Vitalik Buterin Reveals Plans for the Ethereum Purge

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Vitalik Buterin has unveiled plans for an extensive overhaul of the Ethereum protocol. What digital clutter is Ethereum's lead architect aiming to remove, and which tools does he plan to employ?
In his recent piece titled “Next steps in the Purge,” Vitalik highlights Ethereum's immediate challenges: reducing unnecessary complexities and incorporating advanced security mechanisms. This strategy is intended to remove substantial amounts of digital debris, thereby freeing up significant space on the blockchain. 

The primary tool for bringing about such cleanliness will be EIP-6780, which was introduced in the Cancun-Deneb upgrade. 

Explore our detailed explanation of how this "vacuum" for superfluous smart contracts operates here.

Setting Up a Filter for Precompiles

The developers will now turn their attention towards tidying up certain precompiles. Buterin describes these as “Ethereum contracts that, instead of having EVM code, have logic that must be directly implemented by clients themselves. The idea is that precompiles can be used to implement complex forms of cryptography that cannot be implemented efficiently within the EVM.”

Some of these contracts are effectively supporting applications based on zk-SNARKs, a popular form of zero-knowledge proof. Here, the situation is clear.

However, some see minimal use:

  1. RIPEMD-160: A hash function to ensure Bitcoin compatibility;
  2. Identity: A precompilation that copies its input to its output (not to be confused with the input and output in cryptographic terms versus physical openings);
  3. BLAKE2: A hash function for enhanced Zcash compatibility;
  4. MODEXP: Modular exponentiation for large numbers, aiding RSA-based cryptography.

Given the low demand for these precompiles, Vitalik proposes their replacement with EVM code, potentially employing EIP-7266 for the purpose.

Revising Block Storage Model

A significant step in this purge initiative is the shift towards efficient block history storage methods, facilitated by EIP-4444. The erstwhile approach of each Ethereum node maintaining a complete blockchain history is being abandoned due to its excessive complexity and storage demands. Now, binary large objects ("blobs") will only be retained in the protocol for 18 days before being automatically deleted. 

The question arises, "How then will blockchain history be preserved, and data immutability ensured?"

Vitalik proposes using simple peer-to-peer networks akin to torrents or specialized protocols such as the Portal Network. This move acknowledges the impracticality of requiring every node to store data indefinitely and delegates this responsibility to protocols specifically designed for the efficient storage and transmission of large data volumes. 

This adjustment will streamline node synchronization processes and ease the operational burden on node operators.

Streamlining Data Catalogs

The final measure in purging unnecessary blockchain clutter involves adopting SSZ.

SSZ (Simple Serialize) is a more straightforward data storage scheme for Ethereum. SSZ serves as a revamped labeling system for data categorization. 

Key benefits:

  1. Standardization: Ensuring data is uniformly stored, irrespective of type, which facilitates swift retrieval.
  2. Efficiency: Reducing storage space requirements by eliminating the need for extra packaging.
  3. Flexibility: Offering designated spaces for integrating new tools seamlessly into the system.

SSZ aims to quicken information retrieval, simplify block structures, and enhance the developer experience. More available space translates to the ability to deploy additional nodes, thus maintaining the blockchain's decentralization.

This detailed approach by Vitalik Buterin towards enhancing Ethereum's blockchain scalability can significantly "lighten" the network's load and improve data processing efficiency.