Author: bayemon.eth, ChainCatcher
Recently, zkSync announced the random selection of 10,000 airdrop “LIBERTAS OMNIBUS” series NFTs from among 179,365 active community members. It has to be said that zkSync’s airdrop of NFTs to users at this time, when competition in the Rollup track is intense, has indeed given a strong boost to a large number of wool users. According to data from DefiLlama, on the 13th, zkSync with a trading volume of only 10,730 ETH, increased to 16,410 ETH on the 14th during the airdrop warm-up and on the 15th, an increase of 52%. At the same time, zkSync Era’s transaction volume in the past 30 days has surpassed Arbitrum, becoming the Ethereum Layer2 with the highest number of transactions in the past month.
However, the strong boost also has some significant side effects. Soon, users in the community discovered that the winning wallet addresses were all starting with 0x0, and then someone revealed that the so-called “random” was actually a modifier casually added by the official announcement of the airdrop. In fact, nearly 180,000 address strings were sorted, and then NFTs were airdropped to the top 10,000 users.
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For a while, the wool party who realized they were being lured into the “airdrop scam” were angry, and the entire community’s perception of zkSync also plummeted. Immediately realizing that something was wrong, the zkSync official immediately apologized and stated that after the conclusion of EthCC, other users would still have a chance to receive the NFT airdrop. However, this did not change the minds of the “tricked” users. Just two days after reaching its peak on July 15th, zkSync saw its TVL plummet to 8,063.66 ETH, even slightly lower than the level before the airdrop.
The zkSync team probably did not expect to capsize just because of improper descriptions during promotion. However, under the expectation of the airdrop, short-term sentiment-driven changes in trading data cannot be used as long-term reference. In fact, under the increasing pressure of internal competition within 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 a STARK-supported proof system. It is worth noting that Boojum is an important step for validators to achieve decentralization. In addition, zkSync also launched the open-source framework ZK Stack last month, which gives developers full autonomy in choosing data availability patterns and using their own tokens for decentralized sequencers.
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, Matter Labs CEO Alex Gluchowski, in an interview with The Block, stated that zkSync Era will not immediately launch tokens because the network is still highly centralized, with the company still controlling the operation of the sequencer and the prover, the two core components. Tokens will only come into play when the network is decentralized, so he expects it will take at least another year to achieve network decentralization before launching the tokens.
At the end of March, zkSync subsequently released its decentralized vision, including sequencers, ZK provers, zkPorter, community governance, and other key parts of the zkSync Era network, which will be decentralized after the core virtual machine and prover are consolidated and stabilized.
As an important member of ZK Rollup, what was the journey from the establishment 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
zkSync v1.0: Introducing ZK Rollup
Let’s go back in time two years. At that time, the Ethereum network and the cryptocurrency market seemed to be a paradise for speculators. Limited by the underlying design, DeFi, token economics, and other value propositions seemed like a fairy tale to the Ethereum network at that time. While most people were still immersed in the joy of “making a little profit today,” the “Ethereum advocates” who were not satisfied had already begun to contemplate why such a “superior” technology had not achieved mass adoption.
Since the Rollup solution is the only way for the Ethereum ecosystem to continue to expand, the question is how to eliminate the problems caused by the OP mechanism and still retain Ethereum’s most precious decentralized characteristics. One of the most serious risks of OP comes from “validators driven by profit.” But what if the validation mechanism is not influenced by profit? The community’s attention once again focused on the cornerstone of Ethereum – cryptography.
As a result, Matter Labs, composed of a group of cryptographers and programmers, released the initial concept of zkSync at the beginning of 2020 and officially launched zkSync v1.0 on the Ethereum mainnet in June of the same year. By introducing ZK Rollup and giving the process of generating proofs to “emotionless, purely mathematical” zero-knowledge proof circuits, zkSync validators have no authority to manipulate user assets, thus eliminating some risks associated with centralized validators. It combines ZKP with on-chain data availability, aiming to create a faster and cheaper scaling solution for Ethereum.
