An important step towards increasing Ethereum’s decentralization is coming soon. This new update could potentially lead to a big decrease in the amount of data needed for running infrastructure on the well-known smart contract network. Right now, Ethereum’s validator nodes – software components that process and verify transactions – need large local storage space to check prior transactions, which creates a “chain” in blockchain structure.
However, the incorporation of Verkle trees, a cryptographic technology embraced by developers, is coming soon. This will introduce stateless nodes – an innovative type of structure that won’t need to keep track of the blockchain’s status, substantially decreasing its data requirements.
Preston Van Loon, an Ethereum core developer, explained that this evolution would reduce the current minimum of 500 to 800 gigabytes required to run nodes to just one gigabyte. Van Loon emphasized that Verkle trees are designed to allow nodes to function without keeping any state records, ensuring that users only keep track of the most recent unconfirmed network blocks in their records. These trees eliminate the need for additional state data by incorporating a state witness element that confirms the validity of transactions.
Stateless nodes have enormous significance for Ethereum, as highlighted by fellow core developer Marius van der Wijden, who called it the “biggest zero-to-one moment for Ethereum.” By enabling individual users to independently confirm the network’s state, stateless nodes would do away with the need for outside information sources.
Currently, people who lack the resources or knowledge to run their own nodes must trust wallet providers such as MetaMask to verify Ethereum’s state. This is a single point of failure because users have to rely on MetaMask being accurate in its reporting. If stateless nodes become widely adopted, wallets will be able to integrate them locally, which would give individuals the power to personally verify Ethereum’s condition without needing any external source.
Beyond user verification, the advantages might help with Ethereum’s current centralization problems. Although the network is protected from hostile takeover attempts by about 10,000 validator nodes, vulnerabilities still exist. For instance, about 35% of the Ethereum validator nodes use Amazon Web Services and are housed in the same Virginia data center. An incident affecting this center could jeopardize the security of the network.
According to Van der Wijden, the number of nodes in Ethereum could increase from 10,000 to possibly millions as a result of the switch to Verkle trees and the incorporation of stateless nodes into wallets. Anyone could run nodes with low storage and bandwidth requirements thanks to this democratization, possibly even on mobile devices.
Merkle trees, a cryptographic method of hashing together data chunks, are currently used by Ethereum. However, Verkle trees only call for the retention of parent-child data, leaving out the requirement for sister data chunks. As a result, data can be verified without requiring access to the entire blockchain of Ethereum.
Although the complicated cryptography of Verkle trees has been theoretically demonstrated, it is still difficult to convert Ethereum’s current Merkle tree structure to a Verkle tree. The changeover could be challenging and time-consuming, similar to last year’s challenging Proof-of-Work to Proof-of-Stake switchover.
The Cancun-Deneb update, home to the long-awaited Proto-Danksharding (EIP-4844), must be finished by Ethereum developers for Verkle trees to become viable. This EIP should reduce transaction costs on second-layer networks connected with Ethereum.
While the adoption of Verkle trees is poised to be a priority post the Cancun-Deneb update, the Ethereum community eagerly anticipates the enhancement of decentralization and security that this innovation promises.