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Layer 1 vs Layer 2: Vitalik Buterin Changes Tune on Complexities at Consensus Layer

Last Updated February 22, 2024 5:56 PM
Shraddha Sharma
Last Updated February 22, 2024 5:56 PM
Key Takeaways
  • Vitalik Buterin revises his stance on the complexity of consensus layers.
  • Buterin highlights the trade-offs between L1 and L2 bug risks, suggesting that L2 bugs could have more severe consequences for users.
  • Buterin’s 2019 position advocated for a strong separation between L1 stability and L2 innovation.
  • Where will interoperability stand in this debate?

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has revised his views on the balance between Layer 1 and Layer 2 complexities. Previously, he advocated for a simpler L1 to facilitate a more complex L2.

The conversation adds a spotlight on the scalability and security debate, while the next big crypto theme is expected to be interoperability.

Vitalik Buterin Evolving Perspective

Buterin expressed skepticism towards the earlier notion of simplifying L1 at the expense of L2’s complexity. He noted, “Honestly, I’m about 3x less confident in the ‘simplify L1 even at the expense of more complicated L2s’ concept than I was five years ago.”

Buterin seemed concerned about the inherent trade-offs between L1 and L2 bug risks. He suggested that the consequences of L2 bugs could be more dire, potentially leading to permanent financial losses for users when L1s can recover in a short period.

In a 2019 post, Buterin championed the idea that L2 should be the focal point for ongoing innovation, while L1 should remain stable, only undergoing major changes in emergencies.He emphasized the importance of L1 being powerful enough to support the desired L2 protocols without reintroducing trust assumptions that blockchain seeks to eliminate.

 Buterin’s past views underlined the necessity for a “functionality escape velocity,” a critical level of functionality L1 must achieve to support expansive L2 development.

Understanding the Debate

The debate around L1 and L2 complexities started following comments by Jan3 CEO Samson Mow and the community’s response on the potential for L2 to host complex features and handle scaling challenges, which are not feasible on the congested L1.

Mow said, “If you’re going to push for a soft-fork change to #Bitcoin, it really better be a good change.”

A soft fork is a blockchain update that introduces new rules without splitting the network. There have been ongoing discussions about how blockchain networks can scale sustainably.

In response to Mow’s comment, a user responded, “Scaling is not going to happen on the base layer. It happens on L2.”

Layer 1, which includes top crypto networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum, refers to the base protocol. Layer 2 is an overlaying network to improve L1’s scalability and efficiency.

Meanwhile, sidechains and Layer 1.5 act as intermediary frameworks. 

Crypto commentators have been talking beyond internal scalability and about how different blockchains can interact with each other. The next big theme, as per analysts, is supposedly interoperability. Interoperability can help remove limitations of individual solutions by leveraging different networks. Cross-chain bridges are trying to achieve just this, but it is a complex process considering the security risks.

Recently, the interoperability platform Wormhole partnered  with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) for zero-knowledge (zk) interoperability.

Blockchain Interoperability
Blockchain Interoperability | Source: Deloitte,WEF

As per  Andy, co-founder of blockchain education company The Rollup, “Without the ability to interact with the full host of available blockchains in crypto, dApp builders are unable to leverage the full spectrum of resources available, which in turn hampers scalability, liquidity, and growth.”

What is Next?

Vitalik Buterin’s recent comments on the complexities of L1 and L2 bring back the blockchain scalability debate.

In a way, he shifted from being a supporter of L2 innovation at the expense of L1 simplicity to advocating for a more sophisticated L1 to ease L2. But commentators see interoperability being the next big thing in the crypto front despite its challenges.  

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