Alexander Siman: A single unified blockchain for all DApp applications - is out-of-date
Polkadot blockchain developer and ambassador in Ukraine Oleksandr Siman in an interview for LetKnow.News told about the benefits of developing Substrate applications, how to solve the blockchain scalability problem, and why writing transactions of various applications to one registry is not a good idea.
- Tell us about yourself, what are you doing and why did you decide to choose the development of the blockchain?
- I graduated from Chernihiv Technological University with a degree in System Programming. And since 2008, I have been developing complex web applications with complex functionality. For example, in 2012, I worked on a product for a Dutch startup that was servicing a network of charging stations for electric vehicles. I also worked in a corporate startup as part of Deutsche Bank and other projects.
In 2017, I became absorbed into the topic of blockchain from the side of
Ethereum. I liked their concept of smart contracts, which, in essence, is nothing more than program code that runs on a decentralised network. And all that year I was creating custom tokens and other related smart contracts for Solidity.
It soon became clear that public blockchains were not quite suitable for creating services for the mass consumer. Blockchains such as Ethereum have a number of features that hinder that: for every transaction that changes the state of the registry, you need to pay a fee. Even if this commission is insignificant, it is still an obstacle for most users, because for some actions people are not ready to pay even a tenth of a cent. An example of such actions: opening an email, like comment.
Looking for alternatives to public blockchains, I discovered a project like Tendermint - the blockchain framework on which Cosmos is built. And then I wondered, what could be the options for updating the logic of a decentralised application? Because the approach with hard and soft forks is far from the best way to update the product for mass consumption. And even if there is a limited range of functionality, then you can still think through and minimise the need for the number of forks. But if we conditionally do Wikipedia on the blockchain, then such a product requires complex and advanced functionality, which will certainly have to be updated throughout its existence.
My searches led to the Substrate blockchain framework on the basis of which a very popular network for inter-blockchain communications, the Polkadot Network, is being built. Both products are developed by Parity Technologies.
I was attracted to Substrate by its unique “feature”: the ability to update blockchain logic on the go without any forks. In addition, Substrate and Polkadot have an active and friendly community, which helps to resolve all possible issues within a few minutes, while other communities may completely ignore questions or answer after a few days.
Since May 2019, I have been the official ambassador of Polkadot in
Ukraine and together with the team we have been holding meetings for the Ukrainian community on Substrate, Polkadot and Web 3.0.
- What is decentralised internet web 3.0?
- The first wave of the web - static sites with hyperlinks, as, for example, was in the 95th year. Web 2.0 - the emergence of powerful interactive resources such as Gmail, MySpace, Facebook. And, as you know, the one who comes first and with a good solution wins on the Internet. And everywhere there is some kind of dominator that holds 3/4 of the market. As a result, no one is stopping centralised companies from doing whatever they please. Suppose you remove the functionality on which other companies have a business, for example, access to the advanced functionality of events in FB. And an alternative to the modern centralised Internet is web 3.0. The goal of the Web 3 Foundation is to popularise and support products that, in fact, are an alternative to current centralised solutions: decentralised chats, email protocols, DNS, social networks. The Web 3 Foundation provides technical grants for some of these products, demanding in return for the project to be open source under the Apache 2.0 or GPL 3 license.
- What are the risks of centralising applications and services?
- Everyone is happy and everyone doesn’t care until the moment when everything works and until there are some hassles and contradictions either with the leadership of centralised services or with the state. But as soon as something goes wrong on a large scale, people immediately begin to think about independent decentralised alternatives. For example, recent protests in Hong Kong are proof of that: there they began to very actively use a decentralised messenger that works on bluetooth. Therefore, ideas arise how to apply blockchain in such cases, peer-2-peer communication without a central server, end-to-end encryption.
