Either you've spent the last few weeks in a cave, or you've heard about it, I mean of course "The merge". Yes, today the ETH blockchain is officially moving from a "proof of work" model to a "proof of stake" model.
It has taken a long time since the creation of the beacon chain but the merge between it and the main chain has finally happened. Sounds complicated? Don't worry, we'll clear it up! Ready to go? Let's get started!
What is The Merge?
The Merge refers to the Ethereum network's use of proof-of-stake (PoS), which is also known as the "consensus mechanism" for crypto transactions. The previously in use Proof-of-Work (PoW) system is now replaced with this new one. This technique, which was first introduced by Bitcoin, has the drawback of using a lot more energy.
Beacon Chain, a PoS network, has been around since 2020. But transaction processing was not yet done on this network. It served primarily to give the computers that make up the Ethereum network time to get ready for the major switch to PoS. The "execution" layer of the PoW core network and the "consensus" layer of the Beacon Chain had to combine in order for this shift to take place. Exactly this is what we witnessed today!
Proof of Work VS Proof of Stake
The methods used Proof-of-Stake (PoS) and Proof-of-Work (PoW) are different consensus to determine who has the privilege to secure the following block of transactions on the network. Ethereum miners raced to publish blocks under the PoW architecture up till now, competing against each other to solve cryptographic riddles. Other cryptocurrencies, starting with Bitcoin, use this system.
Validators who have bet at least 32 ethers on the network will be chosen at random to construct blocks under the current PoS. With more ethers being validated, the likelihood of getting chosen rises. The block-winning miner or validator in each of these two systems is compensated with a mix of transaction fees and freshly created ETH.
Why this update?
Decrease in the energy consumed by the Ethereum network
It takes a lot of energy to keep thousands of extremely powerful machines running nonstop in order to compete with one another. The fundamental issue is that for any of them to produce interesting output, they must all be running nonstop.
Of course, the large carbon footprint of a blockchain like Ethereum is the main effect of this consumption. The Ethereum Foundation calculated that the switch to Proof of Stake may result in a 99.95% reduction in power consumption, or 2,000 less than Ethereum's Proof of Work version.
A global improvement of the Ethereum blockchain
The Merge wants to make the Ethereum blockchain better overall. Despite advocating the maximum decentralization in theory, the reality was very different. A good mining machine does really cost a lot of money to purchase and operate because to its high electricity usage. Therefore, smaller wallets are not encouraged to protect the network.
Additionally, they produce a lot of heat and are frequently kept in data centers, which can soon become expensive for the operators. Finally, the behemoths, who have created a true business devoted to mining, are unbeatable by people.
Although not perfect, proof of stake requires low-powered machines compared to proof of work. Therefore, they can be hosted at home and can be shared in a more decentralized way. Thus, it seems that The Merge can improve the overall decentralization and thus the security of the Ethereum network.
After years of talking about it, the new proof of stake version of Ethereum is finally here. The merge itself represents a real technological feat.
Nevertheless, it is still necessary to correct some of your preconceived ideas. No, transaction fees will not drop drastically due to this upgrade, and the speed gain will only marginally improve the scalability of the Ethereum blockchain.
On the other hand, this "Merge" lays the foundations of what could be a future scalability solution. The best is yet to come!