Will Matter Labs's ambitious new plan save Ethereum?

Matter Labs wants to use the latest technology to help Ethereum scale and it plans to bring in a touch of privacy too.

3 min read
An optimistic approach to scaling Ethereum.

Matter Labs has released its plan to help the Ethereum blockchain scale to thousands, or millions, of users. An idea it has been working on for a year now, following a grant from the Ethereum Foundation.

The Ethereum blockchain struggles to handle many transactions right now—nowhere near enough to support high volumes of people using the network. Whenever a platform puts any significant load on the Ethereum network, it buckles under the strain. Currently, Ethereum is undergoing a radical shift to a new blockchain that will be more scalable—but it’s a challenging move, and one that will take several years (although its next step, the Istanbul upgrade, will be reached tomorrow).

In the meantime, Ethereum diehards have latched onto one particular technology that offers a chance to scale in the short term: optimistic rollups. And Matter Labs has dived in and come up with a proposal that, you never know, might just work.

“Today, we at Matter Labs are excited to reveal our vision for ZK Sync: a trustless scaling and privacy solution for Ethereum based on ZK Rollup, with an emphasis on superb user and developer experiences,” Alex Gluchowski, founder of Matter Labs wrote, in a Medium post. “We’re also proud to announce the launch of the devnet for ZK Sync.”

ZK Sync will be a new way to make Ethereum transactions, but in a way that doesn’t bloat the blockchain or cause transaction fees to rise sky-high. At the same time, transaction information, like how much is being transferred, will be kept private.

The idea is to build a second layer solution for Ethereum, which is built on top of the network and can interact with it. It uses optimistic rollups, a technology highlighted as promising by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, to support more transactions and people using the network.

Optimistic rollups build on the notion of sidechains, where work is offloaded to a parallel blockchain. The sidechain is used to batch a bunch of transactions together and upload them as one transaction on the main Ethereum blockchain. It means that each transaction is protected by the security of the main blockchain, but the strain on the network is lifted from it.

Matter Labs’s platform will also use complex cryptography known as zero-knowledge proofs to make sure that transactions are kept private. Ethereum is a transparent blockchain, so transactions can be seen by anyone—but using this technology keeps the transaction information hidden from view.

Now, many companies in the crypto space are heavily researching and experimenting with such privacy technology—think the Electric Coin Company and its Zcash privacy coin—and some have been looking into optimistic rollups too, like Fuel Labs. But what’s interesting about Matter Labs’ new proposal is that they are going to focus on user experience, something that is wholly lacking in crypto technology across the board, and a friction point for achieving the much-touted goal of mass adoption.

Gluchowski explains that the people who stick with crypto through thick and thin are those who believe in its fundamentals—but to attract millions, or billions, of people, the technology needs to be smooth.

“To attract millions of mainstream users, we need to offer them a user experience that doesn’t just match these expectations, but exceeds them,” he said, adding, “Everything must be fast, simple, intuitive and error-tolerant.”

But that’s easier said than done.

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