Have Your Cake and Eat it Too? Customizable Rollups Across Blockchains
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Building blockchain-based applications tends to involve compromise at some point. Companies need to decide what to sacrifice — speed, cost, security and so forth — to achieve their particular priorities.
A service may choose to build on a layer-1 blockchain like Solana over Ethereum for speed and cost advantages, but miss out on the network effect advantages of Ethereum. Alternatively, they might select a layer-2 rollup like Arbitrum or Optimism to stay in the Ethereum ecosystem, but give up some of the advantages of existing directly on a layer-1 solution.
On a recent episode of the 0xResearch podcast, founder of Eclipse Laboratories Neil Somani suggests that it doesn’t need to be this way. Rollup solutions like Eclipse aim to provide interoperability and customizability so developers can have their cake and eat it, too.
Somani acknowledges that monolithic layer-1s like Solana and Ethereum do hold one important advantage for the moment: “The one thing that the monoliths have right now is network effects. They have a lot of liquidity on these chains. There’s developers who already write for those platforms and they identify with the brand.”
But with the advent of rollup technology, the desire for yet another layer-1 to join the crowded space is diminishing, he says. “The disadvantage is that there aren’t many reasons why a new chain would choose to be a monolith over being a rollup, assuming that the rollup tech is fully built.”
Next-wave apps that are “really pushing the frontier” in the future, like consumer-level apps and fully on-chain games, will need customizations “at the execution layer,” according to Somani.
“They’re much better off having their own chain.”
Problem being, he says, layer-1 solutions are difficult to deploy, very expensive, cumbersome, and require teams to ensure reliability. “So, by deploying a rollup, they can avoid a lot of those pitfalls.”
A little history lesson
Somani explains a bit of the history of layer-1 development to provide context for the Eclipse-designed modular customization approach. “Ethereum gas fees were historically very high, and there have been many attempts to solve for that.”
Polygon and Binance Smart Chain, which were essentially EVM-compatible forks, sprung up to solve the gas problem when it first reared its ugly head a few years ago. They “precipitously took off,” purely because of timing with the gas crunch and the fact that no EVM-compatible layer-1 alternative existed.
Fast layer-1 monoliths like Solana stepped in along with the alternate vision of rollups like Arbitrum and Optimism. “These are all basically solving the problem of limited block space, solving for high gas fees.”
Other solutions like the Cosmos-centric appchain vision never really took off in the same way, Somani says. The value of Cosmos “isn’t really about lower gas fees” as there’s plenty of layer-1 solutions, like Solana, that already solve this problem. Instead, “it’s actually more about the customizability that having an appchain gives you.”
Each approach has its own advantage over the others. “Like Cosmos, you get customizability. Solana, and these alt L1s, you get low gas fees. And then the rollups get the benefit of sharing the security of Ethereum.”
Pick and choose
Somani sees Eclipse combining these “core properties” into a modular system that lets users “pick and choose and say, I want really low fees, but I also want to be in the Ethereum ecosystem. Or maybe I want to be in the Cosmos ecosystem, and I’m okay with a beefier execution node. I just want as much throughput as possible.”
“So we allow people to make those trade-offs by dividing up these different concepts or properties of a blockchain into these modules.”
Somani says the approach follows the same vision as Celestia, a modular data availability layer solution. Prior to building Eclipse, Somani says that Nick White, chief operating officer at Celestia Labs, reached out to him and explained what he saw as the future of blockchain technology.
White broke down the complexities of blockchain into a few key properties, Somani says. Firstly, it has to execute transactions. Secondly, it has to order transactions and make them available for verification across the network in processes that are referred to as ‘consensus’ and ‘data availability,’ or ‘DA.’ Finally, it has to verify that state transitions were executed correctly in a process termed ‘settlement.’
“Eclipse just takes those three concepts and separates them very cleanly,” Somani says.
“We let you deploy some customized execution chain, whether it’s EVM, SVM or some other virtual machine down the line. You get to pick your consensus and DA layer.”
“You can customize the DA layer,” he says, “and then you build in those additional customizations on top of the execution layer to facilitate whatever kind of application you’re building.”
“Maybe you’re a game and you need VR apps. You need verifiable random functions. Maybe you’re doing an NFT mint and you don’t want to charge gas. Now you can make it gasless. Maybe you want to do something special in the mempool like redistribute MEV. These are all options available to you when you have your own chain.”