Scaling Blockchains with ZK Proofs
Published on: May 1, 2024

Scaling Blockchains with ZK Proofs

As blockchain technology continues to gain traction, the need for scalable and secure solutions has become increasingly evident. Two key concepts that have emerged to address these challenges are Validity Proofs and Zero-Knowledge (ZK) Proofs. In this blog post, we’ll explore the intricacies of these cryptographic proofs and the aspects that make them so powerful.

What are ZK Proofs?

For all the buzz surrounding the term “zero-knowledge proofs” and their potential for enabling privacy-preserving blockchains, it’s important to note that most Layer 2 (L2) validity rollups do not actually utilize proofs that possess the cryptographic property known as “zero-knowledge.” Instead, these L2 solutions primarily leverage the scalability attributes of cryptographic proofs.

ZK proofs allow a prover to demonstrate to a verifier that a particular computation was executed correctly, without revealing any of the sensitive input data consumed by that computation. The privacy-preserving nature of ZK proofs makes them highly desirable for applications that prioritize confidentiality and data protection. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the majority of L2 validity rollups do not harness the ZK property of ZK proofs. Instead, they focus primarily on leveraging the scalability advantages offered by cryptographic proofs.

blockchain usage zk proofs

Validity Proofs are cryptographic proofs used to establish the integrity of transaction execution.  In their seminal 1991 paper titled “Checking Computations in Polylogarithmic Time,” L. Babai, L. Fortnow, L.A. Lewin, and M. Szegedy presented a remarkable example of the capabilities of cryptographic proofs. The authors described a protocol in which “a single PC can monitor the operation of a herd of supercomputers with powerful but unreliable software and untested hardware.” This means a machine with limited computational capacity can verify the integrity of computations performed by a set of far more powerful computers, even if the party controlling those computers is malicious or has an incentive to misreport the results.

Validity Proofs and L2s

The primary goal of cryptographic proofs in the blockchain context is to enable nodes to vouch for the validity of transactions while exerting minimal computational effort. L2 solutions employ cryptographic proofs to enable efficient verification of large batches of transactions, allowing for increased throughput and reduced costs compared to executing each transaction individually on the main blockchain. By offloading computation to an offchain environment (where computation is cheap), and using proofs to establish the validity of the computations performed in the offchain environment, Validity rollups significantly enhance the scalability of blockchain networks without compromising security or decentralization.

STARKs

The STARK (Scalable, Transparent ARgument of Knowledge) proof system enables the proving and verification of computations. STARK enables processing a large computation, generating a proof that validates the computation’s correctness, and then verifying the proof in very few steps.

STARKs can play a key role in blockchain scalability by allowing large computations to be done offchain, where it is cheaper, leaving only the verification, which requires a fraction of the computation, to be done onchain. This results in many more transactions per second (TPS) at a fraction of the cost, while inheriting Ethereum’s security. As such, STARKs enable a new class of applications that were previously not feasible onchain.

StarkWare pioneered the STARK technology that powers StarkEx, its flagship scaling solution for Ethereum, and Starknet, a permissionless validity rollup. These solutions batch together and compute thousands of transactions, and then verify their validity onchain with a single STARK proof, resulting in improved user experience and reduced fees while maintaining the security of the Ethereum settlement layer.

Conclusion

While ZK Proofs offer unparalleled privacy and confidentiality, they are not employed by most blockchains for their ZK properties. Validity Proofs have emerged as a crucial component in L2 solutions, enabling efficient transaction verification and scalability. By leveraging the power of cryptographic proofs, such as STARKs, blockchain networks can achieve increased throughput, reduced costs, and enhanced user experience without compromising security or decentralization. As the blockchain ecosystem continues to evolve, the adoption and further development of these cryptographic proofs will play a pivotal role in unlocking the full potential of this transformative technology, paving the way for a new era of scalable and secure applications.

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