How Meta Transactions will Scale Ethereum.

(or, “The Ethereum of tomorrow, Today.”)

Photo by Lee Weng on Unsplash

When I first learned about MetaTransactions, I was skeptical to say the least. I was on a journey to understand if Ethereum would really scale, really make it to version 2.0 and MetaTransactions seemed like a temporary solution to a temporary problem. A complicated round-about-way to address what seemed like a fundamental flaw in Ethereum 1.0 architecture: gas. Specifically, the need for users to have some.

I will admit, I was in a skeptical period about Ethereum in general. There were more flavors of plasma than there were projects that seemed like they needed it. People wanted to build blockchains on top of blockchains just so users could use the blockchain. It seemed like a mess. In canvasing regular Jane Doe developers at Ethereum events, I didn’t feel alone in my skepticism either. As one developer put it over drinks in a dark catacomb bar in Prague: “no one can even tell me if it’s going to work”. She had reason to be critical: having just secured a sizable investment from VC’s for her blockchain startup- the future of Ethereum was looking uncomfortably vague.

Of course, I had it all wrong.

Since DevCon Prague, I’ve joined Zeppelin and been on a whirlwind tour of the best, brightest and most practical corners of the Ethereum community. It was Ramon Recuero who turned me onto Austin Griffith’s post about MetaTransactions, but it was seeing the burner wallet at ETHDenver and the thousands of transactions it processed with barely a hiccup that started me down a new path. Here was Ethereum 1.0 technology, combined with MetaTransactions, and an xDai POA network. This combo enabled fast free money transfers, in real life, with real people (who had no ETH), literally years before ETH2.0. It wasn’t perfect. But it was here, and I got it.

Almost.

What it really took for me was reading Yoav Weiss’s medium article: 1–800-Ethereum.

Yoav starts the article with a Sun Tzu quote: “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” and as I read through the subsequent Gas Stations Network EIP I started to understand what he meant. In talking with him more over drinks at the ETHCC closing party, I saw the real simple genius of the Gas Stations Network: if we can verify someone has asked us to do something, and they can as us to do it in a trust-less manner, then really, they can ask us to do anything. As long as we are getting paid and think it’s a good deal, we will (probably) do it.

The magic of the Gas Stations Network, in my opinion, is that it can be up to DApps and Developers to decide which relayers they trust to do things for them. Since the relayers can’t steal funds, applications are free to choose them based on their own requirements such as fee, speed, reliability, etc…

Relayers can also be a new kind of generalized mining. A MetaTransaction relayer is light enough to run efficiently on a Raspberry Pi Zero– a $10 computer without exhausting the computing resources. This means that relayers have plenty of computational (and possibly storage) space to do other tasks for users. A general MetaTransaction relayer network could:

  • solve the “no-eth” on boarding problem for ethereum
  • pin and serve files from IPFS
  • Guard State Channels and enable limitless off-chain scaling
  • support Vitalik Buterin’s “Minimum Viable Mixer” for Ethereum
  • running on multiple blockchains simultaneously could facilitate inter-blockchain-communication

In fact, if relayers are built with a pluggable architecture then there might be no limit to what sort of requests people could make of relayers. Their funds are safe, and in the case of state channels, transactions can even happen off chain at unlimited speeds.

An additional advantage of this kind of solution is that it is simple to reason about. We use web2.0 (even 1.0!) technologies to solve Blockchain 2.0 and beyond problems. The technology is accessible and comprehensible to the average developer. It gives you the convenience of an API with the security of the main-net, and the flexibility of building whatever you so please. Relayers can be implemented in any programing language, which opens it up to being a convenient solution for nearly any developer.

The best part is this isn’t future vaporware. This exists right now. In March we announced The Gas Station Network Alliance along with TabooKey, MetaCartel, Austin Griffith, Portis, Pillar, GroundHog and more. If you’ve used the burner wallet on xDai without needing to hold Eth first: you’ve been using MetaTransactions. You can start building and testing right now with code from the TabooKey Github.

So thats it.

I went looking for the future of Ethereum, and in my opinion, I found that it is already here. Maybe we have been so excited about flashy new tech, protocols, and consensus mechanisms, that we forgot how flexible the technology we already have, is. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be excited as anyone for ETH 2.0, but I don’t have to wait for it to start building today. Maybe no one does.

The technology we need to scale our Ethereum applications tomorrow, we already have today.

— Dennison

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Photo by Lee Weng on Unsplash

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