Ethereum has a history of scalability proposals: "proof of proof of work," hub-and-spoke chains, and hypercube chains, all of which emerged in 2014 before the Ethereum mainnet even launched. The concept of an improved network (or Ethereum 2.0) came along with the development of the blockchain itself.
Although the scalability ideas above have since been (for the most part) abandoned, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin noted in his Devcon4 keynote address on Wednesday, October 31, that one initiative, Serenity, is still kicking. He described this stage of Ethereum development as "a realization of all of these different strands of research that we have been spending all of our time on for the last four years." Casper, sharding, eWASM, and other scalability and efficiency improvements fall under the umbrella of Serenity.
In describing Serenity, Buterin expressed his disapproval for the names that others use to refer to this group of initiatives. "I refuse to use the word shasper [a fusion of Casper and sharding] because I find it insanely lame," he said. "We'll call it Serenity."
He went on to further describe Serenity, saying it would be a new blockchain but linked to the extant proof-of-work chain, a true "world computer," and more decentralized. He also laid out four key phases of Serenity implementation:
- Phase 0, "halfway between a testnet and a mainnet" for Serenity.
- Phase 1, where simplified sharding comes into play.
- Phase 2, enabling state transitions (including the switch to the new virtual machine, eWASM).
- Phase 3 and beyond, which includes further iteration and improvement.
Moreover, Buterin said he expects Serenity to be "pure" proof-of-stake consensus, feature quicker time to synchronous confirmation (8-16 seconds), and boast approximately 1,000 times higher scalability, among other characteristics. Beyond Serenity, he expects a handful of future developments, including but not limited to research around "semi-private" chains, upgrades to STARK technology (a variant of zk-SNARKs), and even lower confirmation times.
Although Buterin provided his thoughts about the future of Serenity, he also discussed the immediate next steps for the initiative. In order, those steps are stabilizing the Serenity protocol specification (in terms of the currently rapid speed of its progress), continuing testing and development, implementing testnets across clients, holding security audits, and then, of course, the launch.
In closing his keynote, Buterin remained hopeful about the launch of Serenity: "That's basically the milestone that we've all been waiting for, that we've been working toward for the last four to five years, and a milestone which is really no longer so far away."
The ship to Serenity is sailing, my friends.
Correction (11/3/2018): An earlier version of this article's summary referred to Ethereum's coming PoS consensus algorithm as "more delegated" than PoW. This was meant only in the sense that in PoS algorithms, rather than having miners compete to create a block most quickly, "delegate" that responsibility to a block producer (who is, in this case, intermittently selected at random by an algorithm, not by voters as in DPoS). This was edited to avoid confusion. Ethereum is not moving toward a delegated proof-of-stake algorithm.