NEAR’s Road to Decentralization – NEAR Protocol

NEAR’s Road to Decentralization

NEAR Foundation
March 3, 2022

Since its inception, NEAR Foundation has been committed to not only helping build a fast, secure and scalable blockchain, but to facilitate the decentralization of network to the community.

Not only are concrete steps being taken to fast-track the decentralization of NEAR’s underlying technology and infrastructure, but massive contributions are being made towards galvanizing the developer community, ensuring that power lies with the community upon which NEAR thrives.

In this series, NEAR Foundation explores decentralization from different perspectives.

Decentralizing for a vibrant Web3 experience

In decentralization, control and decision-making is transferred from one centralized authority to a distributed network of community participants. At their core, decentralized networks work to improve functionality, security, and success of the network by removing the ability for any individual party to exert control over another. 

Decentralization provides a trustless environment, where overall data reconciliation is improved through validators, and every participant has access to a real-time, shared view of the data. Decentralization really shines through its ability to optimize resource distribution, resulting in an amazingly reliable and consistent experience for developers, validators, and end-users alike.

Decentralization as a core principle doesn’t stop with NEAR’s underlying tech. Rather, the concept has been applied by the NEAR community to further its mission of engaging the worldwide community to have a voice in the future of blockchain and Web3. The NEAR Governance community acts as a forum for the community to discuss topical NEAR protocol improvements and governance initiatives. Development of the protocol is open source, inviting all to join an already thriving, diverse, and decentralized community. 

Rooted in cutting edge, scalable infrastructure

In November 2021, NEAR launched Simple Nightshade, the first step toward a fully sharded and secure blockchain. Most blockchains require every node (stakeholders maintaining the network) to store all of the chain’s information as well as process all of the network’s transactions for block production. While keeping the network secure, this can lead to extreme inefficiency and unbearable slowness, as it takes varying amounts of time for all nodes to keep themselves up to date. In turn, this can also make Web3 app building and scaling prohibitively expensive for some developers – a significant hurdle to mainstream adoption. 

NEAR’s Nightshade Sharding alleviates inefficiency and bottlenecks by partitioning a database into smaller pieces (shards). Nodes are divided into small groups responsible for one part of the chain’s data and are able to process transactions simultaneously. The inefficiency of one node verifying transactions in one block is supplanted by multiple nodes verifying transactions in multiple blocks. The result is exceptional speed and throughput on the chain.

While many new blockchains are developing layer 2 scaling solutions and offer theoretical throughput of thousands of transactions-per-second (TPS), their underlying infrastructures hit upper limits that ultimately place a throttle on their capabilities. NEAR’s Nightshade Sharding allows for linear scaling of throughput corresponding to the number of shards, laying the foundation to scale to demand as more and more users onboard the platform. In essence, the network will create more shards when the network is in high demand, and scale them back when demand drops, saving energy and resources. Ultimately, Nightshade gives NEAR the capability to accommodate mass consumer adoption, up to billions of users. 

NEAR is simultaneously working on a number of improvements on the protocol level that will build a secure, user-friendly, and scalable blockchain that can support mainstream usage and adoption. 

Accessible and inclusive blockchain validation

In December 2021, the NEAR Protocol team released the updated validator selection algorithm, paving the way for 100 validator nodes on Mainnet, which reduces the validators’ barrier to entry by bringing down the seat price from 3.6 million $NEAR to 67,000. This lowered seat price makes it easier for them to join the active validator set and to maintain their seats. Working against exclusivity, NEAR is committed to making these seats accessible to all demographics, socio-economic classes, and geo-locations.

To further lower validators’ barrier to entry and make this role more accessible to all, NEAR is introducing Chunk-Only Producers in mid-2022. Soon, more individuals will be able to contribute to the participants in the block producing process, which creates new opportunities to not only earn rewards but also enhance the NEAR ecosystem’s security 

The unique role of Chunk-Only Producers allows entities to be solely responsible for producing chunks (parts of the block from a shard) in one shard (a partition on the network). A truly democratizing moment for the NEAR community, this increases the potential for anyone to be an active participant in NEAR’s validator community, as producers need only validate one shard, which requires hardware as simple and attainable as a 4-Core CPU with 8 GB of RAM. 

Long gone are the images of massive buildings filled with rows of server racks so often associated with crypto. NEAR’s design renders obsolete the supercomputers needed to participate in blockchain validation. By removing this traditional high barrier to entry, the stage has been set for a new, large group of Chunk-Only Producers to emerge, dramatically increasing the number of validators on the NEAR network. The evolution of this new role translates to an overall increase in decentralization and security of the network.

Decentralization as a catalyst for community  

Decentralization doesn’t stop at the NEAR blockchain’s underlying technology and infrastructure. NEAR is placing power into the hands of those who matter most – the end-users and developer community. 

Nearly two years ago, NEAR launched the Guild Community. Conceptualized as a reference to Roman times and Role-Playing Games (RPGs), where groups of builders, makers, and merchants connected to achieve common goals, Guilds have matured into communities that share common interests in supporting the Web3 ecosystem while maintaining a stunning amount of diversity on a global scale. 250+ Guilds exist today, all working to further their common goals, while pushing the shared mission to enhance and grow the NEAR ecosystem, as well as build a multi-chain Web 3 future. 

Guilds act as community vehicles in the NEAR Ecosystem. By supporting core protocol development, they add a vibrant collection of unique projects built atop its foundation. Knowing no bounds, NEAR Guilds exist across a melting pot of physical geographies and industries. Myriad interests and goals are represented, such as energy-efficient blockchains (Clean NFT), rewarding humans for their contributions to the world (Human), supporting social good initiatives in the Web3 space (Marma J), and so many more.

Guilds, the heart of the many that contribute to this growing movement, have grown to become the bedrock of the human element in decentralizing the NEAR community.

Growth is not optional

As NEAR Protocol continues to grow and place a continued emphasis on true decentralization, this marks both a milestone towards its ultimate goals, but also just the beginning of an exciting journey ahead. As we quickly approach Q2 of 2022, NEAR Foundation has already demonstrated its ability to plan and deliver on its overall roadmap of decentralization within the organization and making real investments in fostering a growing validator community and a better overall Web3 user experience. 

Constantly challenging its own premises and writing a future that will allow for the NEAR community to build, gather, innovate, and grow together, NEAR Protocol is pushing the concepts of decentralization in the Web3 world. 

A rich, robust underlying infrastructure paired with a thriving community of innovative Web3 developers and end-users makes for the perfect combination in allowing the community to grow independently and organically, building upon a phenomenal toolset capable of unlocking unabated potential, all on NEAR. 

Stay tuned for part two of the series.

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