New Report Lists 4 Major Technical Risks Facing Ethereum

In a new report about Ethereum from digital asset research firm Delphi Digital, some of the potential technical risks facing the smart-contracting platform are covered and briefly analyzed. Although the report notes that the list of risks is not exhaustive, the technical risks that are included in no particular order are the size of the blockchain, Infura centralization, cross-shard communications, and code vulnerabilities.

1. Size of the Blockchain

The size of the blockchain should be a technical concern for any crypto asset project. It is often cited as a key aspect of the greater debate around scalability, perhaps most notably in terms of the block size limit during Bitcoin’s scaling controversy.

According to the Delphi Digital report, the size of the Ethereum blockchain is currently 188 GB for a Geth full node and 2.12 TB for an archival node. For perspective, the report adds that the Bitcoin blockchain is around 200 GB, while also having existed for nearly twice as long as Ethereum.

“This is a problem because the larger the blockchain grows the more difficult it becomes to independently run a node, which hurts decentralization,” notes the report.

In terms of short-term solutions, the report points to state rent and storage pruning as two proposed solutions. Longer term, the report indicates sharding should be able to help by partitioning the network in Ethereum 2.0.

2. Infura Centralization

While the Delphi Digital report admits Infura has become an important tool for Ethereum developers, it also points out that there are centralization risks around this entity.

Infura helps developers, services, and decentralized applications (dapps) by effectively allowing them to outsource their need for a full node to a trusted third party. According to Delphi Digital, Infura processes more than 10 billion requests per day, serves more than 50 thousand dapps and developers, and accounts for five to ten percent of all Ethereum nodes.

The report points out that Infura is a single point of failure for the Ethereum network due to the number of services and dapps that have come to rely on it.

Delphi Digital also cites an interview in which Infura co-founder Michael Wuehler told CoinDesk, “If every single dapp in the world is pointed to Infura, and we decided to turn that off, then we could, and the dapps would stop working. That’s the concern and that’s a valid concern.”

3. Cross-Shard Communication

Sharding is a core component of Ethereum’s scaling roadmap, but according to Delphi Digital, it has a communication issue.

“For example, two smart contracts running on different shards (up to 1,024 shards in the current spec) could process functions in parallel, however, having them talk to one another is currently difficult,” says the report.

Although there are six proposals for solving this issue, Delphi Digital views all of them as inefficient.

“Solving this issue is critical for the long-term success of Ethereum,” the report adds.

4. Code Vulnerabilities

The final major technical risk listed by Delphi Digital in their report on Ethereum is code vulnerabilities. Anyone who has been aware of Ethereum for some time will have seen this issue pop up in the past in the form of The DAO hack, the Parity multisig bug, and the recent delay of the Constantinople upgrade.
According to the report, these issues are due to the “drawbacks of Solidity as a programming language” and “the added complexity that comes with being turing-complete”.

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