At the Taipei Ethereum Meetup, Vitalik Buterin, one of the co-founders and lead developers of Ethereum, revealed that the development of a proof of stake protocol for the Ethereum network is 75 percent complete.
Prior to the announcement of Buterin, in a recent interview, Ethereum Foundation member and Ethereum co-founder Hudson Jameson released the foundation’s official roadmap for Ethereum development in 2017. The roadmap included the foundation’s plans of releasing the next version of Ethereum called Metropolis in three to six months and following that update with a switch of consensus protocol from proof of work to proof of stake.
Vitalik Buterin reaffirmed the Ethereum development roadmap laid out by Jameson and emphasized that Ethereum will most likely switch to a proof of stake protocol by the end of 2017. At the Taipei Ethereum Meetup, a community of over 500 members that focuses on the discussion of Ethereum and blockchain innovation, Buterin stated:
“We are working on a daemon that actually interacts with a Casper [smart] contract and sends transactions to it. That is the first part. The second stage is that we will write clients that are aware of Casper contracts.”
In regard to the development of Casper, Buterin stated that it is over three quarters completed.
What is Casper & Proof of Stake
Since 2015, Ethereum developers actively have dug into the development of Casper and a proof of stake (PoS) protocol. PoS and proof of work (PoW) are consensus protocols that allow stakeholders or miners to come to an agreement on various issues and verify transactions on the blockchain.
For instance, if the Bitcoin network is to agree upon a hard fork, miners have to signal their hash power to approve the fork. Also, in a proof of work protocol, miners have to allocate their hash power to verify and confirm transactions.
PoS is different in the way that it considers stakeholders as the majority and it does not utilize the hash power of miners to verify or confirm transactions. In a PoS protocol, miners do not exist. The largest stakeholders in the network are forced to play by the rules and verify transactions.
Ultimately, the economic issue of switching to Casper or a PoS protocol comes down to the incentives for stakeholders. How stakeholders are incentivized or benefited for verifying and confirming Ethereum transactions.
The Ethereum Foundation and Buterin’s perception of a PoS system is that everyone within the protocol is technically a miner and therefore unless they choose to lose their stake of Ether by playing against the rules, every user will verify and confirm transactions in a fair manner. Essentially, the foundation and its developers believe this is the ultimate decentralized governance system that increases participation of stakeholders of the network.
In an interview on January 18, Buterin stated that once completed, Casper will be tested across all seven clients of Ethereum in a testnet. If the testnet experiment of Casper is successful, developers intend to move it to production and release its final code by this year.
Currently, various blockchains including NXT, BitShares, and Peercoin operate on the PoS protocol. Some utilize a hybrid system between PoW and PoS to optimize their networks’ efficiency.
However, despite the success of the aforementioned blockchain networks, leading blockchain company and mining firm BitFury noted in its whitepaper that a PoS protocol is vulnerable to a wide range of attacks such as long-range attack, bribe attack, Coin Age accumulation attack and precomputing attack that could result as long-term issues for the network.
“Currently, there are several digital currencies implementing some form of proof of stake consensus including Peercoin, Nxt, Novacoin, BlackCoin, and BitShares. However, pure proof of stake approaches pose substantial security threats that cannot be recreated in proof of work systems (including Bitcoin). These problems are inherent to proof of stake algorithms, as proof of stake consensus is not anchored in the physical world (cf. with hashing equipment in proof of work),” BitFury’s white paper read.