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What Is the Ethereum Roadmap: Upgrades in 2024 and Beyond

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KEY TAKEAWAYS:
— The Ethereum network ensures constant progress through its roadmap, allowing it to improve the protocol while addressing new challenges and developments in crypto.

— After the Merge and Shanghai upgrade, the Ethereum roadmap has been updated to make the network scalable, resilient, and more secure.

— The next upgrade Ethereum will undergo is the Prague/Electra upgrade, which is not yet scheduled.    

As the pioneering network for smart contracts, Ethereum has enabled an entire ecosystem to come to life. It is home to the majority of today’s decentralized applications (dApps) and powers an entire sector of decentralized financial services that host tens of billions of dollars.

Since its founding in 2015, Ethereum price has grown tremendously, winning the support of individuals, communities, and businesses across the globe. Still, the network has some growing to do before it can gain the acceptance of a mainstream audience.

Indeed, for Ethereum to become accessible, affordable, and resilient enough to be adopted by the masses, there are several challenges that it must still overcome. And mapping out those challenges, and how the network might solve them, is precisely why the Ethereum roadmap exists.

But what exactly are the challenges facing Ethereum? And how will its planned upgrades help to prepare it for mass adoption? Let’s explore what the future holds for the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency.

What Is the Ethereum Roadmap For?

For all of Ethereum’s success as a global coordination platform, it has some shortcomings. Most notably, the network suffers from slow transaction speeds and high fees during times of high congestion. 

This is arguably Ethereum’s biggest roadblock when it comes to onboarding more users. After all, if Ethereum actually reached something close to mainstream adoption in its current state, it would likely be unreasonably slow and expensive. This is, generally speaking, what people mean when they talk about the scalability of a blockchain. It’s the idea that the network needs to be able to scale up and accommodate many more users while still functioning well.

Of course, tackling Ethereum’s scalability challenges brings about what is known as the blockchain trilemma. This phrase was coined by Ethereum co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, and refers to the concept that, while there are three key elements in a blockchain – decentralization, scalability, and security – you can only optimize for two of them. In other words, you can have a fully decentralized and highly secure blockchain, but it won’t be scalable. And so on and so on.

As a result of this, Ethereum has to remain highly adaptable as it continues to address its challenges while pursuing an optimal balance of decentralization, scalability, and security. Not to mention that, with the hyper-innovative, constantly changing nature of crypto, Ethereum has to be able to integrate new features, assets, and applications as they appear.

There needs to be a way to keep track of all the upgrades that Ethereum needs, which is why the roadmap exists. It’s essentially a list of all the specific changes necessary to make the network cheaper and easier to use, more secure, and futureproof. 

How Are Ethereum Upgrades Decided On?

As a decentralized network and open-source network, Ethereum is not controlled by a single entity. The upgrades proposed in the roadmap generally come from Ethereum researchers and developers, but essentially anyone can offer suggestions to upgrade the protocol. 

Basically, any interested person can propose a change by creating an Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP), which outlines the technical specifications for the proposed changes. The community of Ethereum developers and researchers then reviews, debates, and potentially implements the EIP. It’s important to note that EIPs generally grow out of discussions on major Ethereum forums or the EthR&D Discord that then mature into specific ideas for improvements.

Another key point about the roadmap is that it is subject to change. The points on the roadmap can evolve as new information, ideas, and technologies become available.

For example, the roadmap previously laid out plans to scale the network through sharding, a method that involves splitting up the blockchain so subsets of validators handle only a portion of the total data. This is no longer a part of the roadmap now as danksharding, which integrates ‘blobs’ of data into Ethereum blocks, has replaced the earlier proposed sharding approach.

What Changes Are Coming to Ethereum?

Scalability

As previously mentioned, scalability is a major issue for Ethereum to address. Thus, the Ethereum roadmap features several planned upgrades to that end.

Danksharding

Danksharding is the current plan for making Ethereum transactions much cheaper and faster and it revolves around Layer 2 solutions, specifically blockchain rollups

To sum up, Danksharding will enable the Ethereum network to process the bundled transactions that come from layer two roll ups without having to store all of their data permanently. 

Single-Slot Finality

Currently, it takes about 15 minutes for an Ethereum block to finalize. The introduction of single-slot finality (SSF) aims to make the block validation process more efficient. Under the SSF mechanism, blocks can be proposed and finalized in the same slot, significantly decreasing the time it takes to finalize a block.

Verkle Trees

A blend of the two concepts  “Vector commitment” and “Merkle Trees,” Verkle trees serve as a data structure to upgrade nodes. Notably, Verkle Trees make it possible for Ethereum to use stateless clients. These stateless clients ultimately help scalability as they only need a tiny amount of storage space to be able to verify new blocks. 

User Experience

As crypto gains mainstream adoption, blockchains must offer better UX design and customer experience to appeal to the non-technical masses. This is the key to bringing the technology to more users and advancing the next generation of decentralized applications.

