On March 31st, Beijing time, TRON launched its public blockchain testing network (“testnet”). For the average cryptocurrency investor unfamiliar with blockchain technology, the announcement may seem like more social media hype from a unusually vocal newcomer in the market. In reality, TRON’s testnet launch is a decisive step into the blockchain arena; a significant moment for the TRON team and their leader, millennial entrepreneur and graduate of Hupan University, Justin Sun.
The TRON name began circulating among cryptocurrency investors in September 2017. With its hyperactive social media presence and ambitious promise to “construct a worldwide free content entertainment system,” TRON drew skepticism from many. But others noted the pedigree and enthusiasm of its founder, Justin Sun, and embraced its lofty vision. TRON amassed a serious following. Its token, TRX, quickly became one of the top 20 digital assets by market cap, and by January 2018 TRX had grown more than a hundredfold in value.
TRON’s testnet is now live, giving fans and skeptics alike a transparent view of TRON’s solid progress. And the mainnet launch isn’t far behind – On May 31st, TRON plans to shed its ERC20 identity and migrate from the Ethereum platform. In true form, Justin Sun has declared TRON’s intention to disrupt the entire Ethereum ecosystem. Starting from zero and reaching testnet in just six months, it’s high time to re-examine TRON.
The TRON protocol is one of the world’s largest blockchain-based application operating protocols. “We are not just an entertainment protocol,” Sun told followers via livestream on March 31st, “our vision is to decentralize the web itself.” TRON provides basic-layer public blockchain featuring high-throughput, high-extension, and high-reliability support for the protocol’s decentralized application operations. TRON has a grand vision that will need eight to ten years to come to fruition and involves six phases. (Initially, the company even had a plan that reached as far as 2029.)
For the blockchain project, the mainnet is the foundation of all upper-layer architecture. The testnet is TRON’s first technical debut, and includes completed nodes, basic network functions, transactions, and customizable modules. Developers can participate in TRON’s network testing. Even users who have no tech-related experience are able to contribute to product testing in the network, accessing features like the TRON wallet and blockchain explorer. The testnet will provide crucial data to reference for the official mainnet launch and help ensure that the mainnet is stable and secure. The testnet will also provide some guidance for how the mainnet will develop moving forward. Once mainnet goes live, TRON will no longer be an ERC20 token, and become a true token within the TRON ecosystem. At the “Exodus” stage of the project, TRON plans to surpass Ethereum’s ecosystem in many aspects.
Ethereum launched in late July 2015 and opened the door to Blockchain 2.0, where blockchain application scenarios extended from UTXO-based digital currency transactions to Turing-complete general computation. Ethereum is one of the most well-known public blockchain projects that introduced new forms of blockchain technology, but it isn’t without its flaws. With blockchain technology developing at breakneck speeds, many have challenged Ethereum in 2018. TRON has had its sights set on creating Blockchain 4.0 since stage one, and may be one of the biggest challengers Ethereum will face in the near future.
1. Design Concept
The initial goal of the Ethereum project was to create a smart contract platform that supported Turing-complete applications and could execute automatically according to the agreed logic of the smart contract. Ideally, there would be no problems such as downtime, censorship, fraud, and third-party intervention.
TRON is still committed to creating a decentralized smart contract platform, but with higher throughput, extension, and reliability capabilities than Ethereum. Developers will be able to deploy their own decentralized apps on the platform. TRON’s infrastructure is divided into three relatively independent layers with clear-cut structure: storage, core, and application. The three layers work together to complete computational tasks and support the entire TRON network ecosystem.
2. Consensus System
The blockchain system is a distributed system. In a distributed system, “consensus” refers to the data consistency achieved by nodes that reach trustless agreements through a preset mechanism – the “consensus mechanism” is a way a distributed system reaches consensus, and is thus the most fundamental and important component in a that system. Almost all first-generation blockchain projects (e.g. Bitcoin) use PoW consensus systems, but the system has many issues, including a waste of resources and being highly susceptible to control by the nodes with the highest computational capabilities. Subsequent blockchain efforts have improved on this system, and new consensus systems like PoS emerged onto the scene. But even these new systems were not ideal. DPoS is a new generation of consensus mechanism that is cutting-edge and fits well into the big picture, and TRON has taken it further with optimizations.
Ethereum initially used Ethash, a PoW-based, variant consensus algorithm. Even though they made some improvements on the algorithm, it still generated large quantities of invalid calculations, resulting in poor efficiency. This drew much criticism from the community. Ethereum currently uses a combination of “Proof of Stake” (PoS) and “Proof of Work” (PoW) consensus systems, and plans to move to a fully PoS system in the future. However, this will pose a variety issues, like forking risks, and will greatly increase complexity, so it may require a long period of testing.
