Get ready for the future of
In 2013, Vitalik Buterin published a whitepaper that conceptualized “A Next-Generation Smart Contract and Decentralized Application Platform” – Ethereum. Initially launched with a proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithm in 2015, the vision has always been for Ethereum to become an energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) network. After discarding initial plans in 2018 to make the switch to PoS through systems such as “Casper the Friendly Finality Gadget” and "Slasher" the problem has become clear – how does a community upgrade the heart of a decentralized network while said heart is still beating?
The solution: The beacon chain. The beacon chain is a fully independent network which has a PoS consensus layer. It is running in parallel to the current Ethereum mainnet, where the consensus layer remains PoW. By keeping the PoS chain siloed from the main network a ready-to-ship solution is being perfected without risking the flourishing decentralized application platform of the Ethereum PoW chain. A one-way bridge from the PoW network to the PoS network began accepting deposits (as of November 2020) and the beacon chain is currently live, ready for action, and secured by millions of ETH deposited across over 100K validators. Since its launch, in December 2020 the beacon chain has been an absolute success — finalizing 100% of its epochs with no downtime.
While the beacon chain provides an elegant solution to transitioning the Ethereum consensus algorithm, the Ethereum network will not live split in two forever. To fully realize the transition to PoS, Ethereum’s history on the PoW network be preserved as the PoS consensus layer is merged in as a replacement for PoW. This will be done through what is known as “The Merge”. Once completed, the PoW consensus layer in Ethereum will no longer be in use and all future blocks on the Etherum blockchain will be produced by the new PoS consensus layer. No history of transactions on the Ethereum network will be lost in this transition - "The Merge" will have no effect on the data layer of the Ethereum network. "The Merge" is not the launch of a new Ethereum version, but rather an exciting upgrade to the consensus layer - bringing Ethereum in line with the original vision laid out at its genesis.
"The Merge" is an upgrade to Ethereum that swaps out the current proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism with a more eco-friendly, efficient, and secure proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus mechanism. When the merge occurs the current PoW consensus mechanism will be fully deprecated and all blocks on Ethereum will be produced via PoS.
The best current (non-official) estimate is sometime in Q1 2022.
At the time of writing there is no definitive date for "The Merge".
The Eth 1.0 proof-of-work (PoW) chain will undergo 2 hard forks named Berlin and London in 2021. Afterwards the Ethereum community is pushing for all effort to be focused on the switch to Eth 2.0 proof-of-stake (PoS).
The Eth 2.0 PoS chain is currently running and will undergo its first hard fork (Codenamed Altair) in June 2021 - before "The Merge".
Depending on the result of the prototypes being built during the ETHGlobal Hackathon and the first results of the first Eth 2.0 PoS hard fork, a decision will be made (in June 2021) on whether or not the Eth 1.0 PoW "Shanghai" hard fork will focus on Eth 1.0 Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) or if "The Merge" will become the top priority. The Shanghai hard fork is currently expected to take place in Q1 2022.
No! All ETH on the Eth 1.0 proof-of-work (PoW) chain will automatically become ETH on the Eth 2.0 proof-of-stake (PoS) chain once "The Merge" occurs. Users will experience no change in their day-to-day experience using Ethereum — all changes related to "The Merge" are "under the hood" and related to the consensus mechanism that secures the network.
No — as it will functionally cease to exist. When "The Merge" occurs the entire Eth 1.0 proof-of-work (PoW) chain becomes the state of the Eth 2.0 proof-of-stake (PoS) chain.
If any nodes were to continue mining via PoW on Eth 1.0 the economic value of their block rewards would be far below their cost of operation. Because miners are incentivized to operate at a profit it is expect that Eth 1.0 PoW participants will immediately begin to mine with their hardware on other non-Ethereum PoW blockchains.
Ethereum in its current state is using proof-of-work (PoW) to ensure consensus amongst the thousands of nodes in the network. While PoW is reliable and secure, it is also extremely energy intensive. To produce each block on the network participants are required to use powerful and energy-hungry GPUs to solve a complex mathematical problem.
Alternatively, proof-of-stake (PoS) guarantees the security of the network in a different way. In PoS, anyone with 32 ETH can deposit that ETH to become a validator, a node that participates in the network's consensus algorithm. Finalizing a block requires 2/3 of all active validators to sign off on it. Should a malicious actor try to tamper with the underlying protocol by using a large number of validators to revert a finalized block (the equivalent of a "51% attack" in PoW) their funds are slashed — meaning they lose a portion of their staked ETH. This makes attacks extremely expensive; it would be like a PoW system where if you use your mining hardware to attack the network then your hardware catches fire and is destroyed.
