Can OP Stack, the competitor launched by zkSync, win the battle of L2 scaling?

Can zkSync's competitor, OP Stack, win the L2 scaling battle?

On one side is the OP Stack with its first-mover advantage, and on the other is the ZK Stack with its technological advantage. The L2 scaling battle has just begun.

Written by: Jaleel

On the evening of June 26th, zkSync announced the release of the modular open-source framework ZK Stack for building custom zkRollups, aimed at giving developers complete autonomy, from choosing data availability modes to using their own project’s tokens for decentralized ordering. ZK Stack provides two key functionalities: sovereignty and seamless connectivity. These zkRollup chains run independently, relying only on Ethereum L1 to achieve their activity and security, while cross-chain bridges facilitate interconnectivity between each chain, achieving trustless, fast, and cheap interoperability.

The launch of ZK Stack inevitably reminds people of the scalability solution OP Stack previously launched by the Optimism team. As a standardized open-source module, developers can assemble a customized chain through OP Stack to serve any specific blockchain use case. The design of OP Stack allows for code forking in an easier way than current efforts, as developers can easily abstract out various components of the blockchain and modify it by inserting different modules.

Announcing a product similar to Optimism and Arbitrum’s ecosystems before the mainnet token was even launched, many people regard ZK Stack as the killer move that the zkSync team uses to compete with OP Stack and Arbitrum Orbit. What are the characteristics of ZK Stack? What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to OP Stack?

ZK Stack

Last week, the zkSync team shared the initial draft of ZK Credo, which elaborated on the key properties of decentralized blockchain networks and the necessity of ZK as the emerging foundation of the value internet. The launch of ZK Stack is based on the team’s expansion vision.

According to the official documentation, ZK Stack is a free modular open-source framework designed to build customized ZK-driven L2 and L3 based on the zkSync Era code. The core of ZK Stack provides two key functionalities: sovereignty and seamless connectivity. Creators have unrestricted autonomy to customize and shape all aspects of the chain. Overall, ZK Stack has three characteristics: open source, composability, and modularity.

ZK Stack is developed under the fully-permissive MIT/ABlockingche open-source license, ensuring that it is free to use and developers can contribute to it according to their needs. Secondly, the superchains built with ZK Stack can seamlessly connect in trustless networks with low latency and shared liquidity. In addition, ZK Stack can help developers customize and shape their own Hyperchain, from choosing the ordering and data availability modes to defining their own token economics.

ZK Stack

For the zkSync core team, ZK Stack is also an important paradigm shift. Prior to this, the team focused on building mature ZK technology and launched an EVM-compatible ZK Rollup – zkSync Era – earlier this year. The launch of ZK Stack marks a shift in the team’s work focus from technology to community. With more Hyperchains launched, the team hopes to significantly increase the number of core contributors to the zkSync ecosystem and make the community the true owner of the zkSync ecosystem network.

Similar to OP Stack, deploying a Hyperchain for their own application will be a simpler process for developers and can be asynchronously connected with other protocols in the ecosystem for all kinds of interoperability functions. In the ZK Stack documentation, the team lists several potential applications for Hyperchain:

1. When building a game or social network, a lightweight sorter that is not burdened by other dApps and use cases is needed;

2. When building a DeFi application chain that values low-latency sorting;

3. When the enterprise builds an internal private chain and wants to maintain interconnection with the Ethereum ecosystem.

High Scalability

In addition to scalability, the most striking feature of ZK Stack is its strong interoperability. ZK Stack allows developers to build their own sovereignty chains without sacrificing interoperability and composability, with each Hyperchain seamlessly integrated into the zkSync ecosystem, supported by shared proof providers and fractal extensions, forming a complete liquidity network.

With the architecture of ZK Stack, smart contracts on each Hyperchain will be able to cross-chain asynchronously call each other, and users can quickly transfer their assets without trust in a few minutes, without incurring any extra costs. At the same time, the super chain itself will have complete autonomy, able to join other ecosystems and take away its own on-chain assets.

The ZK Stack team said that in the next few weeks, they will make modifications to the codebase to make it easier to check out, configure, and deploy instances of ZK Stack, with the ultimate goal of achieving one-click deployment, just like OP Stack.

OP Stack

Next, let’s review OP Stack, which has been released and adopted by many teams. In October 2022, the Ethereum Layer 2 scaling solution Optimism launched the modular open-source blueprint OP Stack, which the Optimism team sees as the next evolution stage of scalable architecture, suitable for a variety of highly scalable, highly interoperable blockchains. OP Stack bets on the uniqueness of the entire Ethereum community, and is a standardized open-source module that developers can use to assemble a blockchain that serves a specific use case. OP Stack’s design allows developers to fork Optimism’s code more easily by abstracting out the various components of the blockchain and inserting different modules to modify Optimism’s code. For example, when an Optimistic Rollup wants to transform itself into a ZK Rollup, it only needs to replace its fraud proof module with a settlement layer validity proof module.

Related reading: “Exploring OP Stack: Optimism’s Vision for Modular Expansion”

Open Garden

OP Stack first introduced the concept of “Open Garden,” which allows for atomic cross-chain combinations as long as the OP chain voluntarily chooses to enter the same shared sequencer set. If the OP chain does not want to run its own sequencer, it can pay a fee to use the Optimism shared sequencer it trusts, which also opens up a new profit model for Optimism.