And, accordingly, if there is a big complication in centralized applications, then the very operation of the application becomes compromised. But, as Nikolai Wolf (Parity developer) said, as long as the quality of decentralised applications does not correspond with centralised ones and people will be fine, nobody will be interested in decentralised alternatives. Therefore, the latter should have some advantage. Decentralized applications are difficult to call convenient so far, and they are trying to somehow catch up with functionalities centralised for convenience. Or there should be an opportunity to make money for ordinary users. Therefore, you need to go in the direction of intersection of these components, or in other words, DApp should be convenient and/or at the same time bring material benefits, or, of course, total control and restrictions on freedom of choice should emerge. Then, in such difficult conditions, there may be a demand for decentralised applications as an option to counter control.
- What is the Polkadot project and what problems does it solve?
- There is a number of projects for the implementation of inter-blockchain communication. And each blockchain, in fact, is a separate world that does not interact with others directly. If you draw an analogy, then it's like sites without the ability to communicate with each other through and even in addition, if there weren’t search engines such as Google. In this case, the Internet experience would be rather boring. A similar situation is now with public blockchains.
In 2016, the guys from Parity thought that it would be nice if these blockchains “communicated” with each other and that this happened quickly. And the peculiarity of this framework should be a standard message protocol and the ability to transfer value from one blockchain to another. Since the main value in the blockchain is coins. And if you teach blockchains to communicate with each other, then the need for intermediaries, such as centralised
crypto exchanges, fades away.
And it is strange that people use decentralised products through centralised applications. And products like Cosmos or Polkadot are inherently a DEX protocol, which is also based on blockchain technology. But the token transfer is just the beginning. In the future, such inter-blockchain communication projects intend to implement the possibility of calling a function from one blockchain from another one.
- Ethereum and Bitcoin blockchains are full and transactions don’t have enough place to be put in blocks. How the problem of network scalability can be solved?
- This is one of the very reasons for the development of such projects as Polkadot or Cosmos. These networks are designed in such a way that there is a relay chain (in the case of Polkadot) or a hub (in the case of Cosmos) to which hundreds of other blockchains can connect and interact with each other. Thus, we can design blockchains that offer a certain range of functionality and not try to please all users, as is the case with public blockchains like Ethereum or EOS.
If you follow this scaling architecture, then any more or less noticeable decentralised application like CryptoKitties should have its own separate blockchain that connects to Polkadot. And so it turns out that the blockchain will process purely “cat-like” transactions and will not compete with all other transactions in the decentralised world.
Because, in fact, everything is written in Ethereum in a row: both kittens, and Tether, and transfers of tokens of various projects and just the experiments of beginning developers of smart contracts. To some extent, this is a decentralised dump.
Such a development a couple of years ago, developers could not predict and that’s ok. Now, however, there is experience and enough information to come up with optimal software on a different architecture. In fact, this is a classic web application development: there is vertical and horizontal scalability. Vertical - if, for example, you had a website, at first 500 people visited it, then 100,000 and a million, and the site can no longer cope with such a load. Then a more powerful server is bought. And so, as the load increases, equipment is updated. But vertical scaling sooner or later rests on the ceiling. And the fact that the speed of Ethereum will increase is good. On the other hand, this architecture has its limits and further acceleration is horizontal scalability, i.e. blockchain processing of only those transactions that are specific to a particular application, because processing all the requests of the world is a dubious idea.
- What trends do you observe in blockchain development? Whereas earlier everyone was mainly trying to use the Ethereum blockchain for applications, then what solutions are most in demand now?
- In 2017, there was a peak in Ethereum, but developers who were set up to create effective applications encountered restrictions related to the bandwidth (speed) of Ethereum and paid transactions.
Then in 2018, everyone actively monitored what EOS would offer. The main interest in this blockchain was caused by free transactions for the end user. Because in EOS, the developer of a decentralised application must take care of transactions on the network by purchasing the necessary EOS coin steak. That has attracted many developers, as free transactions are one of the key points on the road to mass adoption. EOS also handles transactions much faster when compared to Ethereum. Therefore, betting and gambling applications are well established in this public blockchain.
The current trend of 2019 is the creation of blockchains directly tailored to the specific needs of each specific decentralized application. Now developers are looking at more modular blockchain frameworks such as Substrate or Tendermint, and not at the forks of existing blockchains, as often happened before 2016. And many of the teams that conducted the
ICO in 2017-2018 are thinking about rewriting their Ethereum applications on these frameworks.