Evolution of the Ethereum Network – What Happened in 2021?

Thus far, 2021 is huge for Ethereum. At the beginning of the year, the Ethereum foundation spent a lot of resources on spreading awareness on what the beacon chain launch and transition to proof-of-stake mean. 

In the meantime, developers were working on highly-awaited upgrades: Berlin, Altair, and London (the first out of those went live in April). Let’s take a look at how the network is developing and talk about the future of Ethereum by the end and beyond 2021. 

Network upgrades

The development team was not oblivious to the issues that drew developers off the network – high gas fees and scalability bottlenecks, as well as security concerns. Through a series of hard forks, developers proactively reacted to the concerns miners and end-users faced. 

Let’s take a closer look at three updates the platform released this year. 

Berlin: Optimized gas fees and cleared security threats

Launch date: April 14, 2021

Block number: #12_244_000

Key changes:

  • Facilitates the support for multiple transaction types
  • Lower gas fees for some opcodes (e.g. ModExp), higher – for others (SLOAD, CALL*, SELFDESTRUCT, EXT*)
  • An optional access-list helps mitigate the impact of gas fee increases

The upgrade is an implementation of four Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs):

EIP-2565: Lowered gas fees for precompiles

This EIP lowers the transaction cost of precompiles, overriding the changes enforced by the previous EIP-198. The new proposal puts ModExp on the same level as other operations supported by the network. 

EIP-2718: Envelope transaction type

Over time, Ethereum transactions evolved from a single supported transaction type (allowing users to specify the date and recipient of a transaction) to wider flexibility of field interpretation (a change introduced by EIP-155). 

EIP-2718 takes the complexity to the next level by introducing the transaction envelope, ensuring their backward compatibility with existing transactions, and avoiding transaction type conflicts (if you are curious, take a look at how the team describes the motivation behind the EIP). 

EIP-2929: Higher gas fees for state opcodes

In a nutshell, the proposal introduces higher gas fees for using state opcodes for the first time in a transaction (for future calls, users will keep paying 100 gas so the increase is incremental and is more of a defense mechanism than a fee policy change). 

The rationale behind the decision is backed by the fact that state opcodes present a frontline exploit for DoS attacks – gas increases help reduce the network’s vulnerability. 

EIP-2930: Optional access lists

This proposal helps mitigate the effects of EIP-2929, streamline transaction processing, and reduce gas fees. 

Specifically, the EIP introduces a new transaction type that allows specifying a list of addresses a transaction will access. 

Altair

Release date: in progress (estimated to go live in 2021)

Key changes:

  • Increased severity of penalties for inactive validators (right now, unavailable nodes lose about 11.4% of their balance; after the release, the losses will be over 15%). 
  • Evening out the reward distribution – right now, validators are mainly rewarded for the number of block attestations; on the other hand, over 12% of post-Altair rewards will be distributed for block proposals.
  • Enabling light clients. 

Altair is the first (so-called “warm-up”) update to the Beacon Chain. You can check the stats and everything related on Ethscan block explorer

Other than increasing the severity of penalties and optimizing validator rewards, its key aim is to test the readiness of the codebase for future network updates (the most impactful of which will be the fuse of the PoW chain and the beacon chain). 


At the time of writing, pre-release specs for Altair are out. The update is expected to go live in August 2021.

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