Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder and chief scientist of Ethereum, penned a blog post advocating for greater exploration into Plasma-based scaling solutions on Nov. 14.
Buterin argues that advances in cryptographic validity proofs allow developers to overcome many of the issues previously encountered with Plasma, offering Plasma as a design that could underpin EVM validiums.
Validiums have recently gained traction as a model for Layer 2 scaling solutions, with Polygon announcing plans to merge its PoS Chain and ZkEVM networks into a single zero-knowledge validium back in June. Polygon described validiums as a “lower-cost, higher-throughput sibling of a rollup” that publishes and stores data off-chain to further reduce transaction fees.
Plasma was pioneered in a 2017 paper co-authored by Buterin and Joseph Poon, the co-founder of Lightning Labs — the team behind the Bitcoin sidechain, Lightning Network. Plasma-based solutions store all computation and data off-chain, with the exception of deposits, withdrawals, and Merkle roots.
“This opens the door to very large scalability gains that are not bottlenecked by on-chain data availability,” Buterin said.
Projects leveraging Plasma proliferated in 2018, including Plasma Cash, Minimal Viable Plasma, Plasma Prime, and Omise Go in Q4 2017. However, the technology has since been overshadowed by rollups, which have been adopted by Ethereum’s leading Layer 2 scaling solutions including Arbitrum, Optimism, and ZkSync Era.
Buterin says recent progress in the development of validity proofs (also known as ZK-SNARKS) again opens the door to exploring Plasma-based designs again. “The largest challenge of making Plasma work for payments, client-side data storage, can be efficiently addressed with validity proofs,” he said.
Past Plasma solutions encountered challenges when dealing with fungible tokens, but Buterin notes innovative strategies for addressing this issue and preventing double-spending. Buterin added that Plasma’s previous lack of compatibility with the Ethereum Virtual Machine — Ethereum’s core smart contract engine — can also be overcome by leveraging validity proofs.
“In 2023, Plasma is an underrated design space,” Buterin said. “Rollups remain the gold standard, and have security properties that cannot be matched… However, Plasma lets us completely sidestep the data availability question, greatly reducing transaction fees. Plasma can be a significant security upgrade for chains that would otherwise be validiums.”
Still, Buterin conceded that Plasma is not suited to all web3 applications, such as collateralized debt positions, liquidity pools on automated-market-maker DEXes, and other protocols where assets do not have a “clear economic owner.”
But not everyone in the Ethereum ecosystem shares Buterin’s excitement for Plasma.
“It’s kind of funny that we’re talking about Plasma in 2023,” said Anthony Sassano, host of The Daily Gwei podcast. “Back in 20217, 2018, a little bit of 2019, it was all the rage [but] because there were so many limitations… we ended up pivoting to [rollups].”
“ZkEVMs and [data availability] solutions are making so much progress that it is IMO not worth it to go back to the complexities of Plasma exit games,” tweeted Martin Koppelmann, co-founder of Gnosis Chain. Koppelmann’s post was liked by Mihailo Bjelic, the co-founder of Polygon.
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