Kusama: sacrifice stability for speed

    11 Sep 2021

    Sooner or later, but it had to appear – a kind of “testing ground” for developing the most advanced blockchain initiatives, where it is very easy for developers to integrate their project, but there are no stability or security guarantees for it.

    On August 24, cryptocurrency developers in Polkadot announced that the Kusama network would soon host five new parachain auctions, which should increase its number of connected networks to 11. This will mark a new stage in the Kusama ecosystem expansion through innovative DeFi projects. A week will be allocated for each auction; to participate, one needs to collect about $ 20 million in KSM tokens (approximately 100,000 KSM).

    Five auctions have already taken place, and another network was connected without one, so there is a total of six parachains in Kusama today. The largest of these projects is the Karura decentralized exchange; other networks are engaged in Ethereum compatibility, smart contracts, and liquidity staking solutions.

    The auctions themselves are entirely decentralized and automated. The collected tokens are frozen the entire time, while a connected project works as a parachain. After the end of the lease, the Kusama slot is vacated and put up for the next auction.

    So what is Kusama? It is a blockchain created by Parity Technologies and Web3 Foundation specifically for Polkadot technology testing. The idea essentially is that full testing is possible only on a blockchain with coins that have real value. And the KSM token (current price $ 295) is traded on exchanges and even rose in value to $ 600 during the hype wave. If the testing in Kusama is successful, that project becomes one of the contenders for the Polkadot parachain.

    As you may know, the fundamental task of Polkadot is to solve the problem of joining separate blockchains. Their developers have put forward a solution in the form of a “relay network” to which other blockchains would be connected in the form of parachains. Initially, though, parachain candidates connect to the Kusama network for a test run.

    Both Kusama and Polkadot are developed by the same team led by Gavin Wood. He is known as a former CTO and one of the founders of the Ethereum Foundation, and the creator of the Solidity programming language that Ethereum smart contracts run on. Legally, the project is separated into two organizations: the non-profit Web3 Foundation (finances the development of blockchain projects and Web 3.0) and the commercial Parity Technologies (specializing in blockchain project development).

    When Kusama was first launched, Gavin Wood described it as a network that abandons stability and reliability in favor of speed and the implementation of latest technologies. The Kusama blockchain is actually about four times faster than Polkadot, which makes the network more flexible. At the same time, Kusama does not go through technical audits, allowing it to develop faster. The downside to such speed is the increased vulnerability to bugs in the code. This was done on purpose to identify bugs early in the test network and not later in Polkadot.

    Kusama solves the same problem as any testnet: examining the blockchain operability, updates, and hypotheses. However, conventional testnets don’t perform actual financial interactions, so testing will inevitably be incomplete. In contrast, Kusama uses quite expensive KSM tokens, so everything here is “for real”. And by the way, the first bridge of the main Polkadot network is being developed using the Kusama blockchain.

    In terms of architecture, Kusama repeats Polkadot and consists of three elements:

    1. Parachains – blockchains connected to the Kusama network. Created by third-party developers and used to run their applications;

    2. Relay Chain – a chain connecting different parachains. Allows them to synchronize and exchange information with each other;

    3. Bridges – a technology connecting parachain with other blockchains.

    Parachains sync with each other via a relay chain, and bridges allow them to interact with other blockchains.

    Parachains on Kusama are created using the Substrate platform. Substrate supports multiple programming languages, including C/C++, C#, Typescript, and Rust. At the same time, using Substrate makes it easier to create a parachain since the platform already has several mechanisms. Blockchains built on Substrate can change their consensus algorithm after the launch of the main network.

    Let’s say a few words about KSM tokens as well. They can be used in a variety of different ways. You can simply buy and keep them (staking). Holders of KSM tokens can become validators who earn money by confirming transactions on the network and creating new blocks. Also, tokens are needed to rent a slot in the Kusama network: in order to launch your parachain, you will need to block a considerable amount of KSM in the blockchain. Using KSM, you can vote for changes in the network and promote other users to the validator positions. Finally, KSM can just be used to pay transaction fees on the Kusama network.

    To sum up. Kusama is basically the same Polkadot, only working four times faster and without technical audits. And here, no one is shocked by the discovered vulnerabilities and issues: the blockchain was explicitly created to identify them.

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