BlockchainDaily NewsDecentralisation

How Blockchain Bloat Is Threatening the Decentralised Nature of Blockchain

Written by: Khairul Haqeem, Journalist, AOPG.

Blockchain technology, widely hailed as the backbone of a new era of Internet and financial systems, has earned its reputation for the decentralised, transparent, and secure environment it provides. Built upon the foundation of “Distributed Ledger Technology” (DLT), blockchains operate in a decentralised manner where each node (or server) on the network possesses a complete record of all the transactions made. The initial vision of Satoshi Nakamoto, the enigmatic inventor of Bitcoin, was to establish a financial system free from the clutches of centralised banks and governments. To ensure this decentralisation, Nakamoto designed a system where shutting down one server wouldn’t incapacitate the network. But like any technology, as it scales, it brings forth certain challenges.

The very essence of blockchain’s strength – its decentralised nature, presents one such challenge. As transactions increase, the blocks of data storing those transactions expand as well. Each full node in the network, upholding the principle of redundancy, is mandated to store all these blocks. This leads to what the industry now terms as “Blockchain Bloat.” Essentially, as the volume of transaction data rises, every node is burdened with an ever-increasing amount of data, causing potential slow-downs and making the process of initiating a new node a time-intensive endeavour. Imagine downloading the entire history of a decade’s worth of financial transactions just to start participating!

For technologies pegged to revolutionise industries and processes, scalability and efficiency are key. If blockchain’s promise is hampered by its own foundational principles, its mass adoption could be at stake. The introduction of terms like “Initial Block Download” (IBD), which for networks like Bitcoin can stretch into weeks, only emphasises the gravity of the problem.

However, this is not to paint a bleak picture. As with all challenges, it opens avenues for innovation. Developers and blockchain architects are already probing into solutions, ranging from sharding protocols to ephemeral blockchains, ensuring the technology remains robust and scalable.

Bloated Blues: Unpacking Blockchain’s Growing Pains

When Blockchains Overeat: Understanding Bloat

Blockchain bloat—sound like a post-Thanksgiving regret? As much as we’d love to keep the levity, this is a technical concern rather than a culinary one. Blockchain bloat, also known in some circles as state or chain bloat, arises when a blockchain has swollen to the extent that the very nodes sustaining this ledger can’t store, process, or share its data with efficiency. And much like overindulging during dinner, bloat leads to sluggishness and a lack of grace.

From Building Blocks to Chains: A Brief Refresher

Every blockchain is an ever-growing chain of blocks, each connected to its predecessor. With every block containing a series of transactions, metadata, a timestamp, and a nod to the previous block, it’s no surprise they are so named. The addition of a block to the blockchain is not random or arbitrary. Instead, it follows a consensus mechanism—like a decision-making protocol—that varies across blockchains. Crucially, once a block is added, modifying its contents becomes virtually impossible without breaking the very chain that holds everything together.

Growing Pains: The Challenge of Scaling Up

A huge potential problem is that what works at a small scale might struggle with expansion. As more transactions pile onto a blockchain, the resources and time demanded of network nodes increase. But the challenges don’t stop there. Toss in a sprinkle of microtransactions, a handful of empty blocks, and a pinch of low-value transactions, and voila, you’ve got a recipe for bloat.

This “bloat effect” does more than slow things down; it can push out the little guys, the individual users and small-scale participants who may lack the resources to keep up. Furthermore, when only the resource-rich can participate, the blockchain leans into centralisation, challenging its core principles of decentralisation and inclusivity.

Bright Ideas: Solutions to Curb the Bloat

Nevertheless, the blockchain community is anything but passive. A plethora of solutions have surfaced to tackle the bloat problem:

  • Snip and Store With Pruning: Think of it as a trim for your ledger, keeping only the most essential bits.
  • Roll With the Rollups: Process multiple transactions off-chain and then roll them up into one neat package on-chain.
  • Sidestepping With Sidechains: A complementary blockchain, running parallel to the main act, offering more room to maneuver.
  • Shards of Hope: Dividing the blockchain into bite-sized shards for parallel processing.
  • Chatting in State Channels: Like a private chat room, allowing participants to transact without shouting it on the main blockchain.
  • Merkle Trees: Data, but Make It Organised: A structured data tree that’s all about efficient storage.
  • Delegate to Navigate: Entrusting a few to do the work of many, is a controversial yet effective way to streamline.
  • Differential Approach: Store differences, not repetitions. A bit like noting the changes in every new book edition.
  • The Mystery of ZKPs: Proving something without revealing the secret sauce. Cryptography magic!
  • SegWit: More Room, Same Size: Segregating witness data for more efficient block use.
  • Simply Size Up: Controversial as it is, there’s always the brute force method of just making blocks bigger.

The Bitcoin Bloat Bout

When talking bloat, one can’t forget the spicy drama of Bitcoin. As this crypto OG grew in fame, the limited 1MB block size became an Achilles heel. Discussions heated up. One camp pitched increasing block size while the other was all about optimising. The resolution? There wasn’t one. Instead, in 2017, the pro-larger-block-size faction took their ball and created a new game—enter Bitcoin Cash

While blockchain bloat is a concern, it’s also a testament to the technology’s growing adoption and success. And with an active community seeking solutions, the future remains as bright as ever for blockchain technology.

Khairul Haqeem

Khairul is proficient in writing tech-related pieces for the Asia-Pacific region. Some of his most notable work is focused on emerging technologies, data storage, and cybersecurity. His prior experience includes stints as a writer for two iSaham sites: Crepetoast.com and Solanakit.com. Before beginning his writing career, he worked in the field of education. Aside from studying engineering at the International Islamic University Malaysia, he has also worked as a subtitler for Iyuno Global, serving clients like Netflix. His specialities are: • Disruptive Tech. • Data Storage. • Cybersecurity. • Decentralised Tech. • Blockchains.

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