Proof of Stake

What is Proof-of-Stake?

Proof-of-Stake (PoS) refers to a category of algorithms that are used to come to consensus in a blockchain system. In precise terms, Proof-of-Stake is a mechanism that prevents Sybil-attacks (i.e. prevents a single participant from masquerading as N others). In a PoS system, a participant's vote in a system is linked directly to the number of coins they have, so that a person who only has 100 coins cannot pretend to be 1000 different people with 100 coins each.

For a blockchain to make progress, new blocks must be created and added to chain. Who has the right to make these new blocks? In a Proof-of-Work system, miners compete for this right by expending computing power to solve random cryptographic puzzles. The winner gets to create the next block, and earns some reward for doing so. In this paradigm, the more computing power a miner has, the more likely they are to create the next block. By contrast, PoS systems revolve around the idea that the more coins a miner/validator/block producer has, the more likely they are to create the next block.

Broadly, there are 2 classes of proof-of-stake algorithms:

  1. Chain-based Proof-of-Stake

    As with Bitcoin, one validator is randomly selected in each time slot to create a block that builds on the longest chain (longest/heaviest chain). However, instead of selecting a validator based on who solves the cryptographic puzzles first, the likelihood of selection is weighted according to how many coins they lock-up, or "stake."

  2. Byzantine Fault Tolerant (BFT) Proof-of-Stake

    Instead of a random validator getting the right to create a block which every other participant must accept, BFT systems introduce the idea of proposing and accepting. Like the chain-based PoS system, a randomly selected validator (weighted by stake) is chosen to propose a block to the other validators. All the validators must communicate with each other until all honest validators come to agreement. Once they are in agreement, they accept the block and it is finalized as the latest block.

What consensus algorithm does Tezos use?

Tezos uses a chain-based PoS algorithm for consensus, which many people call Liquid Proof-of-Stake. To understand this PoS algorithm, we will break it up into three main sections:

  1. Block Creation (Baking)

    Block creation is the way that the blockchain makes progress. In Tezos, participants who create blocks are called bakers. Bakers contribute their computing power to the network to validate transactions. For doing so, they are rewarded by the protocol in the form of newly minted XTZ (16 XTZ per block).

    To be considered a baker, a participant needs to own at least 10,000 XTZ (1 roll). The more rolls someone has, the higher their chance of being given the rights to bake the next block. If there are 10 rolls activated at some point in time, and a baker owns 2/10 of those rolls, they have a 20% chance of being given the rights to create the next block. This means that if a baker has 10,000 XTZ or 19,999 XTZ, they have the same baking rights in the system.

    Baking rights are set in terms of priorities. For example, if there are 10 rolls, the protocol could randomly select a priority list as follows:

     Priority1 = Roll 6 
     Priority2 = Roll 9
     Priority3 = Roll 4
     Priority4 = Roll 3
     Priority10 = Roll 7  

    This means that the person who owns Roll 6 will have first priority in proposing the block. If they do not create and broadcast a block within 1 minute, the person who owns Roll 9 may take over. The more rolls one owns, the greater one's chances of being given high priority.

    To bake, you will need to put up a security deposit (your "Proof of Stake") of 512 XTZ per block created. This deposit is locked up for 5 cycles (~14 days). This deposit can be slashed if the baker double bakes (re: the "Nothing-at-Stake Problem").

  2. Delegating

    If someone does not have 10,000 XTZ or does not want to set up computing infrastructure to bake blocks, they can delegate their coins to a baker. Delegating lets coin holders "lend" their coins to a baker. As a result, the baker has a higher probability of being selected, and the baker in turn shares the additional revenue with the coin holder. Importantly, this process does not actually transfer ownership of coins. The baker cannot spend the XTZ delegated to them, and bakers cannot run away with other people's money.

    Groups have sprung up offering competitive rates for their baking services, and most charge ~10-20% fees on the rewards that people obtain by delegating to them. A full list of public baking services can be found here.

  3. Fork Choice Rule

    The last key thing to understand about the Tezos consensus algorithm is how the protocol decides which chain fork is the "correct" one. Bitcoin's fork choice rule is simple — the longest chain is the canonical one. Tezos picks the canonical chain based instead on the number of bakers that endorsed the block. It has been mentioned above that bakers are given baking rights to create blocks, but that bakers are also given the second responsibility of endorsing blocks. At every block height, 32 random rolls are selected to endorse a block, and the block with the most endorsements is treated as the canonical one.

    When a baker endorses a block which eventually becomes the canonical block, he gets some reward of XTZ. Hence, bakers are incentivized to endorse the block which they believe other bakers will also endorse, a.k.a. high priority blocks. Like baking, endorsing blocks require bakers to stake 64 XTZ per endorsement. This prevents the Nothing-at-Stake Problem.

To summarize: The Tezos PoS protocol uses a chain-based PoS algorithm, whereby endorsements are used to rank chains and to decide which is the canonical one. Bakers (people who own 10,000 XTZ) are given the responsibility of creating and endorsing blocks. They are required to stake some of their own capital in order to incentivize honest behavior.

What is the Nothing-at-Stake Problem and how does Tezos solve it?

In PoW systems, when there are 2 chain forks, a miner has 2 options — they can either split their mining power between the two forks or mine on a single fork. However, in PoS-secured systems, there is no concept of hash power. As such, validators can theoretically sign multiple blocks at the same block height. Hence, in a naively implemented PoS network, validators can generate and maintain multiple forks at no cost to themselves.

To solve this problem, the Tezos protocol includes some slashing conditions. Bakers that bake or endorse multiple blocks of the same height (vote on multiple forks) lose their security deposits. If someone observes another baker "double-baking," they can include an accusation in a future block containing the evidence. This will cause the "double-baker" to forfeit their security deposit and future rewards up to that point in the cycle. Half of this is burned, while the other half goes to the accuser in the form of a block reward. This incentivizes bakers to keep check on other bakers and to accuse them when they observe a double-bake. Because of this, bakers are disincentivized from baking or endorsing blocks on multiple forks. The risk of losing one's own coins minimizes the Nothing-at-Stake Problem.

Do Tezos transactions have finality?

No. In the current Tezos protocol, 30 confirmations (~30 minutes) may be considered a good rule of thumb for transaction to be considered final. Since Tezos uses a chain-based PoS consensus algorithm, the possibility of a chain re-organization remains after a transaction. Users must wait a number of confirmations before they can be overwhelmingly confident that a transaction will not be reversed.

Gathering information from missing endorsements, missing blocks, and from future assigned baking rights, an observer can determine whether or not an actor controlling X% of the rolls is able to re-organize a given block.

How scalable is Tezos?

Currently, Tezos does around 30-40 transactions per second.

What is the roadmap for improving the scalability of Tezos?

There is no "roadmap" per se. In Tezos' on-chain governance system, bakers can vote on proposals to upgrade the protocol. Using this mechanism, the consensus protocol can be swapped out through an on-chain vote without requiring a hard fork. Newer consensus algorithms like Algorand or Tendermint, which have finality and higher throughput, will be usable on Tezos.

Multiple efforts are underway to explore new Tezos consensus algorithms with fast finality. One effort involves using Tendermint for block acceptance, which would entail Byzantine Agreement (and thus instant finality) on each block. Another is the Igloo project, which is exploring Avalanche for Tezos.

Additionally, research into sharding Tezos is underway at Cornell University, funded by a grant from the Tezos Foundation.

Another idea explored by Arthur Breitman is contained in the blog post called "Scaling Tezos," which explores the idea of using recursive zk-SNARKs in each block to dramatically improve scalability.

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