The Cryptonomist interview with Anthony Rose, Head of Engineering at Matter Labs, the team building behind zkSync.
Why is zkSync important for crypto adoption?
zkSync is a layer 2 scaling solution designed to solve the ‘scalability trilemma’ outlined by Vitalik Buterin. The scalability trilemma is a design problem that all blockchains face in which they are forced to make a compromise between security, decentralization, and scalability. Essentially, they can only optimize for two out of three parameters.
We believe that Ethereum has correctly optimized for the most important parameters at layer 1 (L1): decentralization and security. For a system that we believe can power a future internet of value, prioritizing security goes without saying, and decentralization is a core characteristic for a public blockchain to remain trustless. However, with Ethereum processing around 15 transactions per second on average, it can’t possibly be used by everyone around the world.
zkSync is designed to solve this problem.
zkSync uses advanced cryptography called “zero-knowledge proofs” (or ZK proofs) to scale Ethereum without compromising on security or decentralization. Here’s approximately how it works: when multiple users send transactions on zkSync, the protocol bundles them together, and creates a “cryptographic proof” that these transactions are valid. The network then posts this proof on Ethereum via a L1 transaction, along with the data needed to recreate them.
These systems are known as zero-knowledge rollups (or ZK rollups) because they essentially “roll up” all of these L2 transactions into a single proof and verify it on Ethereum. On top of this, zkSync 2.0 is EVM compatible, which means that all the projects deployed on Ethereum or other EVM chains can easily be redeployed on our system to easily take advantage of low gas fees and high transaction speeds.
What’s the difference between zkSync and something like Polygon?
Ethereum’s scalability problem is the most important problem to solve at the moment, so it’s no surprise that there are lots of teams working to solve it – each with a different approach.
If we look broadly at the approaches to L2s today, we see two main categories: ZK rollups and optimistic rollups. Both of these categories of L2 represent serious improvements to earlier scaling attempts like the Polygon sidechain.
Arguably the most substantial difference is in the security of the systems. Sidechains rely on their own set of validators and so if you bridge assets from Ethereum to a sidechain you have to trust the operators:
- won’t act maliciously, or
- that there won’t be a critical bug in the system that impacts you.
ZK and optimistic rollups improve on this by posting a L2 state update to L1. Since the financial cost to attack Ethereum is much higher than any other smart contract chain, transactions can be considered final after a number of block confirmations – just like regular L1 transactions. In this way, rollups inherit the security of Ethereum in a way that sidechains don’t.
The difference between ZK and optimistic rollups is the way they verify that these state transitions are correct. While ZK rollups use cryptography and math, optimistic rollups rely on game theory.
There are many other differences too, and broadly speaking most people don’t believe sidechains are the future of scaling. This is why Polygon also has teams working on ZK solutions.
What’s the reception been like since you announced your solution went live on mainnet?
On 28th October we hit our Baby Alpha milestone from our public roadmap and released the first version of zkSync 2.0 to mainnet. To be clear, this is a restricted release without users or dApps. We’re using this time to improve the performance of the system and ensure that it is as secure as it can be to minimize risk to our users.
In terms of the reception to our launch, we couldn’t be happier. We’ve seen a flood of users join our Twitter, Discord, AMAs and more. The number of thoughtful questions from the community and the number of people wanting to get involved has skyrocketed.
At the same time we’ve now seen over 200 ecosystem projects register to deploy to zkSync 2.0, including some big names like Uniswap, Aave, Gnosis, Curve, 1inch and Chainlink. We think this will make our Fair Launch Alpha the largest and most participated layer 2 launch yet.
Next is our Fair Onboarding Alpha milestone where we welcome all registered projects to deploy, including the names above. After that will be the Fair Launch Alpha where we open up the platform to users.
This will be subject to security audits, bug bounties and performance testing. We’re laser focused on security and making sure that zkSync 2.0 performs extremely well, even during times of high demand.
How has your team handled this current “crypto winter”?
Honestly, this doesn’t really change anything for us. We were heads down building during the bull market and continue to be heads down building during the bear market. We know that crypto has these waves, but for us the scalability problem remains the key problem to solve.
A calmer market does reduce the noise, which can always make it easier for builders to focus, but the day-to-day engineering honestly doesn’t feel very different to us.
That being said, our recent $200 million funding round puts us in a position to continue to invest and hire the best people in the market as we strive to build a world-class engineering organization.
How do NFTs fit into the future vision of zkSync?
There’s a huge interest around the world in bringing art, collectibles, music, and culture on-chain, and we’re proud of the fact that we were ahead of the curve when we brought NFTs zkSync 1.0.
Our users are already minting, sharing and using NFTs on our platform.
We think that with the high cost to mint and trade NFTs on Ethereum, we’ll see a lot of new interesting use cases on L2 for NFTs – with artists, collectors, games, DAOs all able to leverage a very cheap execution environment.
zkSync 2.0 also natively supports something called “account abstraction”, which gives developers more flexibility around implementing payments in their applications. This includes the sale and distribution of NFTs. You can imagine a more user-friendly web2-like “shopping cart” experience being built on L2 in which you can buy multiple NFTs in a single interaction, which isn’t the experience at L1 of course, in which every NFT purchase is an individual transaction.
Account abstraction also benefits collectors by keeping their assets more secure and giving more control over how and when apps can move them. For example, collectors can create session keys that pre-approve certain apps and automatically block transfers to known scam addresses.
We’re highly optimistic about the future of NFTs and determined to make zkSync 2.0 the #1 place for NFT builders, creators and collectors.
How has Ethereum’s move to Proof of Stake affected your plans? What impact do you think it will have on the wider ecosystem?
The merge was a huge technical achievement for the entire Ethereum community but it doesn’t substantially affect L2 rollups. The update to the consensus mechanism at L1 is mostly unrelated to the scaling problems that L2 systems are addressing.
In terms of wider impacts, the reduction in energy usage will hopefully attract more people and companies that have been hesitant until now. This is a huge step forward in the maturity of the crypto space. Our mission is to accelerate the mass adoption of crypto for personal sovereignty, and so we’re optimistic that Ethereum’s move to Proof of Stake will encourage such adoption.
What price will ETH reach in 2024? (Not a financial advise)
We don’t make price predictions – that’s for the free market. We will say that as hardworking teams like ours keep building through this downturn, more and more use cases will emerge and more value will inevitably be settled on Ethereum.