While Polkadot and Ethereum are entering the final stretch of the race for blockchain supremacy, comparing them is almost inevitable. They use a comparable architecture on the technical level and proof-of-stake consensus to achieve scalability. Vitalik Buterin and Dr. Gavin Wood also have a shared history in Ethereum.
This year is set to be a big one for both networks. Ethereum has been rolling out a series of improvements ahead of the merge of the current Ethereum main blockchain with the proof-of-stake Beacon blockchain. Ethereum will abandon its proof-of-work consensus and shift entirely to proof-of-stake, implementing additional chains (or shards) connected to the Beacon chain to improve scalability.
On the other hand, it seems that Polkadot is set to reach its own big milestone before Ethereum’s merge. Parachain auctions are the process of awarding the first shard slots on Polkadot, a step that Kusama, Polkadot’s experimental canary network, recently achieved. Whereas the initial five Kusama Parachain auctions went off without a problem, we could expect to see the network fully operational and supporting an array of use cases before the end of this year.
Two visionary founders
Though Buterin and Wood were both core members of the Ethereum co-founders team, the two founders have always hide that they compete with each other. Dr. Gavin Wood has invented the Solidity programming language and founded Parity Technologies, which has been the technology engine for Ethereum. He also founded the Web3 Foundation, which backed Polkadot, and left his position as Ethereum’s CTO in 2015.
While Wood and Buterin remain silent about the competition between Polkadot and Ethereum projects, Peter Mauric, Head of Public Affairs at Parity Technologies, recently addressed the comparison, commenting on Ethereum’s shortcomings and referring to the smart contract platform as a “proof of concept” which had provided the education necessary to build Polkadot.
Two comparable platforms
Polkadot launched on mainnet last year after over three years in development. Although it’s been running without any applications until the parachains are operational, Polkadot offers the promise of true interoperability between applications running on different blockchains. Over the time of Polkadot’s development, the Ethereum team has been working on Ethereum 2.0.
Both platforms share many technological similarities. Polkadot and Ethereum run on a variant of proof-of-stake. In Ethereum’s case, it’s an open validator network where anyone can join with the requisite minimum 32 ETH stake. In Polkadot’s Nominated Proof-of-Stake, DOT holders can stake DOT to nominate a validator.
Also, both platforms use sharding to enable scalability, connecting sharded chains to a central blockchain responsible for network security. Ethereum 2.0 is also ditched Solidity and the Ethereum Virtual Machine in favor of a web assembly language eWASM.
Polkadot is also built for standard web assembly languages. The critical advantage is that this opens up smart contract development to a far larger global pool of developers familiar with more general languages like C/C++, Go, and Rust.
On-chain vs. Off-chain Governance
There is one more crucial difference between the two platforms. While consensus in Polkadot takes place on-chain, governance for Ethereum has always been an off-chain matter. It seems Ethereum’s experience with controversial hard forks made Polkadot has ditched this model in favor of a forkless model of on-chain governance.
Still, there’s one more big difference between the two ambitious platforms’ roadmaps. While Polkadot had five years in development from scratch, with the opportunity to meticulously test everything twice (on a live, experimental environment on Kusama), the Ethereum team probably has a more difficult feat ahead.
It looks like they need to change the engine in a moving vehicle. It explains why it could be seven years or more between the Ethereum launch and the eventual transition to proof-of-stake. It will take even longer before the network achieves an awaited level of scalability. While when Polkadot goes live with its parachains, it will be a clean start from the outset.