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Plasma Meaning

May 12, 2024 | Updated May 12, 2024
Plasma is an off-chain scaling solution designed to improve the Ethereum network’s scalability and efficiency using smaller blockchains called child chains.

What Is Plasma?

Plasma is a layer-2 scaling solution built on the Ethereum network that facilitates processing a high volume of transactions away from the main chain. It constitutes a series of independent, smaller blockchains called “Plasma chains” or “child chains.” 

Vitalik Buterin and Joseph Poon, a Lightning Network proponent, proposed the Plasma framework in August 2017 as a scaling solution to Ethereum’s scalability challenge. Its main aim is to increase the network’s overall efficiency by offloading most of its processing workload off the mainnet onto the child chains. 

How Does Layer-2 Solution Plasma Work?

Plasma operates using smart contracts and Merkle trees, enabling the creation of a network of child chains – which are simply smaller copies of the Ethereum blockchain (the main chain). Technically, the child chains are customizable smart contracts that can adapt to different use cases. These Plasma chains operate as distinct blockchains, each with its own rules and block validation mechanisms. However, the child chains are still anchored to the main chain.

Once data processing and computational tasks have been delegated to child chains, it redistributes them to the child chains. These smaller chains are then independently processed, and the results are broadcast back to the main chain. And since each child chain processes transactions independently, a higher level of scalability is achieved.

What are the benefits of child chains?

Offloading computation and processing tasks to Plasma chains typically reduces direct interactions with the Ethereum Mainnet. And, by processing transactions off the main chain, they significantly increase transaction throughput. This enables Ethereum to handle high transaction volumes efficiently. It also decongests the network, thereby lowering gas fees.

In addition to inheriting the underlying blockchain’s security, Plasma chains also add an extra layer of security using fraud-proof mechanisms, such as ZK-SNARKS (zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive arguments of knowledge). The fraud-proof mechanisms ensure transactions processed on the Plasma chains are securely and accurately validated before they are finalized on the main chain. As a result, the integrity of the overall network is maintained.

Despite its merits, child chains also faces challenges. For instance, it suffers from prolonged waiting times when withdrawing from the child chains to the main chain. In addition, since Plasma chains are tailored to operate custom smart contracts, they cannot scale general-purpose smart contracts.

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