Optimism refers to its OP chain as Superchain based on this vision. The OP chain will be fully interoperable on Optimism and connected by the same technical structure. As the OP Stack shared modules increase the flexibility of configurations, developers are recycling reusable code previously used by other developers, making the code more robust and more resistant to hacks and bugs.

Support from “Web3 Giants”

Shortly after OP Stack was launched, it received support from the “Web3 Giants.” In February of this year, Coinbase announced the launch of a multi-chain L2 platform built on OP Stack, a collaboration to upgrade Optimism Mainnet, Base, and other L2s to an initial superchain structure and share bridging and sequencing. As a blockchain on the OP platform, Base will return part of the transaction fee revenue to the Optimism Collective Treasury.

Base, built on OP Stack, has the security and scalability needed to support decentralized applications, leveraging the underlying security of Ethereum to allow users to enter Base from Coinbase, Ethereum L1, and other interoperable chains. At the same time, Base offers full EVM equivalence at extremely low cost and is committed to driving the development of the developer platform. Additionally, developers on Base can easily build decentralized applications by accessing Coinbase’s products, users, and tools, seamlessly integrating with Coinbase’s product suite, and accessing $80 billion in assets to serve the platform’s users.

Related reading: “BASE: A New Ethereum L2 Incubated and Built on Open-Source OP Stack by Coinbase”

Stack, OP, and Sync: Which is stronger?

In addition to Coinbase, OP Stack, which has a first-mover advantage, has also been favored by “dragonhead public chains” like BNB Chain. On June 19, BNB Chain announced the launch of a new scaling solution, opBNB, and launched opBNB’s testnet. As the trading volume of GameFi and other activities increases, BSC often faces network congestion and high gas fees, and the original design and architecture can no longer meet scalability needs. In this context, opBNB emerged, providing new possibilities to solve BSC’s scalability problems.

opBNB is a layer 2 scaling solution built on BSC that is also EVM-compatible and implemented based on the Bedrock version of OP Stack. Similar to how Bedrock works, opBNB processes transactions off-chain and then publishes transaction data on-chain, thereby compressing on-chain data to improve scalability.

Users interact with the opBNB network through applications or directly through contracts; sequencers aggregate transactions, compute state transitions, and submit them to the rollup contract on BSC; provers generate cryptographic proofs that validate the validity of these state transitions; and verifiers check the proofs to validate the correctness of the opBNB state.

Unlike Optimism and Coinbase’s layer 2 solution, Base, opBNB is built on BSC rather than Ethereum. The performance of BSC itself is superior to Ethereum, so opBNB’s performance is not only superior to BSC, but also to scaling solutions such as Optimism. According to official descriptions, opBNB has a block time of 1 second, low gas fees of $0.005 per transfer, and can process over 4,000 transactions per second (TPS), making it more performant than existing scaling solutions.

Related reading: “Interpreting the opBNB scaling solution: How does Layer2 improve the competitiveness of BNB Chain?”

In addition to public chains like BNB Chain, many application development teams are also choosing to develop their own application chains based on OP Stack:

On March 1, the gaming digital economy platform Cocos-BCX and NodeReal announced a global strategic partnership to jointly develop the first Web3 game-centric rollup Layer2 on BNB Chain based on Optimistic (OP) Stack. This partnership will combine Cocos-BCX’s leading Web3 game scaling solution with NodeReal’s comprehensive blockchain infrastructure to support over 1.6 million game developers in the development of 2D/3D games, metaverse, artificial intelligence (AI), and extended reality (XR).

On April 20, a16z Crypto announced the launch of a new Optimism Stack rollup client, Magi. Magi is an OP Stack rollup client developed in Rust that performs the same core functions as the reference implementation (OP-node) and works with execution nodes (such as OP-geth) to synchronize with any OP Stack chain, including Optimism and Base.

On June 22, NFT trading market Zora announced the launch of the ZORA NETWORK, a Layer 2 network based on OP Stack. The network provides artists, creators, and communities with a faster and more efficient Ethereum extension and will directly integrate all existing Zora tools. Zora Network has released a Layer 2 NFT minting platform based on OP Stack, targeting NFT creators, brands, and collectors, providing a range of NFT creator tools, and reducing minting costs to below $3.

So, has OP Stack, with its first-mover advantage, already won the L2 scalability battle against ZK Stack?

After the ZK Stack news was announced, the community also made a detailed comparison of the two from a technical perspective. Blockchain researcher Haotian (@tmel0211) pointed out in a follow-up tweet that HyperChain does not need to maintain state and consensus and can directly rely on Ethereum’s security. (See the full article reprinted by Foresight News: “Interpreting the ZK Stack just launched by zkSync.”) In addition, compared to the interactive fraud proof of OP Rollup, HyperChain can directly verify state changes using ZK proof, without waiting for the underlying state changes of Ethereum, so the efficiency of chain-to-chain interaction has also been greatly improved. In contrast, OP Stack still has limitations in asynchronous cross-chain calls. Its state changes need to wait for underlying verification of Ethereum.

It is clear that OP Stack, with its first-mover advantage, and ZK Stack, with its technical advantages, have just begun the L2 expansion war. There is no doubt that no matter who ultimately wins, the narrative of multi-chain expansion around Ethereum is becoming an important driver of a new round of encryption cycles.

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