced during the past few years.

Substrate Quickly Becoming Popular Term in Blockchain Ecosystem

Substrate is increasingly becoming a popular or widely-used term in the blockchain space. Projects such as SubQuery and SubSocial have been using the root of the word in the names of the projects, which may be considered a sign of showing their respect for Substrate and its fast-growing ecosystem.

There are many more projects that are adding the “sub” in their name, including SubDAO, Subgame network, and Subspace. This type of name adoption indicates that many application developers are realizing the vast benefits of using Substrate to create compelling, enterprise-grade applications.

As we continue to move to a more decentralized and all-digital future, software architects are going to need flexible and high-performing tools to create sophisticated applications that offer a high level of security. These apps will also have to be developed to optimize the user experience (UX). For these reasons, Substrate should continue to be widely used in the coming years.

Leveraging a Diverse, Interoperable Ecosystem of Parchain Apps, Resources

For instance, we now have many Substrate-enabled chains that are compatible with Polkadot (DOT), a fast-growing blockchain interoperability ecosystem. Through the Substrate technology stack, developers are able to access a diverse, interoperable ecosystem of parachains, applications, and valuable resources.

As explained by its developers, Polkadot is a layer-0 protocol and multichain network that has been designed to serve as the foundation of Web3. As noted by its creators, Substrate is the main blockchain software development kit (SDK) that’s used by programmers to implement the parachains that make up the Polkadot network.

You can think of parachains as being a supporting or complementary blockchain to the primary or main blockchain or DLT platform. Parachains can help with processing data and performing other routine tasks more efficiently instead of all processes being handled via the main chain, which can lead to congestion and other technical issues.

As noted in its documentation, Substrate lets users develop customized blockchains for almost any use case, and it was actually used by Parity Technologies to implement Polkadot, which should indicate that these tools are capable of offering a high level of performance, flexibility, and overall robustness.

Although Substrate may be used to create nearly any type of blockchain solution, not merely Polkadot parachains, connecting to Polkadot provides several key benefits, such as enhanced security, cross-chain interoperability, as well as access to Polkadot’s fast-evolving ecosystem of platforms, apps, and end-users.

Substrate Provides More Flexibility, Optimization for App Builders

Implementing a feature-rich blockchain with Substrate provides more freedom, greater flexibility, and more ways to achieve optimization, compared to deploying apps on top of a more generic or general-purpose smart-contract blockchain.

As noted by Gavin Wood, the Co-founder and ex-CTO of Ethereum, founder of Polkadot and Parity Technologies, Substrate aims to serve as the go-to blockchain or DLT framework for creating your custom blockchain. This can be useful because some users may have unique preferences and may want their blockchain software to operate according to their specific business requirements. Substrate basically gives them this ability to create their software solutions in a way that best suits their needs.

The developers of the software have clarified that Substrate itself is not a blockchain. However, it does offer a blockchain SDK framework. This toolkit has been designed to empower users to build beyond the existing capabilities of other service providers, allowing the end-users to benefit from the freedom to define and implement their chain however they want.

As noted in its documentation, Substrate-powered chains are fairly easy to integrate into Polkadot or Kusama in order to become a parachain or even serve as a parathread. Basically, Substrate is the SDK with which developers deploy parachains and Polkadot is a tool that is used to secure the chains and enable them to interact with each other (by seamlessly exchanging data and assets).

These platforms and protocols are working in a synergistic manner to provide the best user and developer experience possible. It’s worth noting that Polkadot and Substrate do not actually depend on each other to provide functionality.

Substrate-based Chains May Function Independently

Instead, Polkadot-based parachains may be developed and maintained without interacting with Substrate (via alternative software solutions, but options are fairly limited at the moment) and chains created with Substrate don’t have to be connected to Polkadot or Kusama. Substrate-powered chains may function as solo or independent networks, the developers clarified.

Implementing a new solution that’s specifically addressed a particular use-case by reusing a generic smart-contract blockchain forces developers to inherit all the original blockchain’s design structure, which may have been developed with different goals in mind.

For instance, when you simply reuse the Ethereum source-code, then this means that there will be significant limitations. These restrictions may include not having to place business logic in terms of the Ethereum Virtual Machine. Users may also have no choice but to use one of the two EVM languages, having associated business logic dynamically metered, and then also being limited to Ethereum’s transaction pool as well as the absence of core upgradability.

By forcing these restrictions during implementation, the developer has essentially placed strict constraints on what they can create and how much they are able to innovate. By adopting this type of design approach, a developer or team has also limited the overall performance of their application logic.

In order to address these issues, the Substrate team explains that they realized that it wouldn’t be practical to create such a high-end blockchain on top of the basic Ethereum design, even if they had been the ones who had actually authored the codebase. According to the Substrate developers, Ethereum was not the appropriate tool for their requirements,

That’s why they began developing Polkadot as a completely new blockchain solution without the design constraints of Ethereum or other similar blockchains.

The development team also realized that many of the components they were creating for the Polkadot Relay Chain may come in handy when implementing Polkadot’s parachains. Substrate began to emerge as a viable solution after the team started bringing together those common components and establishing a blockchain framework to work around the ecosystem. By harnessing the power of software created for the Polkadot Relay Chain, they were able to offer the parachain community with the appropriate tech to build out their own customized chains.

As noted by its developers, Substrate aims to serve as the core or foundational technology that allowed the team at Parity to create the Polkadot Relay Chain; and with the Cumulus initiative, it’s becoming the standard SDK for Polkadot, enabling parachain creators to easily launch their chains on Polkadot.

A flexible blockchain development solution such as Substrate is vital for Polkadot, which is called “the blockchain of blockchains” and a key pillar of the Web3 ecosystem. Without Substrate, there wouldn’t be an effective or seamless way to create the blockchains that comprise the Polkadot ecosystem, and many developers would have no choice but to use a restrictive smart contract toolset, which would significantly limit their innovation.

Alex Siman, CEO of SubSocial, remarked:

The fact that Substrate-based chains can function independently is very important for the ecosystem. It allows projects to build networks optimized for their own use cases, like Subsocial, my own project, where we built our own chain for different social networking functionality like blogs, comments, follows, and other stuff. Creating something like that on the Ethereum network would be significantly slower, less effective, and much more expensive to use.

Siman added: “On the Ethereum network, there is huge competition, which can hurt niche projects. But with Substrate, you’re able to operate as a standalone chain, and connect to DotSama ecosystem via bridge, or try to get a slot as one of the parachains to be able to integrate features with the other parachains. In the future, it’s likely that projects will be able to connect to Polkadot and other chains using bridges while still being independent, so they can optimize their product for specific niches.”


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