One of the most interesting things about the Ethereum Blockchain, is that its core software allows developers to create Smart Contracts which are run in computers around the world. And just like your tablet, smartphone or laptop need to be updated every once in awhile, so does the Ethereum software.
At first there was only Metropolis, the code name used to describe Ethereum’s next big update which was supposed to bring better scalability, privacy and robustness to the network. Delays in it’s development process and unexpected hacks to the network forced the development team to split the Metropolis update into two phases: Byzantium and Constantinople. While the launch date for Constantinople has not yet been defined, Byzantium was set to be launched through a hard fork triggered with the arrival of block 4,370,000. This happened last 16th of October at 05:22 +UTC. Unlike the SegWit drama back in August which resulted Bitcoin’s hard fork and the creation of Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum’s Byzantium update went smoothly and without major events.
Byzantium is a mostly under-the-hood update, meaning that end users will notice close to nothing when using their Ether in their day to day transactions. Through the implementation of 9 Ethereum Improvement Protocols (EPIs), the Ethereum Foundation is taking it’s blockchain to a whole new level. Byzantium focuses on three things: giving developers new tools to develop better smart contracts, giving miners a better ecosystem in which to carry out their activities and lastly, laying the groundwork for the Constantinople update.
Smart contract developers which have updated to Byzantium now have four new opcodes designed for the Ethereum Virtual Machine which should ease their development activities. Moreover, they’ve been treated to precompiled contracts which allow the implementation of zkSNARK, a tool which enables sending anonymous transactions, a technology which was first seen in Zcash. These few but important new features will surely open the doors for new and innovative use cases.
Owners of mining hardware which have updated to Byzantium will see a new version of the Difficulty Adjustment Algorithm, which now targets a constant average rate of blocks produced including uncles and also causing the difficulty value to drop. This update was long overdue, since difficulty had been increasing exponentially. The adjustment of the difficulty comes with a positive side effect, which is the adjustment of the Block Time to under 15 seconds. This means the average number of blocks mined will double. However, with Byzantium comes a reduction of the block reward, from 5 to 3 ETH. Although this represents a 40% decrease in revenue per block for miners, their overall revenue will not be greatly affected since they will be able to mine twice as fast. At least until the difficulty raises again to it’s value before the hard fork.
The last update in Byzantium is meant to pave the way to Constantinople. It gives the Ethereum Foundation more time to finish developing Casper, the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus algorithm, which intends to replace the current one based on Proof-of-Work (PoW). This update delays the “Difficulty Bomb” coded in the Ethereum Blockchain by about 12 to 18 months, which when triggered, exponentially increments the mining difficulty. This results in higher block times and lower revenue for ethereum miners, thus persuading them to move from the PoW based Byzantium to the PoS based Constantinople.
Even though the transition to Byzantium went smoothly, a testing period of up to two months is required to deem the software a success, according to Ethereum’s founder Vitalik Buterin. It will be interesting to see what kind of new applications will the global developer community create with the new set of tools provided. Welcome to the Byzantium era!
If you’d like to join the Ethereum network by mining, you can do so here!