Legends of NEAR: Expansion from 4 to 6 Shards – NEAR Protocol

Legends of NEAR: Expansion from 4 to 6 Shards

May 13, 2024

TLDR: NEAR is growing fast, leading to a need for more capacity, so it increased its shards from 4 to 6 to handle more transactions smoothly. This upgrade boosts the network’s ability by 50% and was done without any disruption to the system, ensuring users continue to have a fast and stable experience.

Over the last six months, NEAR has experienced a significant increase in users and transactions. NEAR has 3 of the top ten dapps in Web3 by users with KAI-CHING and HOT Wallet both reaching millions of daily active users in April 2024.

Chart from Pikespeak

  • Total Transactions: 1.16B 
  • Daily Unique Active Accounts: 1.3M

NEAR has 3 of the top ten dapps in Web3 by users according to dappradar with KAI-CHING and HOT Wallet both reaching millions of daily active users in April 2024.

All of this demand led to some congestion on one of the shards, so Bowen Wang, Director of Protocol, and the Protocol team worked on further optimizations that rolled out within days to address it. Over the course of 2 weeks, they added 2 more shards to NEAR – for a total of 6 live shards. This increased the network’s capacity by 50%. 

At the end of Q2, stateless validation is expected to  launch on Mainnet – this upgrade is projected to improve throughput for each shard by 5x and grow the total number of shards available for the network.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this upgrade is that it was implemented live—there was no need to take the blockchain offline. There was no break in user transactions.

What is sharding on a blockchain? Let’s simplify using an analogy.

Imagine you have a library that’s become too large and crowded. To manage this, you divide your books into several smaller sections and place them in different rooms. Each room now holds part of the entire collection, making finding and managing books easier. Most importantly, the separate collections will minimize congestion when the library is busy.

Now, think of the NEAR blockchain like that crowded library. Sharding is like dividing this big blockchain into smaller, manageable pieces called “shards.” Each shard is like one of those rooms, with only the contract interactions within that shard. When someone needs information, they go directly to the room (shard) where it’s stored instead of waiting for the whole chain. This way, sharding helps handle more data and serve more users efficiently without affecting users of the entire chain every time.

In NEAR’s case, the blockchain is split into multiple shards, akin to these rooms, where each shard processes transactions and maintains the state independently. This division allows for parallel processing, significantly boosting the network’s capacity and speed.

What sets NEAR apart is how these shards interact and synchronize. A developer doesn’t have to worry about which shard a specific contract might be on. This approach maintains high security and interconnectivity while allowing the network to scale effectively. As the network grows and demands increase, more shards can be added, like expanding the library with more rooms, to ensure that  NEAR can adapt to increasing usage and more complex applications.

NEAR is focusing on future-proofing the protocol to handle even more growth and usage. This proactive approach aims to minimize disruptions and maintain a consistent developer and user experience, no matter how much the demand grows.

This further validates NEAR’s thesis that sharding is the best scaling approach given what is currently  happening across the whole Web3 space. Many non-sharded chain/rollups are getting congested with transactions and have been forced to raise fees, while NEAR was able to expand capacity by adding more shards and keeping fees stable.

Homogeneous Sharding isn’t just a tech tweak; it’s a critical evolution in the blockchain that keeps transactions flowing. And it takes a team of superheroes for NEAR Protocol to be a top blockchain in Web3. The ultimate goal? To ensure that users never notice the complexity behind their seamless digital experience.

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