It’s been a minute since Ethereum launched its new ERC-4337 protocol standard that supercharged users’ accounts to smart accounts. It seems like the open-source blockchain can’t get enough with these upgrades as it’s very bullish on making decentralization the next big thing. Just a month ago, Ethereum rolled out the new standard ERC-4804 that will render the traditional Web2 URL system obsolete. Let’s take a look at Ethereum’s latest protocol and whether or not it will play out.
What is ERC-4804?
The new Ethereum protocol standard by the name “Web3 URL to EVM Call Message Translation” was first proposed on Feb. 14, 2022, in the Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) platform. The EIP was proposed by ETHStorage’s founder Qi Zhou and co-authored with Ethereum researcher Sam Wilson.
The proposal finally received approval on the mainnet on March 2023, nearly a year of its conception. The ERC-4804 standard is a protocol that allows access to decentralized applications and on-chain Web3 content without the need for the traditional HTTP URL format. This means that instead of let’s say typing in “http://” to get to the website requested, users can type in “Web3://” in their browser to access decentralized applications.
1/n, I am delighted to announce that the first web access protocol for ETH ERC4804: Web3 URL is approved by EIP editors and finalized!
web3:// (https://t.co/uXpTGdXirF) is decentralized http://. It allow users to directly browse the rich web content on EVM, pages/images/songs!
— Qi Zhou (@qc_qizhou) March 1, 2023
Why Replace HTTP?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or as widely known as HTTP, is the foundation of the World Wide Web that is used to load websites through hypertext links. An HTTP request is typically communication between a client and a server. A client, in this case, is a web browser trying to request the information they need from a specific server to load up a website.
So what’s the problem here? Well, Web3 still relies on these centralized servers to access decentralized applications. This kind of negates the whole Web3 ethos of ultimate decentralization.
Anthurine Xiang, a spokesperson for layer-2 storage protocol ETHStorage stated that “Right now, all the DApps like Uniswap […] claim to be decentralized apps. But how [do] we get on the webpage? You have to go through the DNS. You have to go through GoDaddy. All those are centralized servers.”
Xiang stated, in a recent presentation at ETHDenver, that the reasoning behind this shift to decentralized access was that more and more NFT collections are moving to be fully on-chain. However, even on-chain NFTs that have all their metadata written on the blockchain use third-party to render the actual images. They use HTTP or IPFS to showcase the image.
This is because Ethereum cannot render the image directly. And thus, this was one of the reasons to have an ERC-4804 access protocol.
Does ERC-4804 Fix the Problem?
Replacing the HTTP protocol with the ERC-4804 standard allow users to directly access on-chain data, such as an NFT image, without centralized intermediaries such as DNS and other servers. How? Well, the protocol allows users to directly run a query on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). This way, users can be redirected to on-chain NFTs and Dapps without the fear of censorship.
So, instead of locating decentralized resources hosted on a server, it locates decentralized resources hosted by a smart contract or ENS. The architecture of the access protocol is very similar to that of the traditional HTTP protocol. It inherits most features of HTTP such as:
- Decentralized authority (a contract by address or name).
- A way to call the contract.
- A format to return data (optional)
In order to access the EVM with the ERC-4804 standard, a gateway exists on W3eth.io that redirects you to the content hosted on Ethereum. There is also a Firefox extension you can download where you can type in the “Web3://” manually.
Access Protocol Applications
So, who will be using this new standard? And for what exactly. As discussed before, on-chain NFTs can have great benefits to render and showcase their metadata without resorting to a centralized server. NFTs who upload all their metadata as SVG layers on-chain can use the new ERC-4804 “Web3://” protocol to deploy a contract to render the SVG file.
Users can also access entire websites using the “Web3://” scheme, as long as the websites are exist fully on the Ethereum blockchain
So, the ERC-4804 is an unbreakable, free-of-censorship protocol because it basically lives on the immutable blockchain.
But, What About Ethereum’s Storage Cost?
However, here lies a limitation of the ERC-4804. In fact, it’s not a protocol limitation but rather a blockchain limitation. Storage cost on the mainnet is super expensive. Xiang stated in his presentation that 1GB of storage on the blockchain will cost approximately $10 million! He continued noting that layer-2 storage solutions might help mitigate some of the costs.
Does Everything Have to Be Decentralized?
Is there really a need to decentralize everything in Web3? As we saw, storing on the blockchain is too expensive and can require a lot of resources. Decentralized apps that get redirected from a standard HTTP protocol might not be minding the centralized intermediary. However, platforms that run into censorship issues might consider the ERC-4804 protocol as the savior standard for their Dapps.
“For example, for Tornado Cash, a lot of people can’t get to them through their website because there’s censorship,” Xiang explained.
However, decentralized storage systems such as IPFS might not be the best solution for both on-chain and off-chain data.
I *use* IPFS to store my blog. It has serious UX issues (took ~1h for my last update to propagate). Sticking the blog on-chain would have been way easier.
For blogs, that's unfortunately too expensive, but for short text records the logic applies.
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) May 27, 2022