TRON employs an optimized “Delegated Proof of Stake” (DPoS) consensus system. The orginal DPoS was first used for the BitShare project as a consensus algorithm for blockchain. The system uses a witness mechanism to achieve decentralization, where delegate nodes are selected by the blockchain network community through voting. Since users naturally have their own interests at heart, they will select distributed nodes with higher performance and more decentralized characteristics, which will greatly increase availability. Since DPoS utilizes a decentralized voting system, it’s more democratic in nature than other systems. DPoS nodes are more concentrated, and thus much more efficient than PoW or PoS.
DPoS itself is not foolproof – it is also vulnerable to node manipulation and attacks. (When certain nodes hold an enormous amount of tokens, it’s easy for them to gain leverage over the entire system.) However, TRON’s optimized DPoS consensus system has provided a solution to this problem: global users can spontaneously deploy TRON network nodes under agreement and can also vote for “delegate” nodes. The delegate nodes selected have equal power and work together to complete computing tasks in the network, which greatly reduces the possibility of a “node oligopoly.”
TRON may outperform Ethereum by utilizing a new generation consensus system.
4. Smart Contracts
Ethereum supports the development of smart contracts via advanced, Turing-complete language, and has already designed such a programming language called Solidity to write smart contracts. Smart contracts, as an application running in the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), can receive external transaction requests and events, then generate transactions or events and utilize other smart contracts via code logic.
TRON will also have its own TVM, which will be lightweight with fast loading speeds, resource isolation, and scalability. TVM will also develop smart contracts through advanced Turing-complete language, but one important highlight is that TRON will support Java for smart contract development in the initial stages. Java is one the most popular advanced languages with a mature developer community. The average Java developer will be able to access the TRON platform with no threshold. In addition, Java has high development efficiency and supports many types of scenarios. The TRON protocol is defined completely through Google protobuf and will naturally support mult-language expansion. TRON developers can easily use the portal to create various DApps and customized wallets. By comparison, Ethereum’s Solidity is much more limited and will have more difficulty with achieving complex logic.
Smart contracts refer to contracts signed and operated via computer programs. Any revision of the online ledger caused by smart contracts needs consensus from the blockchain, which makes the blockchain immutable. This solves many practical problems and is the most important features in today’s public blockchain. TRON can fully recreate all of Ethereum’s smart contract functions and opted for the popular advanced language Java as the developer language for smart contracts. Combined with a standardized Google probuf portal, TRON’s smart contract is much more flexible and easy to use than Ethereum’s.
4. Performance and Throughput
Ethereum’s consensus mechanism is inefficient and limited by CPU single-thread performance issues. This is why subsequent public blockchain projects have put special focus on performance and throughput. Early version of the Ethereum test network was able to achieve 25 TPS and currently holds steady at around 20 TPS. Network congestion has been a frequent issue for Ethereum.
Under TRON’s excellent consensus system, a limited number of nodes with high computational performance will be selected by users to act as maintenance nodes. These nodes will ensure that the network’s overall TPS remains at an acceptable level, which achieves high-throughput. Based on official disclosure from TRON, the company’s network can dynamically adjust bookkeeper sets based on block generation speeds and delays. In the initial stages, TRON’s network TPS is expected to be 1,000+, which is far higher than Bitcoin’s and Ethereum’s. This number is expected to grow in later stages. Having a high TPS indirectly ensures low latency rates for all computations on the TRON platform. The most direct impact would be faster transfer speeds for daily transfers. In the future, high TPS will be a great technical foundation for developing more complex, precision-oriented smart contracts and DApps that require high-performance support.
On performance and throughput, TRON wins.
5. Economic Mechanism
Ethereum uses a leasing model that controls the execution command cap for a certain transaction through Gas. Gas uses ETH for exchanges. A fixed amount of Gas will be consumed each time a contract command is executed. If Gas is exhausted before execution is complete, the contract will terminate and roll back. The purpose of charging Gas is to ensure that the network will not be deadlocked due to large quantities of intensive computations. However, doing so will result in developers on the Ethereum network to continuously pay out Gas at every stage. There will be many fees involved with high volatility. If the average developer wants to test their app on Ethereum, just the Gas fees incurred at the initial stages of R&D will make them go bankrupt. This is highly detrimental both for ecosystem construction and blockchains with complex logic.
TRON also uses a leasing model, but improved on the economic mechanism by supporting free transfers. Third-party program users do not need to pay any fees directly to the network, which brings costs down significantly for developers. Free transfers is also a great feature to promote development for the network ecosystem.