Although it appears to be just an extension solution to solve cryptocurrency payment problems, when v1.0 was released, Matter Labs had already laid the technical foundation for subsequent implementation of smart contract functionality and further enhancement of decentralization in 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 earth-shaking changes to Ethereum overnight. For all teams in the ZK Rollup field, the area of exploration is no longer just about “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 offer widely adopted solutions, but StarkWare, which started development in 2018, clearly has a first-mover advantage – using zk-STARKs, which require lower computational resources and are faster, 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 that requires additional learning and application time will inevitably bring unavoidable additional costs as the application scale gradually expands, and to some extent, it may hinder the expansion of the layer one network. Therefore, for zkSync, achieving EVM compatibility may be a good opportunity for “overtaking on a bend”.
So, 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 made the code open source. 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. Choosing 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). In simple terms, AA allows a wallet to be programmable while still 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 open to the public.
zkSync v2.0’s major update achieves EVM compatibility and optimization for smart contract deployment, greatly preserving the decentralization advantages of Ethereum, and thus bringing rich composability to the ecosystem. The team has also excitedly claimed that they have built the “first open-source zkEVM”, but this statement has been subject to much criticism in the crypto community at that time because this version of zkEVM is still very “centralized”.
The zkSync team themselves admit that they still control 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 if it does not achieve extreme decentralization, it cannot act maliciously.
In the decentralized vision announced by the official at the end of March this year, there is a determination to gradually achieve decentralization of core components such as the sequencer, ZK prover, zkPorter, and community governance over 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 assist the network in transitioning 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, and the communication complexity increases linearly. 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 and does not require complex trusted setups, making it slightly superior to SNARK, which uses elliptic curve cryptography, in terms of trust mechanism.
Therefore, the main purpose of the zkSync Era upgrade Boojum is to reduce the hardware requirements for proof generation and improve the generation speed, thereby enhancing scalability efficiency.
ZK Stack: An important step for developers to decentralize and enable community governance
From the team’s emphasis over the years, zkSync has had a traditional “straight-A student mentality”, diving into the development of new technologies to achieve technological leadership in the field of ZKP applications. The official promotion has also always been focused on technology. It wasn’t until the recent launch of ZK Stack that the zkSync team showed a willingness to participate in community governance.
Looking carefully at the public roadmap provided by the official team in 2022, in addition to the important updates mentioned above, major framework transformations, proof merging, and dynamic transaction fees have already 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 industry and academia focus 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 a market of the same expansion level and avoid the problem of “going off track”, zkSync advocates “handing over the ownership of zkSync to the community” and launched the modular open-source framework ZK Stack in June (which includes ideas such as HyperChain, HyperBridge, and HyperScalability), allowing the community to build ZKP-driven Layer2 or even Layer3 applications based on zkSync Era.
The official gives two important features of ZK Stack: “sovereignty” and “seamless integration”, which to a large extent align with the future of Ethereum’s “scalability” and “interoperability”. The open-source code of ZK Stack empowers the community with the right to define the functionality and features of their own chains, thereby enabling the emergence of more personally tailored projects in the future Ethereum ecosystem. At the same time, HyperChain operates independently, relying entirely on Ethereum as the underlying trust and security mechanism, while HyperBridge enables fast and trustless interaction between chains as the “Web3.0 Internet”. Transforming a project that previously 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”.
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 also relatively average compared to other Layer2 solutions, with a daily average TPS of only 9.91. Although the gas fees average around $0.3, there are also cases where it reaches as high as $7.8, and there is still a 24-hour transaction delay in place to guard against validator risks.
Despite the recent NFT airdrop igniting the community’s enthusiasm for interaction, zkSync’s decentralized path (the path of token issuance) still has a long way to go. However, this also means that users still have the opportunity to deeply participate in its ecosystem and have the chance to receive airdrop rewards.