PoS does not require the same energy-intensive hardware as PoW. Any relatively recent consumer hardware should be capable of running the software required to operate a 32 ETH staking node. If you deposit more than 32 ETH, you will be assigned multiple "validator slots" by the protocol, but you will still be able to run them from a single computer, though hardware requirements go up the more you stake. Most estimates put the expected energy savings from the switch to PoS to be around 99%. [source1] [source2]
Delegated-proof-of-stake (DPoS) is a consensus mechanism, and often also a governance mechanism, that was originally pioneered by Bitshares and has since been adopted in many blockchains. A DPoS chain's consensus is run by a small number of nodes, called block producers (eg. EOS has 21 block producers). To become a block producer, one must first sign up as a delegate, and invite coin holders to vote for you. The delegates with the most coins voting for them become the block producers.
The main challenges with DPoS are twofold:
These issues are discussed in greater length in these posts:
These concerns are not mere theory; wealthy EOS ecosystem participants have been caught making agreements to vote for each other or in exchange for compensation.
Proof-of-stake (PoS) as implemented in Ethereum does not have this notion of coin voting; instead, users run their own nodes and stake their coins directly. Of course, users are free to "vote for" other participants by joining their staking pools instead of staking by themselves. However, the key difference is that this is not vulnerable to bribes and collusion in the same way because the incentives pass through: if you join a staking pool that performs well, you get a higher reward, and if you join a staking pool that attacks the network and gets slashed, you will not be able to get all of your money back. This is different from coin voting, where someone who votes for a bad delegate does not suffer any personal penalties that someone who did not vote for that delegate does not suffer as well. This creates a very different and much safer set of incentives, and decentralization is boosted further by the very large number of stakers who avoid staking pools and instead stake by themselves.
In proof-of-work (PoW) whoever solves the block first gets the reward. Simply put, PoW is a race. If you have more hash rate than your competitors you are more likely to win. The end result of this arms race is that PoW miners run as many GPUs as they can at 100% load, 24-hours-a-day. This extreme power demand continues to grow with the price of the block rewards they are attempting to earn.
Alternatively, in proof-of-stake (PoS) block proposers are randomly selected — completely removing the requirement for an arms race. There is no way to increase the likelihood that any specific node is chosen to propose a block — so there is no need to consume more and more energy to improve your competitive chances.
No. "The Merge" is limited in scope to upgrading Ethereum's consensus mechanism. In practice it will not have any effect on the current user experience of Ethereum today. Future updates on the Ethereum 2.0 roadmap such as sharding, will directly help to improve gas prices. At this time sharding is considered to be a lower priority than "The Merge" — which eliminates wasteful proof-of-work (PoW) energy inefficiency — by a majority of the Ethereum community.
"The Cliffening" is the community name given to the large drop in ETH issuance that will occur once "The Merge" occurs and Ethereum is fully upgraded to the proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus algorithm. “The Cliffening” is a play on the popular Bitcoin phrase, “The Halvening”. While Bitcoin halves its issuance rate every 4 years, Ethereum will see its issuance rate reduced by roughly 90% at the time of "The Merge". That's equivalent to *3 Bitcoin "Halvenings" happening at once! Ethereum will experience an issuance reduction in an instant what will take an additional 12 years to be matched on Bitcoin's network.
Under the current proof-of-work (PoW) model Ethereum issues roughly 13,500 ETH per day — an annual issuance of about
4.3% of the total ETH supply. However, the PoS issuance model is determined based on how much ETH is actively being staked on the network. Current projections predict a drop to between a
0.4% issuance rate when "The Merge" occurs.
For comparison, Bitcoin currently issues 900 BTC per day — an annual issuance of about
1.7% of the total BTC supply. The next two "Halvenings" will reduce Bitcoin's issuance to approximately
0.8% in 2024 and
0.4% in 2028. With Ethereum’s expected drop in issuance after "The Merge" to between
0.3% - 0.4% it will not be until 2028 that Bitcoin's issuance is again within range of Ethereum's.
When "The Cliffening" is combined with the
BASEFEE burn mechanism of EIP-1559 (which will be included in the Ethereum 1.0 PoW London hard fork during the summer of 2021) it is projected that Ethereum's issuance will actually become deflationary during periods of high user activity.
There are always risks when making a large change to a protocol that is securing hundreds of billions of dollars of assets. "The Merge" can be thought of as replacing the engine of an airplane while it is still flying. Thankfully, the beacon chain — the current proof-of-stake (PoS) Ethereum chain - has been running since December 2020 without issues.
There are currently 4 unique client implementations PoS Ethereum nodes. This means that if a PoS node operator experiences issues with a given implementation they will have the ability to switch to different client. The currently PoS network is the result of years of research and hard work. Participants can rest assured that before "The Merge" occurs the code in use will have been exhaustively checked, battle tested, and checked again.
If you are interested in helping with "The Merge": See Rayonism for in depth details on how to help contribute.
If you are a dapp developer: Consider deploying your dapp on the testnet during the ETHGlobal Scaling Ethereum hackathon (April 16 - May 14). The more the merrier!
If you are a L2 developer or a protocol developer who would like to help with the merge process: introduce yourself in the Eth R&D discord.
If you are an Ethereum user: Be on the lookout for announcements from your favorite dapps that will be deploying on the upcoming testnet. Help your favorite developers kick the tires and shake out the bugs by using their dapps within the safety of a test environment.