TRON wins again.
Ethereum is more vulnerable to attacks due to more diversified online transactions compared with digital currency projects. Ethereum’s core design philosophy for minimizing attacks is still to prevent misconduct through economic incentives: (1) Transaction fees are mandatory for every transaction to prevent DDoS attacks; (2) The number of program execution commands is limited by Gas—when account balance in insufficient to complete the command, it is cancelled, which prevent vicious cycle contracts. However, Ethereum is still marred by major security crises, e.g. the DAO attack.
Thanks to the improved version of the DPoS consensus, TRON’s standard user nodes will allocate users with network bandwidth, storage space, and computing power in proportion to the owner’s token amount. Therefore, malicious attackers can only consume network resources proportional to the TRX they hold. It’s infeasible for someone to use a super node to launch an attack, because those nodes are elected by users. This means no one will be able to use enormous amount of small transactions to consume network resources and cause network congestion, unless they can be voted to become a super, which will give them sufficient resources to cause network congestion. Due to the inborn egocentricity of ordinary user nodes, it is almost impossible for this to occur.
In terms of security, TRON and Ethereum use completely different security strategies, but TRON will not generate additional workload for the system while maintaining security. TRON is one step ahead in this regard.
The biggest hindrance for Ethereum to take on more business is scalability. Ethereum plans to improve network scalability with a sharding mechanism. However, deploying such a system on the mainnet will require a few years’ time. Ethereum will need to transition from a fully replicated global state to a shard state. This will be a highly difficult feat for Ethereum, which its enormous amount of blocks.
Compared with Ethereum, TRON has expanded its network almost limitlessly at the beginning of the project by dividing the architecture into different layers: storage, core, and application. The storage layer uses KhaosDB and LevelDB to achieve rapid iterations and upgrades for the public blockchain. The storage layer is designed to be divided into multiple chains, each of which handles the updated transactions in shards. In the core layer of TRON, there is something similar to a Merkel tree, which combines the hash of all shards, so that the global state hash can be stored in the block of the top-level chain. This architecture guarantees success operations for the existing mainnet and provides a solid theoretical foundation for the future expansion of TRON.
Though Ethereum and TRON have not yet achieved the shard mechanism, it is much more feasible for TRON, who is already making preparations.
Ethereum made its debut before TRON, and throughout the years, it has accumulated a large number of DApp resources, thus attracting a great number of users. However, due to its limited performance, Ethereum’s user experience is mediocre. For quite a long time, Ethereum did not build any large projects on the blockchain. The most widely used function is financing, not gaming.
TRON’s focus isn’t solely on basic blockchain technology, but also on the application experience of blockchain products. This brings us to another highlight: with the mainnet going live, some highly impressive applications will emerge on the scene that come with their own ecosystems. TRON’s public blockchain has its own direction and focus, and unlike Ethereum, TRON will definitely build its own on-chain social and entertainment applications. With the development of its ecosystem, TRON will then turn to support the basic layer of the public blockchain from all aspects. High-quality DApps will help promote TRON’s mainnet, which greatly increases the chances that TRON will come out on top despite being a latecomer.
Ethereum is temporarily leading in terms of applications, but after TRON’s mainnet goes live, TRON DApps are very likely to surpass Ethereum’s both in quality and quantity.
It’s evident that TRON, as a second-generation public blockchain project following Ethereum, integrated the advantages of several high-quality blockchain systems in terms of design and development of its public blockchain testing network. TRON has achieved impressive progress in just six months. This rapid development and progress should be attributed to TRON’s respect for technology and the relentless efforts of TRON’s team.
TRON is one of the earliest teams that focused solely on blockchain development. From the very start, TRON has been recruiting technical talent and expertise. Since the beginning of 2018, the frequency of TRON’s code update has been at the forefront of all blockchain projects, and achieved the highest frequency of updates in a single week several times. At the time of the author’s writing, the Github open source library for TRON’s project showed that the code’s last git push was 9 minutes ago:
(Ranked #4 on comprehensive code ranking system.)
When it first arrived on the scene, TRON was a vibrant, energetic, upstart of a company; a great reflection of its millennial founder, Justin Sun. Today, TRON is retains its fearless energy, but adds a much-needed groundedness with the debut of its technology.
TRON has the ultimate goal of creating a “truly decentralized Internet”. In just half a year, TRON’s team has created a foundational public blockchain that incorporates cutting edge technology. This is just the first step in TRON’s long-term gameplan. TRON has shown itself to be a serious contender.
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