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    Blockchain Sharding: Breaking the Database into Smaller Chunks!

    As blockchains become increasingly popular, the underlying network suffers from scalability issues. Blockchains are operated by a decentralized network of nodes that process and verify crypto transactions. However, the rising popularity of the distributed ledger means more nodes participate in its operation. This leads to latency issues, low throughput, and the inability to scale. All these metrics hinder the blockchain’s ability to compete with traditional payment networks. But this is what blockchain sharding is for!

    Blockchain sharding is a layer 1 scaling solution derived from a popular database partitioning technique that further increases the ledger’s throughput. So, what is sharding in the context of the blockchain? And how does it work? 

    Blockchain Scalability Issues

    Let’s first understand blockchain’s need for a scaling solution. The blockchain is a decentralized peer-to-peer network that process and verifies transactions in a distributed manner. Instead of having a central entity controlling all the data, distributed nodes across the globe operate and manage the blockchain’s network. By following a certain consensus, the network can agree on the state of the ledger, validates it, and transactions get processed accordingly. 

    However, as demand rises for blockchain transactions, more computers participate in the networks. This slows down the blockchain’s performance as it leads to latency and network congestion. These problems cause the blockchain to be unattractive for new users, as it cannot compete with traditional payment systems like Visa. 

    Visa’ can process around 24,000 transactions per second (TPS), while Ethereum only has a rate of 20 TPS, and Bitcoin falls short on 7 TPS. 

    Slow confirmation time blockchain

    Here’s where sharding can be of use. 

    Database Sharding

    Database sharding is a technique that precedes the blockchain. Sharding is the process of dividing large chunks of data into smaller pieces (shards) to improve efficiency and scalability. Each shard contains unique information that can be stored across multiple nodes. 

    This technique is used when the amount of data a certain database has to store increases, which can become a bottleneck. The database might slow down, affecting the customer experience. Database sharding solves this problem by improving response time, avoiding service outages by distributing parts of the database into different nodes, and increasing scalability. 

    Database Sharding

    So, What Is Blockchain Sharding?

    Blockchain sharding worlds similar to regular database sharding. It breaks up blockchain data into smaller manageable chunks and gets distributed to the network. A shard means a small part of the whole. So, a shard is a subset of large blockchain data. 

    Let’s say we have 60,000 transactions. Blockchain sharding can break up this large dataset into chunks, we’ll call them Batch 1, Batch 2, and Batch 3. Each batch contains 20,000 transactions that get distributed to different nodes on the network. Although each shard contains a unique set of blockchain data, they all form one single dataset. 

    This way, each node operating the blockchain is no longer responsible for validating the whole 60,000 transactions, each node is only responsible for validating its respective shards. Therefore, sharding allows nodes to avoid downloading the entire history of the blockchain which can increase network efficiency. 

    Blockchains Sharding

    Horizontal Partitioning 

    So, how does blockchain sharding actually work? A popular sharding technique is horizontal partitioning. It divides the blockchain data and transaction processing horizontally, where each shard handles a specific range of accounts. That means that the partitioning of shards is based on predetermined criteria such as addresses or account IDs. 

    For example, one shard could be responsible for processing transactions of accounts that start with the letters A to M, while another shard could be responsible for accounts that start from M to Z. This way, each node is assigned a specific shard, which reduces the computational load.

    Horizontal partitioning allows an even distribution of data and processing over the network, which ultimately leads to better scalability. 

    Shard Chains

    Sharding leads to the creation of shard chains. A shard chain is a separate and independent blockchain that is responsible for processing a specific subset of the network’s transaction data. 

    As we mentioned earlier, the partitioning of a blockchain result in shards, in this case, shard chains. You can consider these shard chains as mini-blockchains that operate independently. Each shard chain submits a record of data to the main chain which is known as a Beacon chain. Multiple shard chains can work simultaneously to fix network latency issues and boost the throughput. 

    Shard chains act as the data layer of the main blockchain, as they are responsible for validating and processing transactions. While the Beacon chain acts as a coordination layer that morphs all the datasets from shard chains into one single blockchain. 

    Shard Chains

    Benefits of Blockchain Sharding

    Since blockchain networks are only able to process a limited number of transactions, the lack of scalability hinders the distributed ledger from reaching mass adoption. Sharding provides many benefits to the distributed ledger. 

    • Improved Scalability: Blockchain sharding improves scalability by allowing parallel processing of transactions across multiple shard chains. 
    • Increased Throughput: Since the blockchain becomes divided into smaller shards, each shard handles a subset of data independently. This leads to an increased throughput. 
    • Reduced Confirmation Time: Since transactions get processed in parallel across different shard chains, the overall time to process and validate transactions is significantly reduced. 
    • Adaptability to Network Growth: The biggest scalability challenge for blockchains is their inability to handle network growth. With sharding, however, shard chains increase in number as the network grows. 

    Is Blockchain Sharding Secure?

    We’ve seen now that blockchain sharding is a great layer-1 solution that improves scalability and increases throughput, however, is this technique secure? Or does it promote centralization? It’s important to note that sharding is still in its early stages, and the negative consequences of applying it to blockchains are real. 

    The possibility of malicious shards entering corrupted data into the network is viable. Also, one shard can take over another shard which results in the loss of information. However, blockchains like Ethereum are looking into ways to optimize blockchain sharding for ultimate secure uses. The future of sharding is yet to prevail, as more projects are looking into deploying sharding in real-life applications.

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