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Ethereum Staking With Near-Zero Disk Space? Vitalik Buterin Backs Stateless Validators to Save Space

Last Updated February 19, 2024 2:01 PM
James Morales
Last Updated February 19, 2024 2:01 PM
By James Morales
Verified by Peter Henn

Key Takeaways

  • Ethereum’s increasingly large state has increased the hardware requirements for running a validator node.
  • However, Vitalik Buterin has highlighted how Verkle Trees could help Ethereum move toward statelessness.
  • Under a stateless system, staking nodes to run with “near-zero” hard disk space, he said.

Running an Ethereum validator client currently requires a fast CPU with four or more cores, at least 16 GB of RAM and a fast SSD drive with at least one TB of space. Basically, a mid-range desktop would just about cut it but running the software is out of reach for most laptops.

However, reducing the hardware burden of running a validator is a key aspect of the Ethereum roadmap. The issue is also close the the heart of the blockchain’s founder, Vitalik Buterin. He recently highlighted Verkle trees and stateless clients as key technologies for the blockchain’s ongoing weight loss program. 

Solving Ethereum’s State Bloat

Ethereum’s “state” refers to a distributed data structure containing information about all accounts, balances and contracts at any given point in time. 

Under the current model, validator nodes need to store the full Ethereum state, which is encoded using something known as a Merkle Tree.

Merkle Trees are a type of cryptographic architecture that condenses large datasets into a single 32-byte hash. In other words, the tree’s “root.” 

While the Merkle Tree structure helps to reduce Ethereum’s state size, the blockchain has become so large that generating the Merkle proofs needed to verify each root hash has become increasingly difficult. However, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin has identified Verkle Trees as a potential solution to its increasingly large state.

Merkle Trees vs. Verkle Trees

Like Merkle Trees, Verkle Trees are used to condense large amounts of data into bitesize chunks. These smaller bits of information can then be verified to ascertain the authenticity of the full data set. 

Where Verkle trees have the edge is in the efficiency of their proof size. For example, to produce a proof for a tree with a billion data points, a Verkle Tree would require less than 150 bytes, whereas a typical Merkle Tree would need around a kilobyte. 

In a recent post on Twitter, Buterin said he was “really looking forward” to Verkle trees. He even claimed they could usher in a new era of stateless validator clients.

Making Ethereum Stateless and Streamlined

In Ethereum jargon, “statelessness” refers to an as-yet unrealized principle whereby the nodes verifying blocks no longer need to store state data.

The idea behind Buterin’s appeal to Verkle Trees is that once proofs are small enough, each block can contain one. This would enable the verification of any block using only the data contained within the block itself.

In turn, stateless clients would, according  to Buterin, “allow staking nodes to run with near-zero hard disk space and sync nearly instantly”.

What’s more, Verkle Trees would not just lower the hardware requirement for validators, but for all Ethereum nodes. This would even include those that don’t need to store the blockchain’s full state.

Innovations such as Verkle Trees, aimed at lowering the technical barriers for would-be node operators. could provide a major boost to Ethereum’s decentralization. As Buterin observed previously, “today, it takes hundreds of gigabytes of data to run a node,” but “in the longer term, there’s a plan to maintain fully verified Ethereum nodes where you could literally run it on your phone.”

Members of the Ethereum community will have to wait and see what Ethereum stateless validators can bring to the blockchain.

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