Primary developers of Ethereum are outlining plans for a hard fork, slated for mid-March 2024, following the upcoming Dencun upgrade in the first quarter of the same year.
The hard fork plan has sparked a debate within the Ethereum community. Some push for a concentration on a limited set of features, while others suggest the implementation of Verkle Trees, a data structure developers use to upgrade Ethereum nodes.
Dencun, a major upgrade for the Ethereum blockchain, combines two simultaneous upgrades occurring on the primary layers. The Dencun upgrade promises enhanced scalability, optimized gas fees and improved security on both the execution and consensus layers.
Following the recent All Core Devs call last Thursday, the tentative schedule for the Dencun fork remains unchanged. The Dencun upgrade was initially slated for November but was later deferred to 2024.
Other key milestones include the Goerli testnet launch on January 17, with subsequent dates confirmed for Sepolia and Holesky on January 30 and February 7, respectively.
Pralectra and Verkle Trees discussion
With the Dencun upgrade rolling out in March, Ethereum developers are shifting their focus towards the subsequent upgrade of Prague-Electra. Also known as Pralectra, this upgrade is expected to reduce the cost of verifying Casper FFG by a factor of 64x, which will accelerate the viability of the Ethereum network.
The discussion about the Pralectra phase has sparked a debate on the future vision. The community is torn between a feature-focused approach with smaller Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) or a major protocol upgrade introducing Verkle Trees to the execution layer.
Verkle Trees may offer a solution to Ethereum’s long-term “state bloat” issue. State bloat is a major challenge for blockchain networks, as it can hinder decentralization and negatively impact network performance and cost. As blockchain networks grow in usage and complexity, managing state bloat and the associated costs, performance and decentralization degradation becomes increasingly difficult.
Verkle Trees’ advanced mathematical technique, including its vector commitments based on elliptic curve pairings, can enhance transactions by reducing space usage and enabling faster verification.
Verkle Tree vs feature-rich fork
The implementation of Verkle Trees in Ethereum’s long-term roadmap is called The Verge. While achieving this step will already be considered a milestone, other concerns exist, especially with how the Verkle Trees delivery is expected to take up to 18 months.
Guillaume Ballet, a prominent Ethereum community figure, has actively advocated for incorporating Verkle Trees into the Prague-Electra upgrade. In 2023, Ballet posted at least two YouTube videos about the impact Verkle Trees could have on Ethereum’s efficiency and statelessness.
Ballet’s view, however, contrasted with others, such as Nethermind’s Ethereum Core developer Lukasz Rozmej. Rozmej himself has suggested prioritizing a feature-rich fork, which would introduce a broader set of improvements and changes to the network.
The core developer believes that state redesigns, such as Verkle Trees, are challenging and too time-consuming. As such, prioritizing a feature-rich fork could help avoid potential delays.
Ethereum developers are also examining potential features, including EVM Object Format (EOF) and Execution Layer Triggerable Exits EIP-7002. EIP-7002 addresses a critical staking-related bug, while EOF provides a viable solution without detracting from Verkle Trees’ development.
The decision on the specific approach and improvement proposals for the Prague-Electra upgrade is yet to be finalized, as Ethereum upgrades are consensus-driven. The community is working to reach a consensus on the overall vision for the upgrade and the specific approach and improvement proposals will be decided at a later date.