Ethereum Devs Raise Concerns About Buterin’s Proposed Updates

The Ethereum Foundation is planning a slew of updates, but the community and Ethereum developers have started to raise some concerns about the potential consequences of these changes.

The Ethereum Foundation is planning some updates to the Ethereum network, focusing on enhancing the account abstraction standard (ERC-4337) to reduce gas consumption, especially on layer 2 networks. This includes a major overhaul in transaction structure, introducing more complex gas value specifications to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Additionally, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin proposed increasing the network's gas limit by 33% to improve throughput, sparking debate among developers and users. Concerns center around the potential for increased blockchain size and slower performance, with solutions like EIP-4444 and EIP-4844 being considered to manage growth.

Ethereum's Game-Changing Update

The Ethereum Foundation is on the brink of implementing some serious changes to the Ethereum account abstraction standard, specifically targeting a reduction in gas consumption, with a particular focus on layer 2 networks. On Jan. 10, the Foundation shared a preview of the drastic changes to the ERC-4337 standard, which is central to account abstraction, also known as smart accounts.

Account abstraction represents an evolution from the basic Ethereum accounts. It allows accounts to incorporate programmable logic and rules, enabling a range of new use cases that are currently unfeasible with standard accounts. Traditional Ethereum accounts are relatively passive and static, but with account abstraction, they become dynamic and programmable. This concept was first proposed in September of 2021 by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and other developers in EIP-4337.

The updated version 0.7 of ERC-4337 is the result of nine months of practical application and feedback. John Rising, a developer, shared insights about the major overhaul in the structure of account abstraction transactions. Unlike regular Ether (ETH) transactions, these now require specifying five different gas values instead of just one. Rising explained that this change is due to the computational demands of smart accounts during signature verification, where different types of signatures and gas payment methods lead to varying gas requirements.

This modification's goal is to enhance gas estimation accuracy and reduce overall gas costs, a change that is particularly beneficial on layer-2 networks. These networks will also benefit from a reduction in the amount of data that needs to be published. In other words, one of the main advantages for users in version 0.7 is the reduction in gas fees, which will be achieved by employing techniques for more efficient use of transaction data.

Additionally, the new specification introduces a 10% penalty for any unused gas in execution. This measure is specifically designed to discourage the submission of transactions with excessively high gas limits, promoting more efficient gas usage.

While the Ethereum Foundation has started the security audit for version v0.7, it has not yet announced a specific release date for these updates.

A Few More Tweaks

Not only is the Ethereum Foundation planning on upgrading its account abstraction standard, but the Ethereum co-founder also recently advocated for a gas limit increase to improve network throughput. In a recent Reddit ask-me-anything (AMA) session organized by the Ethereum Foundation's research team, Vitalik Buterin specifically addressed the topic of the Ethereum gas limit, which has remained unchanged for almost three years.

The Ethereum gas limit is a crucial aspect of the network, determining the maximum amount of gas that can be spent on executing transactions or smart contracts in each block. Gas, in this context, refers to the fee required to conduct a transaction or execute a contract on the Ethereum blockchain. The purpose of setting a gas limit is to ensure that blocks are not excessively large, as this could negatively impact network performance and synchronization. Validators, who are responsible for producing blocks, have the ability to adjust the gas limit dynamically, but only within certain parameters.

Buterin's proposal involves increasing the current gas limit from 30 million to approximately 40 million, a 33% rise. This increase would allow for more transactions to be included in each block, potentially enhancing the overall throughput and capacity of the Ethereum network. Such a change could have significant implications for users and developers, as it would affect transaction speeds and costs.

The Balancing Act

The suggestion by Buterin has naturally sparked discussions among Ethereum users and developers, as it directly impacts how the network handles increasing demand and scalability challenges. Marius van der Wijden, an Ethereum developer, highlighted some issues with the planned updates in a recent blog post. The concern centers around the potential increase in the blockchain state's size, which currently requires about 267 gigabytes for account balances and smart contract data alone. Wijden pointed out that raising the gas limit would accelerate this growth even more, exacerbating the issue. The full history data size of the Ethereum blockchain is already around 900GB, as noted by Blockchair.

While Wijden acknowledges that storage costs are not prohibitive, he emphasizes that accessing and modifying the growing volume of data could become increasingly sluggish. The debate extends beyond just storage concerns. Higher gas limits could lead to longer synchronization times and complicate the development of diverse clients. Gnosis co-founder Martin Köppelmann added that increased bandwidth requirements are another consequence of a raised gas limit.

Ethereum team lead Péter Szilágyi echoed these concerns, noting the downsides of a higher gas limit. He pointed out that this would lead to faster state growth, slower sync times, and increased potential for denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

The gas limit in Ethereum is crucial as it caps the amount of work and gas used for executing transactions or smart contracts in each block, ensuring blocks don't become excessively large, which could hamper network performance and synchronization.

To address these challenges, potential solutions like EIP-4444, which deals with chain history expiration, and EIP-4844, focusing on rollup data availability through "blobs," are being considered. These upgrades aim to manage long-term growth trends effectively.

Amidst these technical discussions, software developer Micah Zoltu also weighed in, emphasizing the importance of making Ethereum nodes accessible to average users. He argued that the goal should be to enable broader demographics to run Ethereum nodes on their everyday machines, a challenge that becomes more daunting as the state and full blockchain size continue to expand.