zkSync Development Diagnosis Progressive Decentralization Path, Still in Early Stage with Lack of Distinctiveness in the Ecosystem

zkSync Development in Early Stage, Lacks Ecosystem Distinctiveness

Author: bayemon.eth, ChainCatcher

Recently, zkSync announced that it will randomly select 10,000 airdrops of the “LIBERTAS OMNIBUS” series NFT from the 179,365 active community members. It has to be said that zkSync’s airdrop of NFT to users at this time when the competition in the Rollup track is intense has indeed given a boost to a large number of wool users. According to DefiLlama data, zkSync, with a trading volume of only 10,730 ETH on the 13th, increased to 16,410 ETH on the 14th airdrop warm-up and the airdrop day on the 15th, an increase of 52%. At the same time, zkSync Era has had more transaction volume in the past 30 days than Arbitrum, becoming the Ethereum Layer 2 with the most transaction volume in the past month.

However, there are also some significant side effects to this boost. Soon, users in the community discovered that the winning wallet addresses were all prefixed with 0x0. Later, someone revealed that the so-called “random” was just a modifier added casually when the airdrop was announced by the official account. In fact, nearly 180,000 address strings were sorted, and then NFTs were airdropped to the top 10,000 users in terms of ranking.

For a while, the wool party, who realized that they had been deceived into the “airdrop scam,” was furious, and the entire community’s perception of zkSync plummeted. The zkSync official immediately apologized and stated that other users would still have the opportunity to receive NFT airdrops after the end of the EthCC held recently. However, this did not change the minds of the “tricked” users. zkSync, which reached its peak on July 15th, saw its TVL drop to 8,063.66 ETH within just two days, even slightly lower than the level before the airdrop.

The zkSync team may not have expected the shipwreck caused by an improper description during the promotion alone. However, under the expectation of the airdrop, the short-term emotional-driven changes in trading data cannot be used as a long-term reference. In fact, under the increasing pressure of the internal competition in L2 recently, zkSync has clearly accelerated its development progress.

Recently, zkSync Era launched the proof system upgrade Boojum, which will assist the network in transitioning to STARK-supported proof systems. It is worth noting that Boojum is an important step for the verifiers to achieve decentralization. In addition, zkSync also launched the open-source framework ZK Stack last month, giving developers full autonomy in choosing data availability modes and using their own project tokens for decentralized sequencers, and more.

It should be noted that the decentralization path of zkSync Era is closely related to token issuance and airdrop plans.

In March of this year, Alex Gluchowski, CEO of Matter Labs, the development company behind zkSync, stated in an interview with The Block that zkSync Era will not immediately launch tokens because the network is still very centralized to a large extent, and the company still controls the operation of the two core components, the sequencer and the verifier. Tokens only come into play when the network becomes decentralized, so he expects it will take at least another year to achieve network decentralization before launching tokens.

After that, in late March, zkSync subsequently released its decentralized vision, which includes sequencers, ZK provers, zkPorter, community governance, and other key components of the zkSync Era network, which will be decentralized after the core virtual machine and provers are consolidated and stabilized.

As an important member of ZK Rollup, what is the path to centralization from the beginning of zkSync to the launch of zkSync Era? What is the current progress? This article will review the milestone events since zkSync v1.0 went live and explore the journey and progress of zkSync’s “progressive” decentralization.

Review of zkSync Era Milestone Events

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zkSync v1.0: Introducing ZK Rollup

Let’s go back two years in time. At that time, the Ethereum network and the cryptocurrency market seemed to be a paradise for speculators. Constrained by the underlying design, the value propositions of DeFi, token economics, and other aspects seemed like a fantasy for the Ethereum network at the time. While most people were still immersed in the joy of “making a little profit today,” the “Ethereum evangelist” who didn’t care about such things had already started pondering why such “superior” technology hadn’t achieved mass adoption.

Since the Rollup solution is the inevitable path for the continued expansion of the Ethereum ecosystem, the question then arises: how to eliminate the problems caused by the OP mechanism and still retain Ethereum’s most precious decentralized characteristics? One of the most significant risks of OP comes from validators who may be driven by their own interests. But what if their interests cannot influence the verification mechanism? The community’s attention once again focused on the cornerstone of Ethereum – cryptography.

Therefore, Matter Labs, composed of a group of cryptographers and programmers, released the initial concept of zkSync in early 2020 and officially launched zkSync v1.0 on the Ethereum mainnet in June of the same year. By introducing ZK Rollup and delegating the proof generation process to “emotionless, purely mathematical” zero-knowledge proof circuits, zkSync validators have no authority to manipulate user assets, thereby eliminating some risks brought by centralized validators. In addition, by combining ZKP with on-chain data availability, zkSync aims to create a faster and lower-cost scaling solution for Ethereum.

Although it may seem like just an extension to solve cryptocurrency payment issues, when v1.0 was released, Matter Labs had already laid the technical foundation for subsequent implementation of smart contract functionality and further enhancing the decentralization of Layer 2 networks.

zkSync 2.0 / Era: EVM Compatibility

When ZK Rollup established itself in the Ethereum ecosystem and helped optimize throughput and transaction speed for the entire Ethereum network, a technology that was once defined by many industry insiders as “taking several years to achieve” brought about a revolutionary change for Ethereum overnight. For all teams in the ZK Rollup space, the exploration goes beyond simply “promoting Ethereum.” They urgently need to find a long-term path that can attract more attention in the competition.

