Substrate ecosystem update 008

January 26, 2022

Our eighth edition of the most important developments in the Substrate Ecosystem curated by Elias Simos, Protocol Specialist at Coinbase Cloud

Welcome to the eighth edition of the Substrate Ecosystem Update, a compilation of ecosystem insights and expert analysis from Elias Simos and our Protocol Ops team.

Multiple parachains are producing blocks on Kusama

Things have moved quickly since Update 007. Parachains on Kusama have officially "crossed the chasm" with three of them now producing blocks on Kusama Mainnet!

First, the Shell parachain was upgraded to Statemine—the common good, asset issuance parachain. Then, parachain auction logic was included in a network upgrade, and shortly after Kusama parachain auctions went live. On June 15th the first auction started with Karura (Acala’s sister parachain) entering the race strong and finishing equally strong, winning the first parachain auction with over 500k KSM committed to their crowdloan.

As a reminder, each auction lasts for a week and the winner is chosen from a snapshot taken randomly at any given point within the duration of the auction.

Since then, Karura has not only deployed on Kusama Mainnet, but has also been able to execute the first cross-network token transfer, successfully sending KSM from Kusama Relay to Karura.

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The team has published a detailed breakdown of participation and KAR (the Karura native token) distribution statistics, as well as a series of next steps leading to a fully functional Karura Mainnet.

Coinbase Cloud is supporting both Karura and Acala. Read our announcement here.

If you are a reader of this newsletter, you know that we were expecting the first and second wins coming from Karura and Moonriver (Moonbeam’s sister parachain) as a high probability outcome. Turns out, we were right to do so! Moonriver was announced the winner of the second parachain slot auction on June 29th 2021.

Over 200k KSM was committed to the Moonriver crowdloan, and soon after they were announced as winners, Moonriver started producing blocks on Kusama. As with Karura, Moonriver will go through several phases until it achieves its (for now) final form of delegated proof of stake, subject to how stable Moonriver’s deployment and the network prove to be, in the first few weeks of operating on Mainnet.

The third parachain auction is live at the moment, and Shiden (Phala’s Kusama deployment) is looking like a very strong candidate for the third slot occupancy. Thus far, nearly 1M KSM have been committed to crowdloans—which represents roughly 12% of the circulating supply of KSM tokens.

Expect chaos

Naturally, as the motto of Kusama (expect chaos) should imply, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing throughout the process of onboarding parachains to Mainnet. New functionality brings new requirements, as well as bugs that need to be patched and fixed imminently.

As Kusama was transitioning to the second auction, a couple of issues were identified by the Parity team. First it was an issue with the VRF that decides the winning bid (solved with PR3346), and subsequently another was found in the process around concluding an auction and starting the next. The latter was identified as Karura kept bidding for the second slot after it was announced the winner of the first (solved with PR3361). But there’s more…

Earlier this week, all parachains deployed on Kusama stopped producing blocks for some time. The reason was that a very large number (13,895) of extrinsics, or state changes that are external to the blockchain itself, were included in a single batch from RMRK. The issue has since been tended to and now parachains continue to produce blocks in an orderly and timely fashion.

Staking parameter changes on Polkadot and Kusama

In order to prevent the nodes running the networks from experiencing memory overload and subsequently falling off the grid, Parity has introduced a series of changes to staking rules implemented with runtime v9050. These include a hard limit on 20k nominator accounts delegating to validators, and a soft limit on the minimum stake that a nominator can nominate — this has been set to 20 DOT on Polkadot and 0.1 KSM on Kusama. These limits are expected to gradually increase via the standard governance process, and indeed, as of June 30th, they have increased to a maximum of 22.5k nominators and a minimum of 40 DOT to nominate.

A note on operator strain

Under the hood, the work required to push parachain logic on Mainnet and kickstart the evolution of Kusama and Polkadot from limited functionality Relay Chains to fully fledged smart contract platforms has been feverish. Lots of unknowns, tons of moving parts, and a strict timeline to meet delivery of the upgraded functionality, are at the core of what drove the pace of the upgrade/downgrade cadence. The table below captures some of the recent activity:

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Over this time period the networks have experienced heaps of turbulence, with finality slowing down in a couple of cases and block production even halting for about an hour at the end of May.

We fully understand the antecedents of the outcomes here. We build software ourselves and have all the empathy necessary to understand that "expect the unexpected" is truly a mantra to live by. At the same time though, we cannot help but think that projecting this pattern linearly into the future (indeed a naive assumption) will lead to poorer and poorer network outcomes.

A healthy network is only as healthy as its operators are. In this industry we often tend to talk about networks as amorphous blobs of machines and software logic, and completely abstract the people that operate those machines away from the picture. But this is not accurate. Without the people to handle upgrades and ensure the smooth running of the network in perpetuity, the network quality quickly degrades, tending towards decay.

While we fully understand that this is "a moment in time" like no other for both Polkadot and Kusama, we do feel that tighter ground rules as far as the upgrade/downgrade cadence goes would only improve the sister networks, in the spirit of allowing operators to be better prepared to manage the maintenance workload.

For an extensive list of the various projects building on Polkadot, you can refer here. Please do let us know if you have any feedback or suggestions on this update. We’d love to hear from you!

—Elias Simos, Protocol Specialist