Bitcoin, Ethereum, and SolanaIn this article, we'll discuss popular blockchains, their consensus models, and their unique benefits, drawbacks, and tradeoffs.
Which blockchain is the best?
This is a question that we will each have to answer on our own! Each consensus model has its unique benefits, drawbacks, and tradeoffs.
It’s a developer’s job to be aware of tradeoffs they may be making between security and user experience. This is exaggerated in the world of crypto and web3, where we are responsible for handling peoples’ assets with our code! This is an industry often criticized for its lack of security and poor user experience. This battle between security and user experience has drastic ramifications for how we build decentralized software and influence user adoption.
Let’s explore this by comparing three of the biggest chains: Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Solana, and how they approach these issues.
Bitcoin is the original blockchain and utilizes Proof of Work. A common criticism of Proof of Work is that it is incredibly inefficient and uses a lot of energy. Ironically, this criticism highlights one of the primary features, not bugs, of the Bitcoin chain. Bitcoin is not designed to be a robust, expressive, programmable smart contract system. It is designed to be one thing: difficult to gain money.
The resource-intensiveness of Bitcoin and the Proof of Work model are slower than newer consensus mechanisms, but they encourage decentralization and are more secure by design! By requiring an external expenditure of energy, Bitcoin requires a constant flow of resources in order to mine. This contributes to the scarcity of the currency.
The Bitcoin chain is slow, but again, that is by design. Blockchains are designed for one specific purpose: to maintain a historical, immutable ledger across a decentralized network of nodes. By design, the network can only run as fast as the slowest node because every node needs to validate every transaction for the chain to function as intended.
This means that the lower the hardware requirements of a node, the more decentralized the network can be. If you can run a node on a Raspberry Pi, that is going to make running a node much more accessible than if you need a supercomputer. If more people have the necessary computing power to run a node, then the network’s speed will decrease. Bitcoin is slow and secure, but it is very difficult to build on and can have a slow user experience.
This brings us to the next chain we’re going to talk about, Solana.
Solana is a very different project with a very different goal than Bitcoin. Solana optimizes for speed and user experience. Solana uses the Proof of History consensus mechanism, and the Solana network is quite centralized compared to the Bitcoin network. This is because there are much higher requirements to run a Solana node than a Bitcoin node.
The Solana blockchain is more centralized and arguably less secure and robust, but the tradeoff here is that the user experience is much better! Solana developers are well aware that for web3 to take off, we need to expand user adoption to non-technical folks. Solana is the closest to this goal right now.
Ethereum has moved from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake for the sake of efficiency and energy usage. While it will certainly gain these two things by leaving behind Proof of Work, it will come at a cost: an increased tendency toward centralization.
With Proof of Stake, you don’t have to continually expend a resource to gain currency. You can instead just accumulate, and your influence over the network grows over time! A major criticism of Proof of Stake is that it is too similar to the broken financial system we have today: the more of the network’s resources you own, the more your influence grows. This is not the case in a Proof of Work network - with Proof of Work the amount you own does not influence the consensus of the network.
Ultimately, the old crypto adage of DYOR (Do Your Own Research) applies to which chain we decide to build on.