When one hears the name of yet another public blockchain competitor of Ethereum, one may be forgiven for wondering just how many of those projects may be genuine, or may become just too overwhelmed to bother. Yet, another such project to have hit the headlines lately, Thundercore, probably deserves your attention.
Thundercore is a brainchild of two Cornell academics, well reputed in the blockchain space, Elaine Shi and Raphael Pass who have co-authored multiple peer-reviewed papers in the past. The work on it started back in 2017.
As another Thundercore researcher Zubin Koticha explained, the key motivation behind Thundercore was the recognition that neither the currently dominant PoW-based consensus protocols, nor the currently developed PoW-imitating proof-of-stake (PoS) solutions (Ethereum 2.0 “Serenity”, Casper Labs, Polkadot, RChain), nor the pre-Nakamoto Byzantine Fault-tolerant (BFT) approaches (Cosmos, Binance Chain, Zilliqa) are capable of delivering a secure, fast and scalable public blockchain.
PoW is rather secure, even if almost 50% of block validators are malicious but because of the need of using heavy computations, it is slow, not scalable and wasteful. PoS resolves the waste problem but makes it necessary to have a rather long interval between blocks, which also restricts scalability and especially transaction speed. BFT solutions may promise speed and scalability but they reduce the vulnerability threshold to up to ⅓ of malicious nodes and create liveness failure risks. The solution Shi and Pass involves using a hybrid consensus protocol dubbed Thunderella.
Thunderella consensus algorithm and other technical features
Thunderella is a hybrid protocol because it combines the features of the PoS and BFT approaches. In very high-level terms, this means that it has a BFT committee of staking validators voting on blocks and a centralized entity called Accelerator linearizes the transactions and data. A more detailed, relatively accessible description of how the process works can be found here. In the future, Thundercore may implement sharding, with one accelerator for each shard.
In normal circumstances, the incoming transactions are rapidly processed using the Thundercore “fast path” chain. Blocks are added approximately every second. In the case the fast path is disrupted for some reason, the users can fall back on the slow chain and continue having their transactions confirmed, albeit in a slower manner. The fallback possibility is ensured by periodically submitting the hashes of the state of the Thundercore chain to the slowchain.
Thundercore protocol also contains a procedure for rebooting the fast path while transactions are being processed on the slowchain.
At the moment, the slowchain that Thundercore uses is the Ethereum chain. This could serve as a further incentive for porting Ethereum DApps to Thundercore (more on this below) since the users and developers can trust the proven robustness of Ethereum.
According to the project team, Thunderella is not the only major innovation that Thundercore is aiming at introducing, with work being done on improving storage and facilitating interoperability.
Thundercore aims at becoming a major competitor of Ethereum and Ethereum-style smart contract platforms. Its claimed additional advantage is that its virtual machine will be completely compatible with the Ethereum’s one (EVM), which would allow very quickly porting Ethereum-based DApps to it to take advantage of its superior performance characteristics.
According to the latest publicly available information, there are currently eight decentralized applications (DApps) on the Thundercore platform, and they can be played with using Trust Wallet, and all appear to be games.
However, one must bear in mind that given Thundercore’s compatibility with the EVM, some Ethereum DApps can be quickly moved to the former should it deliver on its performance promises.
Despite not yet having launched on full-scale mainnet, Thundercore users and developers already have access to some serious infrastructure which, most importantly, includes Binance’s Trust Wallet.
While the platform’s token is not available on exchanges, yet, it will be the first token to be made available on Huobi’s initial exchange offerings platform Prime Lite. The amount of tokens planned for sale is 500,000 USDT.
Current development status
In the end of February, Thundercore was released in the pre-mainnet form. This implies that users and application developers can already fully use it but it lacks some essential features of the mainnet such as staking. According to the most recent official update, as of April 17, there were 39,061 addresses, 4,243,788 published blocks and 177,604 transactions.
The mainnet launch is planned for the third quarter of this year.
Is Thundercore different from a sidechain or Plasma chain?
When reading about Thundercore, one may wonder at some point how it is essentially different from an Ethereum sidechain or Plasma chain both of which would rely on the Ethereum’s main chain or the beacon chain in the Serenity arrangement. So far, no one seems to have raised this issue but the potential response may be that, unlike in the case of the former, there is no way for participants on the Thundercore chain to exit completely to the Ethereum chain. Rather, as mentioned above, the fast path is supposed to eventually be rebooted. Only practice will show whether this will prove to be a sufficient value proposition.
While, perhaps, not widely known outside of a circle of blockchain consensus experts, Thundercore appears to be a formidable competitor of Ethereum and other promising smart-contract public blockchain platforms. It relies on peer-reviewed works by distinguished researchers in the field and may also capitalize on its compatibility with, and connection to, Ethereum. However, its reliance (if limited) on the Accelerator for consensus may prove to be a liability, especially in the eyes of those who are concerned with maximizing decentralization. It might also be hurt by competition with Ethereum sidechains and Plasma chains.