What is Polkadot?

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Polkadot is a shard network designed to connect specialized chains and bring greater interoperability to the blockchain world. The protocol aims to provide the necessary infrastructure to help teams build innovative projects without having to build everything from scratch. By utilizing sharding and parallel processing, Polkadot can support high transaction throughput, enabling blockchain projects on the network to operate at scale. It’s a highly ambitious project that’s already making waves in the blockchain and DLT space. So let’s dive in to see what makes Polkadot so interesting.

What is Polkadot?

What is Polkadot and what does it aim to achieve?

At this point the benefits of the current generation of blockchain technology are well understood, but so are the drawbacks. For starters, legacy blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum typically struggle when they have to process large transaction volumes, which leads to network congestions and transaction fee hikes. This limited ability to scale is one of the biggest challenges the blockchain community is working to solve today.

Then there is the fact that currently, blockchain networks are not very good at interacting with one another. For example, sending a message from Bitcoin to Ethereum is not as straightforward a task as it needs to be for blockchain to have any hope of reaching ubiquity.

Other issues include security challenges with new blockchains and the fact that building a blockchain from scratch is genuinely difficult. 

Launched last year, Polkadot is a proof-of-stake network that aims to solve these challenges and build the necessary infrastructure to support a decentralized web of the future. It is often referred to as a multi-chain network or a ‘blockchain for blockchains’, which hints at its lofty ambitions. The project is driven by the Web3 Foundation and Parity Technologies, led by Jutta Steiner and Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood.

Polkadot has its own token, DOT, which powers the network’s ecosystem, including its robust consensus mechanism and governance.

Polkadot – technical overview

Polkadot is designed to support transfer of any data, not just tokens between chains on its network and even to and from external networks like Bitcoin. This is possible thanks to Polkadot’s unique infrastructure, which takes sharding to a whole new level. So let’s examine what makes Polkadot tick.

The Relay chain

The beating heart of Polkadot, the Relay chain is the source of the network’s shared security and consensus and facilitates cross-chain interoperability. Shard chains, referred to as ‘parachains’ in Polkadot, are able to connect to the Relay chain and use it for transaction validation and security.

Polkadot’s consensus is maintained by four types of network participants:

  • Nominators – these secure the Relay Chain by selecting Validators and staking DOT tokens.
  • Vallidators – their role is to secure the Relay Chain by staking DOT tokens, validating proofs from Collators and participating in the consensus with other validators
  • Collators – they are responsible for maintaining shard chains by collecting shard transactions and producing proofs for validators.
  • Fishermen – their responsibility is to monitor the network and report bad behavior to validators. Collators, as well as any parachain full node, can perform this role.

Parachains

Using Polkadot’s technology and tooling, such as the modular development framework Substrate, developers can build sovereign shard chains that can have their own tokens and specialized functionalities. These chains can connect with the Relay chain via dedicated slots. Because they work in parallel, shard chains are called parachains.

Parathreads

Parachains that cannot afford or simply doesn’t need to lease a full parachain slot can still have access, albeit a temporary one, to the Relay chain, thanks to parathreads. The idea here is that instead of hosting parachains, some slots are set aside to form a parathread pool that stores the blocks of the winners of a block-by-block parathread fee auction. This is essentially a pay-as-you-go model that allows chains to pay for Relay Chain access on a block-by-block basis.

Bridges

We already established that Polkadot is designed to facilitate transfer of data between chains in its ecosystem. However, the project’s ultimate goal is to enable interoperability across the entire decentralized web, which necessitates a way for native Polkadot chains to communicate with external networks like Ethereum and Bitcoin. Polkadot achieves this through bridges.

Benefits of Polkadot

Even at this relatively early stage of Polkadot’s development, the protocol brings several distinct benefits for the blockchain space. Here are some of Polkadot’s main advantages:

High throughput capability

Polkadot can process many transactions on multiple parachains in parallel, which makes it much more scalable than legacy networks. 

Chain customization

Polkadot enables developers to customize their chains so that they can best serve a particular purpose. Optimizing chains for specific use cases like finance or gaming improves their efficiency and security. And in Substrate, developers have a powerful and modular framework that allows them to easily add features and functionalities that fit the design and purpose of their chains.

Shared consensus and security

One of the biggest bottlenecks when developing a blockchain from scratch is building a robust consensus mechanism and ensuring that the network is well secured. New blockchains often experience security issues, like struggling against 51% attacks, for example. But through the Relay chain, parachains can take advantage of Polkadot’s built-in consensus and security, This allows for developers to focus their efforts on building the core functionalities and features of their chains.

Interoperability

The fact that Polkadot enables easy communication between separate parachains, as well as interaction with external networks, can be really beneficial to dApp development. The ability to pull relevant data from various specialized chains could fuel the creation of new types of decentralized applications And with the help of blockchain bridges innovative dApps built on Polkadot could have a far-reaching impact across the blockchain space.

The future looks bright

Ultimately, this is the goal of the ambitious Polkadot project. To build an infrastructure capable of uniting the various blockchain networks dotting the DLT landscape. To be a ‘blockchain for blockchain’.

So far, the signs have been more than encouraging.  Just over a year after its official launch, Polkadot has already garnered a vibrant community of developers, launching innovative projects, building applications and creating tools. LimeChain is one of the major contributors to the project, as our team is building Subsembly, an Assembly Script runtime framework for the Polkadot and Substrate communities.

In addition, the DOT token has become a top 10 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, which indicates that its utility and that of the Polkadot network has been recognized. And as the platform continues to attract interest from both developers and investors, it seems to be well-positioned for the future.

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