What is Sharding

Intermediate
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Sharding is a database partitioning technique developed for solving blockchains' scalability issues. According to Ethereum's official announcement, sharding will be the next significant update for improving Ethereum's capacity and scalability. It plans to launch around 2023-2024.

Mechanism of Sharding

Sharding splits the blockchain network into smaller pieces, namely "Shards". Each shard only contains the state and transaction history for a specific type of address which separates from other shards. When sharding is activated, every node of the blockchain network only stores and processes transactions within its own shard, rather than the entire network's transactions.

In other words, sharding allows transactions to be processed in a parallel way (at the same time) to reduce network congestion, thus improving scalability. Moreover, sharding improves the network's storage capacity by distributing the entire network's storage workload to multiple partitions.

Issues of Sharding

Through the partitioning technique, sharding levels up the scalability of the network. However, based on the Blockchain Trilemma theory, the decentralization and security of the network will relatively decrease as the scalability goes up.

What is the “Blockchain Trilemma theory”? How does it impact the development of blockchain? Please refer to the content: What is Blockchain Trilemma?

As mentioned earlier, sharding allows nodes to only process transactions within their own shard. Therefore, compared to the mainnet, fewer nodes will be involved in processing the same transaction. In general, the number of nodes processing transactions will affect the decentralization of a network. The degree of network decentralization increases as the number of nodes increases. Therefore, sharding relatively increases the degree of centralization of the network.

In terms of security, shards might suffer a Single Shard Attack. Single Shard Attack refers to malicious nodes (an attacker) taking over one shard and tampering with transaction data in it. Compared to the mainnet, a single shard is obviously easier to be attacked. Because the hash power used to attack one single shard is much lower than the hash power used to attack the entire blockchain.

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