The Current State of Ethereum’s Competitors: Zilliqa, Cosmos, Polkadot, EOS
28th April 2021
Blockchain technologies are slowly making their way into our lives. Of course, it won’t happen overnight, but even those who were sceptical about it, now agree that in some cases using blockchain can be cheaper, faster and more secure than using traditional databases. It can be used in finances, medicine, gaming, the real estate sector, voting and many other areas. It can provide true ownership and serve for storing rights. To be able to support all this, blockchains have to incorporate smart contracts.
Ethereum was the first platform with smart contracts, but during the following years, many other competing blockchains emerged. Cosmos, Polkadot, EOS, Tron, Zilliqa, all of them were called “Ethereum killers” and none of them achieved their goal. However, all of them are pretty alive and here we’re going to briefly review each platform.
No doubt, Ethereum is the most popular and widely used network with smart contracts. It was the first-ever platform with smart contracts launched in 2015. Currently, it still works on the PoW algorithm, the same way as Bitcoin does, and still has the bottleneck problem – its capacity doesn’t exceed 14 transactions per second, because all miners in the network have to confirm the same transactions. However, despite the slow throughput, the majority of tokens, traded on global exchanges, and almost all NFTs are still issued on this blockchain. That’s why the developer community works on Ethereum upgrades for the last two years. According to the design of the new 2.0 chain, the whole network will be divided into shards, the load will be spread across 64 new chains. All these chains or shards will be connected to the main chain, the Beacon chain. The current Ethereum 1.0 chain will become one of the shards. This architecture will greatly increase the scaling capabilities of the network, allowing to process thousands of transactions per second. If we also count in the other layer 2 scaling solutions, such as Matic or OMG with a new Hashcast layer, that gives Ethereum the capability to host even global exchanges and social networks.
Zilliqa project isn’t as big as the other smart contract platforms in terms of market capitalization, but it has a lot to offer in terms of technologies. It was the first network that implemented sharding right from the start, thus its design doesn’t suffer from all limitations that Ethereum is facing now. Developed by professors of computer science from Singapore and California, during the tests, the network processed 2,882 tps at its peak on the testnet, but the mainnet hasn't got such a significant load yet.
Zilliqa has an advanced security mechanism based on 4 types of nodes, shard nodes, processing transactions, directory service nodes, aggregating all microblocks in one transaction block, lookup nodes, storing all blockchain data and providing it to other users, and seed nodes collecting transactions and transmitting them to lookup nodes. It's impossible to overtake the network and perform a 51% attack because it requires staking the majority of the network tokens. ZIL staking was launched in 2020.
Currently, Zilliqa puts its efforts into several areas, such as building a private centralized exchange for tokenized securities trading under the oversight of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and adding NFTs to its platform. Overall, it's an advanced blockchain with a strong team and its own smart contract language, called Scilla. It's very active in marketing, partnering with such exchanges as Binance and adding ZIL staking support to all popular crypto wallets. It's highly improbable that it will ever take Ethereum’s place, but it has its own niche and can be used for small projects because it's not overloaded and its transactions are very cheap.
The Cosmos blockchain can be best described as the internet of blockchains. The project has been developed since 2018 by three organizations: the Interchain Foundation, the main one, the Iris Foundation, and All in Bits Inc. Cosmos solves the problem of blockchain interoperability by allowing to organize many individual blockchains into a single cluster. The main coordinating blockchain in such a cluster is called a Hub. All the blockchains that connect to the Hub are called zones. Both the Hub and its zones can hold token balances, the zones can interact using inter-blockchain communication via the Hub, which serves as the central ledger for the system. Users can move their tokens from one zone to another in a special IBC packet called a "coin packet" using the Hub. The Hub is responsible for checking the global invariance of the total amount of each token across the zones, but any zone can also be marked as the source of a specific token, and get permission to issue new tokens.
