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What is the Dencun Upgrade? A Look into Ethereum’s Hard Forks

Last Updated January 22, 2024 2:02 PM
Teuta Franjkovic
Last Updated January 22, 2024 2:02 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Ethereum’s scalability challenges have been a long-standing issue, but rollups have emerged as a promising solution.
  • The Dencun upgrade is Ethereum’s latest major hard fork, and it aims to improve the network’s scalability.
  • The ultimate goal is to implement full sharding, which would further improve the network’s throughput and efficiency.

Ethereum’s scalability is a long-standing challenge, but rollups are emerging as a promising solution.

Ethereum core developers recently successfully deployed the Dencun upgrade on the Goerli testnet , encountering some initial hiccups  but resolved them with a phased approach.

Unveiling the Dencun Upgrade: Enhancing Ethereum’s Capabilities

Last week, the Dencun upgrade was deployed on Goerli , the first testnet, and the next implementation steps include its activation on the Sepolia testnet on Jan. 31, followed by the Holesky testnet on Feb. 7, with the final mainnet release anticipated by the end of the first quarter (Q1) in 2024.

The Dencun upgrade, Ethereum’s latest major hard fork succeeding the Shapella upgrade, represents a fusion of ‘Deneb’ and ‘Cancun,’ introducing a series of enhancements to Ethereum’s consensus layer (CL) and execution layer (EL). This pivotal upgrade aims to bolster Ethereum’s execution efficiency and data availability across the network, with a particular emphasis on proto-danksharding (EIP-4844 ).

While proto-danksharding takes center stage, the Dencun hard fork comprises eight other Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) with significant implications for the network’s functionality:

  • Improved Data Availability: Proto-danksharding (EIP-4844) introduces data blobs, enhancing the throughput and efficiency of Layer 2 solutions.
  • More Efficient Smart Contracts: Temporary data storage (EIP-1153) in smart contracts, along with new opcodes, clears intermediate data after transaction completion, reducing permanent storage overheads. EIP-6780 restricts the SELFDESTRUCT function to specific conditions, improving contract stability, and EIP-5656 streamlines memory management in the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) for more efficient smart contract processing.
  • Reduced External Dependence: EIP-4788 makes Beacon Chain‘s block roots accessible to the EVM by storing them in a smart contract on the execution layer, effectively providing a built-in oracle on Ethereum’s mainnet, granting smart contracts direct access to the network’s consensus state.
  • Enhanced Validator Management and Efficiency: EIP-7045, EIP-7044, and EIP-7514 collectively optimize the validator lifecycle and operations on the Ethereum network. EIP-7045 extends the maximum slot for including validator attestations, EIP-7044 simplifies the validator exit process, and EIP-7514 caps the churn limit for validator activations.
  • Reliable Blob Fees: EIP-7516 introduces the BLOBBASEFEE opcode , enabling smart contracts to access the current base fee for data blobs on-chain directly, aiding rollup contracts in managing and predicting their data blob costs more effectively.

The Dencun upgrade signifies a significant step forward in addressing Ethereum’s scalability and efficiency challenges , setting the stage for a more robust and capable blockchain ecosystem.

Scaling Towards the Future

Over the past two years, Ethereum has undergone several significant upgrades, with each step contributing to the broader goal of enhancing scalability, and the Dencun upgrade stands as a pivotal milestone in this ongoing journey.

Examining the key events leading up to the Dencun upgrade:

  • December 2020 – Beacon Chain Launch : The introduction of the Beacon chain brought Proof-of-Stake (PoS) to Ethereum and enabled ETH staking, setting the foundation for Ethereum’s shift away from Proof-of-Work.
  • September 2022 – The Merge : The Merge unified Ethereum’s mainnet with the Beacon Chain, completing the transition to PoS and marking a critical moment in Ethereum’s evolution.
  • April 2023 – The Shanghai Upgrade: This upgrade facilitated staked ETH withdrawals and enhanced validator flexibility, further strengthening Ethereum’s PoS ecosystem.
  • Holesky Testnet Launch  (September 28, 2023): Ethereum’s new public testnet, Holesky, accommodated 1.4 million validators and staking, serving as a crucial testing ground for the forthcoming Dencun upgrade.

The Dencun upgrade is centered around enhancing Ethereum’s data availability, which is expected to have a positive ripple effect on transaction costs and speed. Examining the lead-up to the Dencun upgrade, it becomes clear that the preceding upgrades were not directly focused on resolving Ethereum’s scalability concerns.

The Merge  primarily addressed transitioning to a more sustainable and secure consensus mechanism, while the Shanghai Upgrade aimed at improving the staking experience. Both of these upgrades were essential steps in Ethereum’s journey, albeit not directly tackling the scalability challenges that the Dencun upgrade aims to confront.

A Step Towards Solving Ethereum’s Scalability Puzzle?

While the Dencun upgrade may not represent the ultimate solution, it marks a significant stride forward in Ethereum’s ongoing quest for scalability.

With a particular focus on Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) like proto-danksharding, the Dencun upgrade addresses critical elements of scalability and lays a solid groundwork for the eventual implementation of full sharding, promising a faster and smoother path ahead.

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