This need for an improved user experience is partly being addressed by a group of upgrades, collectively referred to as account abstraction. This class of upgrades will support smart contracts natively on Ethereum. Currently, smart contract interactions can only happen through externally owned accounts (EOAs).

Account abstraction will bring about many exciting features natively to Ethereum, such as the ability to batch transactions together, recover your account if you lose the keys, or have someone else pay for your gas.

Security

Every day, attackers try to find new ways to exploit the Ethereum network and its users. Ethereum is exploring the following features to provide top-notch security and keep attackers at bay.

Proposer-Builder Separation (PBS)

PBS splits the block-building and block-proposal tasks among different validators. For each slot, block builders create blocks and present them to the block proposer, who can then choose the most profitable block without seeing its contents. The proposer also has to pay a fee to the block builder before sending the block to its peers. This arrangement prevents transaction censorship, establishes a fairer consensus mechanism, and facilitates the Danksharding upgrade.

Clever Cryptography

The proof-of-stake (PoS) based consensus mechanism currently makes the list of upcoming block proposers public, making it possible to map their IP addresses. This makes them vulnerable to attacks such as a DOS attack. Clever cryptography here makes sure the identity of the current block proposer is not made public and protects them.

Where are we on the Ethereum Roadmap so far?

Over the last nine years, Ethereum has gone through several upgrades to enhance its network, with the last two major upgrades being the Merge and Shanghai.

What Was the Merge?

Activated on Sept. 15, 2022, the Merge was a way to complete Ethereum’s shift from the energy-intensive Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism to the more efficient Proof-of-Stake (PoS), where validators are randomly selected based on the total amount and duration of their ETH staking.

In December 2020, developers launched the Beacon Chain as a basic PoS-based version running parallel to the regular Ethereum mainnet. They used it to test reconfigurations and new features safely.

Just under two years later in September 2022, the integration of both the Beacon Chain and the mainnet marked Ethereum’s official adoption of the PoS consensus mechanism across its ecosystem.

What was the Shanghai Upgrade?

After the Merge, the Ethereum Shanghai Upgrade, also known as the Shapella upgrade, was a major step in finalizing Ethereum’s move from PoW to PoS. While this planned hard fork of the protocol opened the door to new developments, it also unlocked the ability to withdraw staked ETH from the Beacon Chain.

Up until the Shanghai upgrade, those who staked their ETH on the Beacon Chain were unable to withdraw their locked-up ETH and the rewards earned in the process. However, following the Shanghai upgrade on April 12, 2023, validators could finally access their ETH holdings and cash out their rewards.

What was the Dencun Upgrade?

The Dencun Upgrade, one of the major upgrades, went live on March 13th. It’s designed to reduce costs for layer-2 transactions and enhance data availability on Ethereum. Notably, this upgrade introduces “proto-danksharding”, the first step to scaling the network through danksharding.

Proto-danksharding, or EIP-4844, introduced data “blobs”—an acronym for ‘Binary Large Objects.’ These data blobs can be sent and attached to blocks, aiming to minimize the data stored permanently on Ethereum.

Currently, layer-2 scaling solution rollups post their transactions in CALLDATA, which is costly because their data remains on the chain indefinitely. In contrast, the data in blobs are automatically deleted after a fixed period, reducing data storage costs and thus lowering transaction fees for users.

What’s next on the Ethereum Roadmap?

Now, the Ethereum network is preparing for more upgrades to advance its capabilities. Here’s what’s next in line for the blockchain:

Prague/Electra Upgrade

Once implemented, the Dencun upgrade will allow developers to focus on the next update, the Prague/Electra upgrade (Pralectra). Interestingly, there is still a debate among core Ethereum devs about what Pralectra will entail. 

On one hand, it could look like several smaller EIPs focused on adding new features to the network. For example, one of the major proposals for this upgrade is EIP-6110, which would improve Ethereum’s security and stability by changing the way that the network processes its validators’ deposits.  

Otherwise, Pralectra could end up being a major protocol upgrade that would add Verkle Trees to the blockchain’s execution layer. As previously mentioned, Verkle Trees are an important milestone in the overall Ethereum roadmap, important for increasing its scalability.

While the specific items that Prague/Electra will center on are still being decided, this upgrade will undoubtedly make further improvements to the network’s performance, security, and usability.

The Future of Ethereum

Over the past decade, cryptocurrency has emerged as a revolutionary answer to the traditional financial world by offering a decentralized, permissionless, and secure alternative to traditional banking systems. In the same spirit, Ethereum has brought forth a wave of innovation in global decentralization.  With its advanced technology, growing ecosystem, and constant evolution, the future of the pioneering smart contract chain is bright indeed.

And it’s a future that you can be a part of! By getting yourself a Ledger Ethereum wallet, you unlock all that the Ethereum ecosystem has to offer, all while enjoying the power and security of self-custody. 
So what are you waiting for? Take your place at the forefront of the Ethereum evolution and explore the bleeding edge of innovation in the decentralized world.


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