The Protocol: MetaMask's Secret Weapon and Ethereum's Dencun Debacle

MOORE IS MORE. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, the de facto high priest of the world’s largest smart-contracts blockchain, tossed out last week on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” that it would be “reasonable” to raise the network’s “gas limit” – a very technical way of referring to the amount of transactions that can get jammed into each new block. He suggested an increase to “40M or so,” implying a 33% increase over the current limit of 30 million gas. (Yes, for the underinitiated, a unit of gas, in this context, is just… a gas.) The main reason this is now possible, according to Buterin, is Moore’s law – the observation that computing power seems to double every year. That’s relevant because of the amount of data that it takes to store Ethereum’s “state” – the complete record of the blockchain’s history; as computers become more powerful, they should theoretically be able to handle the higher transaction capacity – potentially helping to reduce fees for end-users. “There appears to be a constructive willingness to explore this topic further,” analysts at Coinbase Institutional wrote. But some members of the Ethereum community have raised yellow flags. Péter Szilágyi, an Ethereum developer, tweeted that such an increase could slow the network’s “sync time.” Galaxy Research’s Christine Kim wrote in a weekly newsletter that “larger blocks would certainly increase block propagation latency and potentially result in a higher number of missed blocks.” Marius van der Wijden, an Ethereum software developer, estimated that the network’s state is currently around 87 gigabytes (GB), and growing at 2 GB per month. That would put it at 111 GB in a year and 207 GB in five years. In an era where a 1 terabyte thumb drive can be bought on for $19.99, it doesn’t sound too terribly daunting. “The problem here is not the size itself,” van der Wijden wrote. “Everyone will be able to store that amount of data. However, accessing and modifying it will become slower and slower.” One thing there seems to be some agreement on: It’s worth waiting a bit to observe the impact of the upcoming “Dencun” upgrade on the network, which will introduce a new way of storing data as “blobs,” effectively providing a capacity increase.