Design Flexibility: The New Pinnacle of Web3 Development
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Design Flexibility: The New Pinnacle of Web3 Development

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4 months ago

Op-Ed: Design flexibility is not a “nice to have” feature — it is a necessity for developers to build the perfect web3 application for users.

Design Flexibility: The New Pinnacle of Web3 Development

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Decentralized applications (dApps) are at the forefront of the web3 movement, offering a more open and user-centric internet. The development of these applications, however, is not without its challenges. In the long list of web3 hurdles that have been placed in front of web3 developers (security, scalability, UX, incentives), there’s another challenge that remains elusive and less discussed: design flexibility.

The Current State of DApp Development

In today’s world of traditional software, developers have a wealth of tools and libraries they use to build user-friendly applications. The options for today’s web2 developers are abundant — in short, their design options are flexible.

In web3, by contrast, the constraints of the technology often limits developers. This is most obvious for applications built on Ethereum and executed in the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Every smart contract interaction (i.e. every transaction) runs through the EVM, updating the network’s state in the process. Every transaction on the EVM incurs a gas cost; the more complex the transaction, the higher the cost. Blockspace is finite on Ethereum, so when rising gas costs and finite blockspace collide, a competitive environment arises.

During times of high network demand, competition intensifies. Web3 users and dApps find themselves in bidding wars, vying for their transactions to be processed in earlier blocks and being forced to pay high fees to make it happen.

This dynamic, however, doesn’t just translate to high costs. It fundamentally influences how dApps are designed in the first place. Developers are often forced to prioritize gas optimization over software functionality. The result is a development landscape where innovation is stifled and design choices are made not for user experience, but to compensate for the limitations of the underlying infrastructure.

Today’s L2 Gas Solutions

Gas cost and scalability are critical to the success of web3, and many layer 2 projects today aim to find a solution. By executing transactions off-chain, L2s promise less competition for blockspace. However, while these networks have alleviated some of the acute pressures of gas wars, they don’t fully address the core issue: design flexibility.

Even with L2 solutions, dApps remain tethered to the EVM’s constraints. The competitive bidding dynamics between gas and blockspace are inherent to shared EVM spaces, which most of these L2s still are. Even if those pressures are reduced with today’s L2 rollup solutions, developers still find themselves making design compromises.

The Search for a Better Development Environment

The search for more design freedom has led projects to explore alternatives to the EVM, such as EVM+ and WASM. These alternatives allow developers to write smart contracts in more traditional programming languages like Rust and Python.

The real power of traditional programming languages lies in their vast open source libraries. These libraries, built over decades of global developer input, offer pre-written, battle-tested solutions to complex problems. Developers use these libraries to build faster and more efficiently. These web2 libraries rely on an operating system that provides memory management, system hardware, security, and more.

However, EVM alternatives cannot support an operating system precisely because of the computational limitations of shared environments in current L2s. This means that even with these “developer friendly” EVM alternatives, dApp developers can’t benefit from most open source libraries. Without those resources, even basic developer tasks remain cumbersome and inefficient.

Finding the Right Path to Design Flexibility

Reaching the pinnacle of design flexibility thus requires a few different innovations to intersect. First, the competition for blockspace and gas costs needs to be resolved so that developers can focus on the perfect dApp for users rather than the perfect dApp for gas optimizations. Once developers move from a shared environment into an app-specific one, the question becomes: "what can be done with these massive gains in computing power?"

Now they’ll have the resources to build with full implementations of familiar programming languages rather than limited versions or web3-native languages. These languages need to be available alongside vast open source libraries that benefit from the global “hive mind” of developers.

The need for all these intersections requires a fundamentally new approach to achieve design flexibility. Design flexibility is not a “nice to have” feature. It is a necessity for more web3 applications to move beyond intrigue and begin making noticeable, scalable changes to the way we operate online. It is up to the broader community to continue innovating to build the web3 future we all envision.

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Felipe Argento is an advisor at the Cartesi Foundation, focusing on Layer 2 research and application.  Felipe joined the Cartesi project in 2018, leading a team of blockchain engineers and making notable contributions to the architecture, design, and on-chain implementation of Cartesi Rollups. Before joining Cartesi, Felipe was a software engineer focusing on blockchain applications for clean energy, carbon credit, and energy futures in a partnership with Brazilian energy companies. Felipe speaks Portuguese and English.

Brandon J. Isaacson is a lawyer and board member at the Cartesi Foundation. Prior to joining the Cartesi project, Brandon was an associate at Latham & Watkins, specializing in the securities and regulatory sector, before launching his own law practice.  Over the past decade, Brandon has represented clients in regulatory investigations, enforcement proceedings, and securities and ICO litigations, as well as advised startups on regulatory issues associated with the launch of disruptive emerging technologies.

Cartesi is an app-specific rollup protocol with a virtual machine that runs Linux distributions, creating a richer and broader design space for DApp developers. Cartesi Rollups offer a modular scaling solution, deployable as L2, L3, or sovereign rollups, while maintaining strong base layer security guarantees. To learn more about Cartesi, visit https://cartesi.io/.

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