Vitalik Buterns reveals Layer-3s to have “bigger role” as Layer‑2 scaling ecosystem matures

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Blockchains are usu­al­ly referred to as either a Layer‑1 or Layer‑2 solu­tion. Lay­er-1s are the base lay­er of an ecosys­tem such as Ethereum, Car­dano, or Solana. Layer‑2 solu­tions are anchored to Layer‑1 blockchains and pro­vide scalability.

Lay­er-3s can also exist; how­ev­er, you can­not stack anoth­er lay­er on top of Lay­er 2 to add even more scal­a­bil­i­ty, Ethereum founder Vita­lik Buterin wrote in a blog post on Sept. 17.

There are sev­er­al chal­lenges with stack­ing two sim­i­lar­ly designed lay­ers on top of each oth­er, Buterin wrote. For instance, lim­its to data avail­abil­i­ty and reliance on Layer‑1 band­width for emer­gency with­drawals can hin­der the stack­ing of two layers.

Buterin said that rollups on top of rollups could not pro­vide high­er scal­a­bil­i­ty than Layer‑2 solu­tions. Rollups com­press the amount of data a trans­ac­tion needs to store on the Layer‑1 blockchain to ensure the trans­ac­tion can be accessed and verified.

In the case of a sim­ple token trans­fer, the data is reduced from 100 to 16 bytes. For ZK-SNARK trans­ac­tions that pre­serve pri­va­cy, trans­ac­tion data is com­pressed from 600 bytes to 80 bytes, Buterin said.

But data can only be com­pressed once, Buterin wrote. If fur­ther com­pres­sion is pos­si­ble, the log­ic of the sec­ond com­pres­sor can be inte­grat­ed into the first so that the data can be com­pressed just once with the same results. This is why rollups on top of rollups can­not “pro­vide large gains in scal­a­bil­i­ty,” he wrote.

Three visions of L3 use-cases

Stark­Ware, which oper­ates StarkNet, a ZK-rollup that serves as a Layer‑2 Ethereum scal­ing solu­tion, laid out three dif­fer­ent visions of how Lay­er-3s could be used.  Buterin con­sid­ers all three visions as “fun­da­men­tal­ly reasonable.”

In the first sce­nario, Lay­er-3s can be used for cus­tomized func­tions such as pri­va­cy. The aim would not be to pro­vide addi­tion­al scal­a­bil­i­ty in such a case. The Layer‑2 would pro­vide scal­a­bil­i­ty to appli­ca­tions, and a Layer‑3 would serve the cus­tomized func­tion­al­i­ty need­ed for dif­fer­ent use cases.

In the sec­ond vision, the Layer‑2 offers gen­er­al-pur­pose scal­ing, and the Layer‑3 pro­vides cus­tomized scal­ing through spe­cial­ized appli­ca­tions. The Layer‑3 would com­pute data through means oth­er than the EVM or rollups, whose data com­pres­sion is opti­mized accord­ing to spe­cif­ic data formats.

In the third vision, Lay­er-3s can pro­vide weak­ly-trust­ed scal­ing through Valid­i­ums, which use SNARKs to ver­i­fy com­pu­ta­tion. Data avail­abil­i­ty, here, is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of a trust­ed third par­ty. Buterin said that although Valid­i­ums offer a low­er secu­ri­ty grade than rollups, they are “high­ly under­rat­ed” and “vast­ly cheaper.”

Layer-3s can fix confirmation time vs fixed cost tradeoffs of rollups

While rollup trans­ac­tions are cheap, rollups have to pay a high fixed cost every time they sub­mit a batch of trans­ac­tions to a Layer‑1. For opti­mistic rollups that run on top of Lay­er-1s, the fixed cost can be as high as 21,000-Layer-1-gas per batch, while for ZK rollups, the cost can go up to 400,000-gas per batch, accord­ing to Buterin.

If rollups wait longer to sub­mit more trans­ac­tions in one batch to low­er the cost, it increas­es batch inter­vals. This means that users have to wait a very long to get a con­fir­ma­tion of their transactions.

For a ZK rollup with a pro­cess­ing pow­er of 5tps to sub­mit a batch of trans­ac­tions in every Ethereum block (every 12 sec­onds), gas per trans­ac­tion would reach 10,368. How­ev­er, if the batch inter­val increased to 1 minute, the gas per trans­ac­tion reduces to 2,368.

In the case of a ZK rollup inside a ZK rollup, the gas per trans­ac­tion comes down to 501 with batch inter­vals of 12 sec­onds. Hence, Lay­er-3s can fix the time and cost trade­off for rollups.

What is and isn’t a layer?

Accord­ing to Buterin, stack­ing the same scal­ing solu­tions on top of each oth­er does not “work well,” which is why the rollup on top of rollup mod­el does not make sense. How­ev­er, he argues that a three-lay­er struc­ture where the sec­ond and third lay­ers are assigned dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es and func­tions can work.

How­ev­er, there is an unsolved seman­tic debate over what can be con­sid­ered as a lay­er and what can­not, Buterin said. He pro­vid­ed his own def­i­n­i­tion of what prop­er­ties con­sti­tute a Layer‑2:

  • “Their pur­pose is to increase scalability
  • They fol­low the “blockchain with­in a blockchain” pat­tern: they have their own mech­a­nism for pro­cess­ing trans­ac­tions and their own inter­nal state
  • They inher­it the full secu­ri­ty of the Ethereum chain”

By B uterin’s def­i­n­i­tion, opti­mistic and ZK rollups are Lay­er-2s, but valid­i­ums, proof aggre­ga­tions schemes, on-chain pri­va­cy sys­tems, and Solid­i­ty fall out­side the def­i­n­i­tion. While some of them can be referred to as Layer‑3, not all of them should be, he wrote.

Buterin added that “it seems pre­ma­ture to set­tle def­i­n­i­tions while the archi­tec­ture of the mul­ti-rollup ecosys­tem is far from set in stone” and most of the Layer‑3 dis­cus­sions are still theoretical.

But as the Layer‑2 scal­ing ecosys­tem matures, Buterin expects more sophis­ti­cat­ed and sim­pler Layer‑3 con­struc­tions to play a larg­er role.

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