Being the most important part of the ecosystem, the Hub is much more secure than its zones. It’s secured by a global decentralized network of validator nodes, their current amount is 100. Other users can vote for validators by delegating them the ATOM tokens. In the zones, there can be 4 or even fewer validators. If something happens to the zone, it doesn’t influence the security of the Hub. If any of the chosen validators violate the protocol or try to do something sketchy, their ATOM stack can be slashed.
Tendermint, the technology behind Cosmos, is very good, the blockchain can reach 10,000 tps and can be connected to other blockchains, such as Ethereum and Bitcoin. It even has its own Ethereum-compatible implementation, Ethermint, including the Ethereum Virtual Machine, which allows developers to port their Solidity projects from Ethereum to Ethermint without rewriting the code. Tendermint is so advanced that even Binance chose it to create a fork, now called Binance Chain. Recently, Tendermint launched its own VC fund, got into the territory of NFTs and started the development of a global DEX. Looks like everything is going well for Tendermint and Cosmos.
The latest product of Gavin Wood, one of Ethereum's creators, Polkadot is probably one of the most hype projects right now. The blockchain was initially designed with high scalability in mind and is a bit similar to Ethereum 2.0 and Tendermint. It has the main Relay chain, with many smaller parachains connected to it. The security of the whole network is rooted in the Relay chain. All parachains are independent, can have their own governance and their set of features and exchange data within the ecosystem. You can imagine the system where one parachain allows to create smart contracts, another one mints stablecoins, and the third one serves as an exchange for trading electricity, and all of them exchange information via the Relay chain.
Currently, there can be only 100 connected parachains and they have to win their slots during the slot auction. The slot auction for Polkadot isn’t launched yet, but there’s another Canary network called Kusama serving the role of a sandbox for all new features, and its first parachain slot auction is going to happen very soon. In the future, Kusama will also become a parachain connected to Polkadot, so the whole network structure will look like a tree. The network can also connect to other blockchains such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Zcash. That’s called bridges. Polkadot doesn’t support smart contracts natively on its Relay chain, but its parachains, such as Edgeware and Moonbeam, provide this functionality for the whole network.
Every parachain has its own block producers which result in the throughput of thousands of transactions per seconds. The Relay chain has its own set of validators and the block producers are chosen randomly each time among all nodes with the highest stake. The generated blocks get finalized then from time to time. This mechanism, called GRANDPA, doesn’t require finalizing every block, it assumes that all the ancestors of the highest block are also valid, and that allows finalizing millions of blocks with one operation.
Overall, Polkadot has the highest potential, besides Ethereum, among all the smart contracts platforms. It has many developers from the Ethereum community, good projects are highly scalable, and doesn’t sacrifice decentralization for speed.
The most discussed project of 2018, EOS rode the wave of Ethereum congestion news, raising over $4 billion during a year-long ICO. The blockchain that was rolled out after getting that much money was simply a fork of the Graphene blockchain, previously developed by Dan Larimer, the CTO of EOS, for his previous projects. The two previous blockchains of Larimer, Steemit and BitShares, were also based on Graphene. The EOS team added a few tweaks, but it wasn’t something new built from scratch.
In terms of technologies, EOS is an ordinary Delegated Proof-of-Stake chain. The high throughput of 4,800 tps is achieved by sacrificing decentralization. The network has 21 block producers, large nodes with immense processing power, that can be elected by other users by voting with their tokens. Back in the days of the EOS launch, the DPoS consensus was considered the only viable way of providing high scalability, because sharding was only a concept then. In theory, EOS supports many languages, but the main language for its smart contracts is C++. It’s not popular, because it’s a very complex language, and even Ethereum’s Solidity is considered a better choice for smart contracts development.
In general, since its launch, it suffered from serious problems due to its poor resource usage model, when users with low balances were unable to use the network, from block producers’ abuse of power and the lack of interest from developers. The majority of decentralized applications launched on EOS are gambling apps and Ponzi schemes. 31st December 2020 was the date of departure of Dan Larimer from Block.one. He told the community that he went away to build new projects.
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