Proto-danksharding is the first in a series of proposed Ethereum upgrades that aim to split up the network into lots of little chains, known as shards. The hope is that running lots of shards in parallel will allow the entire Ethereum network to grow without slowing down, even if many more individuals start to use the network.
It will take several years for danksharding to be fully realized on Ethereum. Yet, once implemented, sharding could increase the throughput of the blockchain, make transactions far cheaper, and prevent bottlenecks.
Accomplishing all this would solve several of the major pain points of Ethereum, namely slow and expensive transactions that can cause congestion in times of network stress. Sharding will also reduce the cost of running a validator over time, thereby decentralizing the network.
The flowery name for the upgrade, which also goes by “Shard Blob Transactions,” conceals a more prosaic technical name: EIP-4844. EIP stands for Ethereum Improvement Proposal, the title given to any recommendation to upgrade the blockchain.
Danksharding is the name of the sharding design that Ethereum’s developers propose to use on the network. “Dank,” in addition to referencing slang that means something like “cool” or “good,” is a hat tip to Ethereum Foundation researcher Dankrad Feist.
Proto-danksharding, i.e., EIP-4844, is the first step toward implementing full danksharding. It would implement most of the logic and craft the rules that would be required for danksharding to go ahead. Consider it “danksharding-lite.”
The upgrade would also introduce a new type of transaction called a “blob-carrying transaction.” These look just like regular transactions but hold a relatively large and inexpensive piece of data known as a blob. The benefit of these blob-carrying transactions, explained in greater detail below, is greater efficiency, particularly for existing scaling solutions like rollups. That will cut costs and improve speeds.
How Danksharding Works
So how does danksharding propose to scale Ethereum? Put simply, instead of verifying everything in a block, danksharding aims to have the Ethereum blockchain merely verify that these data-efficient “blobs” contain the right kind of information and carry out any orders contained therein.
This cuts down the amount of work required by the execution layer of Ethereum, the part of the network that is responsible for carrying out the instructions set by the other side of Ethereum, known as the consensus layer.
The execution layer of Ethereum is busy enough as it is, and making things more efficient speeds up the blockchain. Blob transactions are supposedly cheaper to execute, too, ultimately reducing transaction costs for users.
These blobs of data are likely to contain information relevant to layer-2 protocols, like Arbitrum or Optimism. Layer-2 protocols, which wrap up bundles of Ethereum transactions and process them elsewhere, are also important for scaling Ethereum. It is expected that danksharding and layer-2 protocols will work hand in hand.
In addition to the above, danksharding also reimagines how transaction fees are paid on Ethereum. One class of actor, known as the proposer, determines which transactions should fit into a block. A second class—so-called block builders—bids on the right to determine the transactions that are contained within a block.
How Will Proto-Danksharding Affect You?
Proto-danksharding only introduces a very limited version of danksharding; it’s mostly throat-clearing for the real thing. However, it should make transacting on some layer-2 protocols, which will be able to access these new blob transactions, a lot cheaper.
But even these layer-2 transactions will pale in comparison to the genuine article: proto-danksharding will provide a single megabyte of data availability for each transaction, while actual danksharding will hit 16 megabytes.
Danksharding doesn’t have a release date, and the peanut gallery of Twitter pundits expects that even proto-danksharding could take years.
In late 2022, Ethereum officially switched from proof of work to proof of stake (known as the Merge), reducing its environmental impact by a factor of 99%. The Merge was Ethereum’s biggest upgrade to date. It took about six years to implement, and came following innumerable delays.
While you wait, note that upgrades to the Ethereum blockchain itself will be complemented by advances to layer-2 technologies, such as zk-SNARKs and rollups.