Ethereum wants to make its proof-of-stake model simpler for better efficiency. Right now, validating transactions on the Ethereum blockchain is done by a large number of validator nodes, around 895,000 of them, and they generate about 28,000 signatures in each time slot. This huge number of signatures puts a strain on the network and makes it difficult to make improvements.
As Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum co-founder, pointed out, having such a large number of validators creates technical challenges. The large volume of signatures makes it complicated to make changes like view merge, which is when multiple signatures are combined to make block propagation faster. Dealing with all these signatures also takes more time, so additional sub-slots are needed to finalize blocks.
On top of that, processing all these signatures makes it difficult to implement some upgrades in the protocol. There aren’t efficient alternatives available yet to handle the many signature validations that happen in each slot. Beyond the protocol itself, the huge number of signatures also has a high requirement that only a few operators can reliably provide. If the number of validators keeps growing, it could overwhelm the capabilities of the nodes.
Buterin Proposes Changes Aimed at Simplifying the Proof-of-Stake Mechanism
Buterin has suggested limiting the number of active validators and, as a result, the number of signatures in each slot. The main idea is to reduce the signatures to around 8,192, which is a more than 65% decrease from the current 28,000. This significant reduction in signature volume would make protocol development and node operation much simpler.
A PoS simplification proposal: make a design that only requires 8192 signatures per slot (even with SSF), making the consensus implementation considerably simpler and lighter.
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) December 27, 2023
The proposals also outline different strategies to limit validator participation while maintaining adequate security levels. One approach suggests using decentralized staking pools with a minimum balance requirement of 4,096 ETH and a total number of 4,096 validators. Smaller holders would delegate their stakes to reputable pools that meet the higher balance requirement.
Another suggestion is a two-tier participation model. A “light” committee made up of the majority of decentralized pools (with over 50% consensus) would finalize blocks generated by the wider validator pool. There is also the idea of rotational participation committees, where subsets of validators are randomly selected based on their balance. Validators with larger balances always qualify, while validators with smaller balances have a chance of being assigned based on fractional odds.
Emphasis Placed on Blockchain Security
Buterin emphasized that these proposals provide credible ways to limit the number of signatures without compromising security or showing favoritism. The focus is on maintaining a functional system before pursuing ambitious goals that could jeopardize stability. Prioritizing security and transaction finality allows for measured progress that stays true to these core objectives.
If future advancements make it possible to scale the number of signatures without any drawbacks, the limit could be reconsidered. But for now, the goal is to achieve an attainable target that promotes reliable progress.
The coming months will reveal how the community finds a balance between decentralization, efficiency, and the cost of participating in the Ethereum proof-of-stake system.
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