Vitalik Clears Up Confusion Around Casper

Last night, Vitalik Buterin shot off a 75-message tweet storm summarizing the history of Casper, saving blockchain nerds and amateurs everywhere hours of frustrated Googling and inaccurate reddit commenting.

If there’s an open secret in the crypto space, it’s that no one knows what’s going on.

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts, hodlers, journalists, and developers alike: There’s so much going on in the crypto space, and so many actors, that even if you’re trying really hard, it’s all but impossible to keep pace. Even within a single blockchain like Ethereum, because it’s a decentralized, open-source project, there isn’t just one place to go to get everything you need to know.

Of course, publications like ETHNews strive to provide a hub for people to learn about the most noteworthy developments, but there’s plenty going on that isn’t necessarily newsworthy but is still worth knowing. There are Github pages, Gitter and Youtube channels, Medium blogs, and subreddits all dedicated to Ethereum. The Ethereum Foundation has links to all these and more. There’s a forum for Ethereum developers. There are the core devs’ meetings, the plasma implementers’ calls, and the reams of related information written about those calls.

It seems Vitalik Buterin has had enough of the crypto community’s confusion. On August 15, Buterin posted a 75-tweet-long history of Casper’s development and current status. If you’re not familiar (I wouldn’t blame you if you’re not, though you really should be), Casper is Ethereum’s proof-of-stake (PoS) project.

He starts at the beginning: in January 2014, a year and a half before the Ethereum network had even launched. Halfway through 2014, Vlad Zamfir joined in on the research, and “he quickly moved toward requiring validators to put down *deposits*, much larger in size than rewards, that could be taken away for misbehavior.” Though many in the crypto community obsess over Buterin, Zamfir, while less subject to media attention, has contributed at least his fair share to Casper’s development.

The next significant development Zamfir and Buterin came to was in regards to long range attacks. Buterin states that proof-of-work (PoW) advocates will generally argue that such attacks are unavoidable with PoS – an argument they use to dismiss the consensus mechanism. However, the duo found a solution:

The solution requires slightly more trust than PoW, but Buterin defends the protocol:

One noteworthy turn on the Casper journey was an inspiring failure, or in Buterin’s words, an “unproductive tangent.” As a writer who regularly goes on “unproductive tangents,” it’s good to be reminded that even someone as bizarrely productive as Buterin can have unfruitful ideas and sometimes waste a lot of time. Ultimately, it was his partner in code Zamfir who told him the idea was stupid: What are friends for? Though, in true human fashion (proof Buterin is not, in fact, a robot), he seems to have ignored Zamfir’s judgement and had to eventually come around to the idea on his own.

Next in the tweet storm (we’re only at #22 now), he talks about correct-by-construction (CBC) philosophy, and his simplified version of practical Byzantine fault tolerance. He discusses Casper the Friendly Finality Gadget, “which is [like Casper CBC] designed to be usable as an overlay on top of any PoW or PoS or other blockchain to add finality guarantees.” He also clarifies the significance of finality: “it is secure regardless of network latency (unlike confirmations in PoW).” Latency is a cornerstone to any Byzantine fault tolerant algorithm: if the network is asynchronous, fault tolerance algorithms fail. 

The tweet essay frames Zamfir and Buterin’s endeavors in Casper research in endearingly comedic terms: They disagree, they criticize each other’s work, they push each other to be better, and together they’re fearless heroes conquering impossible tasks. 

Buterin details the evolution of Casper FFG as contract and the promise that once held. He names FFG’s incompatibility with ewasm and sharded Casper, two key components of Ethereum’s future, as reasons for the specs’ demise. Instead, he explains, “the team” decided to fuse its research efforts to craft a Casper solution that is compatible with the impending evolution of the Ethereum blockchain.

At tweet #55, he’s caught us up to June of this year when the team officially and publicly decided to scrap FFG as a contract and introduced the idea of a Casper beacon chain that would allow for sharding integration. The most recent spec for the Casper beacon chain integrates FFG.

He spends the next few tweets discussing his simplified version of Leslie Lamport’s 99 percent byzantine fault tolerant algorithm, and then he closes his twitter essay and takes to commenting back and forth with Zamfir. Between educating the novices and engaging with us nerds, the man never stops. And thank God, because much of the Ethereum community seems to rely on him for information dissemination and idea creation.

Alison is an editor and occasional writer for ETHNews. She has a Master’s in English from the University of Wyoming. She lives in Reno with her spouse and growing animal family. Her favorite things to do include binge listening to podcasts, getting her chuckles via dog memes, and spending as much time outside as possible.

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