The ethereum network’s shift from a Proof of Work (PoW) to Proof of Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism is one of the most anticipated upgrades to the network of late.
As the Merge’s date approaches, expectations have been mounting regarding its benefits and potential consequences. How close are we toward the great Merge, and how will Ethereum’s development path progress post-Merge?
On July 14 2022 , Ethereum core developer Tim Beiko said in a conference call that the Ethereum network’s consensus algorithm is expected to migrate to PoS on Sept 19. The process, widely known as the Merge, may take more than six months and is scheduled to be completed in the first half of 2023.
The Merge represents the joining of Ethereum’s existing execution layer (Mainnet) with its new PoS consensus layer, the Beacon Chain, which is a separate blockchain created in 2020 that has since been running in parallel with Ethereum.
On March 15 2022, the “Merge” successfully took place on the Kiln testnet, which is the final public testnet before the transition to PoS later this year. On June 8 2022, Ropsten, the first of three Ethereum testnets, merged its PoW execution layers with itsPoS consensus layers. On July 6 2022, the second testnet Sepolia activated PoS consensus at block number 1,450,409.
On August 11, the final testnet, Goerli, finalized its merge without any major issues, suggesting that there will likely be no delays to the tentative September 19 Ethereum Merge date.
One day later, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin said that the exact date for the Merge will depend on the hash rate. The Ethereum network needs an average hash rate of 872.2 TH/s to achieve the TTD of 58750000000000000000000 on September 15 at 04:44 UTC.
On August 18, Ethereum core developers confirmed a final mainnet TTD of 58750000000000000000000, meaning the Ethereum Merge will officially go live eight days later, on September 15.
Once The Merge happens, PoW mining will no longer be a valid means of block production since validators will be assigned to secure the Ethereum Mainnet.
The Merge signals only the beginning of the comprehensive planned upgrade for the Ethereum network. During the Ethereum Community Conference (ETHCC), Vitalik Buterin also introduced Ethereum’s future development roadmap, which consists of the following five parts：
The surge refers to the addition of Ethereum sharding, a scaling solution that could further enable cheap Layer 2 blockchains, make nodes easier to be operated on, and lower the cost of rollups or bundled transactions.
The verge will execute “Verkle trees” and “stateless clients.” These technical upgrades will enable users to become network validators without having to store extensive amounts of data on their machines. This will help improve the scalability of the Ethereum network.
The purge refers to the cutting down on the amount of space a validator has to have on his/her hard drive, which will help reduce network congestion.
The splurge includes a series of “minor” upgrades to ensure the network runs smoothly after the first four phases.
Vitalik also mentioned that the above-mentioned five roadmap components will not take place in stages, but occur simultaneously.
When the roadmap is fully completed, the Ethereum network will be a more scalable system capable of processing 100,000 transactions per second.
Will there be an Ethereum hard fork?
A blockchain fork is fundamentally a division in the network where the two chains share the same ledger history but continue in their own directions after the separation. There could be various reasons for blockchain forking, which could be technical in nature or stem from a difference in values.
Cutting down on energy consumption is a major reason for Ethereum to upgrade from PoW to PoS. Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains use more than 317 TWh hours of energy annually, while PoS consensus is 99.95% less energy-intensive than PoW. However, displeased Ethereum miners gather enough support to continue operating a PoW version of Ethereum, a network fork could potentially occur.
Compared with other smaller scale forks that have taken place in recent years, a fork after the Merge faces more challenges. As one of the most popular blockchains in the world, Ethereum boasts a market cap of nearly US$203 billion at time of writing, with countless decentralized apps and financial systems depending on the blockchain to function. Any fork on Ethereum will thereforebe more complex than its predecessors, and the outcome would affect millions of users.
“Any time you’re making changes to a complex system, there must inevitably arise unintended consequences,” says Christopher Calicott, a crypto venture investor.
The Merge has been simulated on multiple Ethereum testnets, and all of these test runs have been successful enough to prompt the push forward, in accordance with the released timeline. However, should miners establish a fork after the Merge, how far could the ETH-PoW chain go without the support of Buterin and other Ethereum core developers? We can only wait and see.