The Solana network went down for 5 hours on Tuesday, February 6, marking its 11th unplanned outage in 2 years.
With such events occurring every 2 months, on average, outages have become a recurring challenge for the Solana ecosystem. But is the issue perennial or can Solana overcome its downtime problem?
Solana is one of the most popular Layer 1 blockchains, typically registering more daily users than both Bitcoin and Ethereum. What’s more, in terms of daily transaction count, the platform dominates, processing tens of millions of transactions each day and significantly outranking its peers.
Of course, this makes it even more problematic when the network goes offline.
After a 351-day streak of continuous uptime, the more optimistic members of the Solana community had started to believe the issue was resolved. Unfortunately, those hopes came crashing down when Solana botched an upgrade on Tuesday, bringing the entire network grinding to a halt.
While the Solana Foundation has yet to publish a full postmortem of Tuesday’s crash, the issue appears to have been caused by a bug in Solana’s validator software. The issue was eventually solved after Solanana released a software patch, which was distributed among the network’s validators, prompting a full relaunch.
Software bugs were also the root cause of a string of outages in 2022. Despite testing upgrades before their launch, in the live setting of a dynamic, distributed network of computers, undiscovered flaws in the validator client code can cause unforeseen challenges.
Unlike Ethereum, which at any one time is supported by nodes running 6 different consensus clients and 8 execution clients, Solana’s validators have only 3 to choose from, 2 of which share large amounts of code.
What’s more, while Ethereum is on its way to a million validators, Solana is currently supported by just a few thousand.
For Solana Labs and the Solana Foundation, retaining a degree of centralized control over the network is both the cause and the solution to the downtime problem.
Bugs can cause the blockchain to fail because more than 80% of all validators are running the same client developed by Solana Labs, but when such failures do occur, having a centralized administrator orchestrate the relaunching of thousands of nodes is useful.
Going forward, a new software client being developed by Jump Crypto could provide a potential fix to the issue.
Known as Firedancer, the alternative program will provide Solana validator nodes with a fourth software option to choose from, helping to reduce the network’s vulnerability to bugs, code exploits, and attacks.
Moreover, unlike existing alternatives which closely resemble the original software developed by Solana Labs, Jump Crypto has built Firedancer from the ground up.
As Solana founder Anatoly Yakovenko explained in an interview last year, Firedancer essentially rewrites the Solana protocol in C and C++ rather than Rust. Because it uses entirely different languages, “when there’s a memory leak or something like that, that brought down the network, the probability of it being in both clients is virtually zero,” he said.
Discussing Solana’s recurring outages, Yakovenko said that having a new independent validator client will “basically give us the same reliability as we see in Ethereum today.”