As for ZK Rollup, both StarkWare and zkSync provide widely adopted solutions. However, the StarkWare team, which started development in 2018, clearly has a first-mover advantage. They use zk-STARKs, which have lower computational requirements and faster speeds, as well as the development language Cairo, which has higher proof generation efficiency. Although Cairo is flexible and efficient in proof generation, since the origin of ZK Rollup is to “promote the widespread adoption of Ethereum,” this language, which requires additional learning and application time, will inevitably bring unavoidable additional costs as the application scale gradually expands, and to some extent, it will hinder the expansion of the first-layer network. Therefore, for zkSync, achieving EVM compatibility may be a good opportunity for “overtaking on the bend.”

Therefore, one year after the release of zkSync 1.0, on June 23, 2022, the zkSync development team released the EVM-compatible zkSync v2.0 and open-sourced the code. Its compatibility allows the vast majority of dApps to use Solidity and Vyper code without any modifications and directly port them to the zkSync Layer2 network. The choice to open-source the code undoubtedly attracted a wave of geeks interested in ZK technology to participate. In addition, zkSync v2.0 also introduces Account Abstraction (AA). Simply put, AA allows a wallet to be programmable while still being controlled by a private key.

On February 16, 2023, after six months of refinement, zkSync 2.0 Fair Onboarding Alpha Mainnet went live and was renamed zkSync Era, and a month later, it was fully opened to the public.

The major update of zkSync v2.0 achieves EVM compatibility and smart contract deployment optimization, which greatly preserves the decentralization advantages of Ethereum, thereby bringing rich ecological composability. The team once ecstatically claimed that they had built the “first open-source zkEVM,” but this statement has received much criticism in the crypto community at the time because this version of zkEVM was still very “centralized.”

The zkSync team also acknowledges that the company still controls the operation of the sequencer and prover, the two core components. However, compared to OP Rollup, zkSync’s sequencer cannot change the order, so even though it does not achieve the ultimate decentralization, it cannot engage in malicious behavior.

In the decentralized vision released by the official at the end of March this year, they also demonstrated the determination to gradually achieve decentralization of core components such as the sequencer, ZK Prover, zkPorter, and community governance in the next year.

It is worth mentioning that zkSync Era recently launched a proof system upgrade called Boojum, which is an important step for the prover to achieve decentralization and will help the network transition to a STARK-supported proof system.

Previously, zkSync mainly used ZK-SNARK proofs. In terms of proof size, SNARK proofs are smaller and require less gas consumption. The communication complexity grows linearly, and the official documentation is relatively more comprehensive, making it more developer-friendly. However, ZK-STARK proofs require less time and better meet the scalability requirements of ZK Rollup. Moreover, STARK can resist quantum attacks without complex trusted setups and is slightly superior to SNARK, which uses elliptic curve encryption, in terms of trust mechanism.

Therefore, the main purpose of the zkSync Era upgrade to Boojum is to reduce the hardware requirements for proof generation and improve the generation speed, thereby improving the scalability efficiency.

ZK Stack: An Important Step for Developers to Decentralize and Enable Community Governance

From the team’s focus, zkSync has always had a traditional “top student mindset”, diving into the development of new technologies to achieve technological leadership in the field of ZKP applications, and the official promotion has always been technology-oriented. It was not until the recent launch of ZK Stack that the zkSync team showed a willingness to participate in community governance.

Looking closely at the public roadmap provided by the official in 2022, in addition to the important updates mentioned above, major framework changes, proof merging, and dynamic transaction fees have been completed. At the same time, the roadmap also reveals the team’s brief thoughts on the concept and application of Layer3. As more and more attention from the industry and academia focuses on ZK technology, ZK Rollup is also seen as the future of Ethereum scalability. Therefore, it is crucial to establish the correct architecture from the beginning to unleash the amazing potential of ZK technology.

In order to match the future ZKP technology with an equally expansive market and avoid the problem of “going off track”, zkSync advocates “handing over ownership of zkSync to the community” and launched the modular open-source framework ZK Stack in June (which includes concepts such as HyperChain, HyperBridge, and HyperScalability), allowing the community to build ZKP-driven Layer2 or even Layer3 applications based on zkSync Era.

The two important features of ZK Stack given by the official are “sovereignty” and “seamless integration”, which largely align with the future of Ethereum ecosystem in terms of “scalability” and “interoperability”. The open-source code of ZK Stack gives the community the right to define the functionality and features of their own chains, allowing for the emergence of more personalized projects in the future Ethereum ecosystem. At the same time, HyperChain operates independently, relying entirely on Ethereum as the underlying trust and security mechanism, and HyperBridge enables trustless and fast interoperability between chains as a “Web3.0 Internet”. By turning a project that originally had extremely strict requirements for professional knowledge into an interface for custom chains, zkSync seems to want to bring the concept of decentralization to Layer2 and become the infrastructure of Rollup, replicating the prosperity of the Ethereum community in the second-layer network. Therefore, the team defines ZK Stack as a “major paradigm shift”.

Summary

zkSync Era is still in its early stages, and top dApps like Aave and Uniswap have not yet been deployed, and it lacks distinctive features in terms of ecosystem development. Currently, its network performance is relatively average compared to other Layer2 solutions, with an average TPS of only 9.91 per day. Although the gas fee hovers around $0.3 on average, there are also cases where it reaches as high as $7.8. Additionally, there is still a 24-hour transaction delay in place to guard against validator risks.

Despite the recent NFT airdrop igniting community enthusiasm, zkSync’s decentralized path (the path of issuing tokens) is still a long way to go. However, this also means that users still have the opportunity to actively participate in the ecosystem’s interactions and have a chance to receive airdrop rewards.

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