Polygon Lightpaper Simplified: Understanding the Technical Details
Crypto Basics

Polygon Lightpaper Simplified: Understanding the Technical Details

5 months ago

Overwhelmed by the complexities of the Polygon lightpaper? Don't throw in the towel just yet! Let us simplify the technical details to make it understandable for you.

Polygon Lightpaper Simplified: Understanding the Technical Details

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Formerly Matic Network, the project rebranded in February 2021 as Polygon — a suite of layer-2 scaling solutions designed to massively expand the utility and capabilities of Ethereum, while powering an interconnected landscape of decentralized services.
Like most blockchain platforms, Polygon is primarily presented to the world through a whitepaper and ‘lightpaper’ — a document that summarizes the purpose, features and capabilities of the platform.

Despite its attempt to simplify the value proposition of the Polygon network, the lightpaper still remains somewhat cryptic — particularly for less experienced readers. For this reason, we’re going to break it down, helping you better understand what Polygon is, how it can be used, and how it’s different from existing blockchain solutions.

To get the most out of this explainer, you will need a basic understanding of blockchain technology — including some prior knowledge of consensus mechanisms, the blockchain trilemma and cross-chain communication.

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Why Was Polygon Created?

As a "protocol and framework for building Ethereum-compatible blockchain networks," Polygon is tackling several of the biggest problems facing the blockchain industry today. These include the poor user experience that comes with using decentralized technologies, as well as the scaling and flexibility limitations most current-generation smart contract platforms suffer from.
At the time of writing, the Ethereum blockchain can only process somewhere in the order of 12-15 transactions per second (tps) with average transaction fees that have, at times, exceeded $50. This is primarily due to its block size, transaction propagation rate and stringent security measures.

For comparison, the VisaNet electronic payment network can process in excess of 65,000 transactions per second.

Due to its relatively low throughput and high fee environment, it isn’t uncommon for Ethereum transactions to be delayed for several minutes or even hours — which can be a frustrating experience for users.
Polygon aims to tackle some of Ethereum's current limitations while providing the tools developers can use to build custom general or application-specific blockchains that can interoperate both with each other and Ethereum.

Note: These challenges are being directly addressed in Ethereum’s post-merge roadmap.

These blockchains can host novel decentralized applications (DApps) that can tap into the unique properties of the blockchain while still benefitting from the unrivaled security of Ethereum’s massive validator network. The Polygon protocol stack helps these otherwise independent blockchains from part of a connected landscape of chains, allowing for more powerful and complex applications and use cases.

You can think of a dApp as a regular application that is simply hosted on a blockchain network instead of a centralized server.

The Internet of Blockchains

Polygon is frequently described as the “Internet of Blockchains”. Put simply, it means it is designed to seamlessly connect the various projects building on Ethereum — reducing friction, lowering barriers to entry, and paving the way for the first wave of cross-chain DApps.
Interoperability has proven to be one of the longest-standing challenges facing the blockchain space today. It has led to blockchain tribalism and massive duplication of efforts and has, arguably, hindered collaboration in the crypto sphere. Several platforms are designed to address this challenge, with Polygon being one of the most prominent.

But how does Polygon differ from other layer interoperability solutions? You might ask.

Well, Polygon can be broadly described by its main features. These are what separate it from other platforms and make it attractive to both developers and users.

The lightpaper describes the main features that best capture the essence of the platform. These are:

  • ETH Compatibility: Developers can easily deploy Ethereum-compatible blockchains that can process their own transactions while leveraging Ethereum’s industry-established tech stack, standards and huge adoption.
  • Scalability: Most blockchains are heavily limited in the number of transactions they can process per second, thereby limiting their utility. Polygon allows developers to create separate Ethereum-compatible blockchains, which can process transactions both cheaply and securely, massively increasing the throughput of the overall Polygon ecosystem.
  • Security: Polygon chains are secured by a set of validators and benefit from the additional security of the Ethereum base layer. Polygon regularly checkpoints its state to Ethereum (roughly every 34 minutes), adding a further layer of security for users and developers. In total, the Polygon Network is secured by 100 validators which are selected through a regular on-chain auction process.
  • Sovereignty: Rather than relying on Ethereum for governance, each Polygon chain is self-governing with customizable rules describing how the chain operates and updates.
  • Interoperability: Most blockchains operate entirely independent of one another and cannot easily or securely exchange data or assets — e.g. assets on Ethereum cannot be directly transferred to Solana or another blockchain without relying on middleware. Polygon provides protocols that allow compatible chains to exchange any kind of information, opening the doors to collaboration between chains and reducing tribalism in the blockchain space.
  • User Experience: Polygon improves the experience of interacting with blockchain networks by drastically reducing fees and providing what it describes as “instant (deterministic) transaction finality”. Broadly, this means transactions are considered final as soon as they are added to a block, unlike probabilistic blockchains, like Bitcoin, where transactions can be considered increasingly final based on how many blocks have passed since they were confirmed.
  • Developer Experience: Polygon provides an Ethereum-like development experience. It's permissionless, meaning anybody can begin building with Polygon, and no fees are required to deploy on the network besides the standard gas costs. Developers can use most standard Ethereum development tools (e.g. Alchemy, Hardhat, and Remix) to build for Polygon, reducing the barrier to entry.
  • Modularity: Polygon chains are highly customizable, thanks to a range of modules. This reduces barriers to entry and time-to-market while ensuring developers can easily extend or upgrade the functionality of their chain.

Ok, so but what exactly are “Polygon Chains”?

Well, the Polygon Network is an interconnected network of sovereign blockchains — some of which may be tailored to specific applications, while others may be general purpose. Smart contracts deployed on one chain can interact with those deployed on another, forming one cohesive network.

How Does Polygon Work?

As is the case with many prominent blockchains, the Polygon lightpaper is sprinkled with technical jargon — doubly so when discussing its capabilities and features. Let’s break it down!

As we previously touched on, it allows developers to launch their own customized Ethereum-based blockchain. This can be tailored to the individual needs of the project or platform and will be interoperable both with other Polygon chains and with Ethereum.

Polygon aims to make it as simple as possible for developers to deploy a blockchain — even with little to no blockchain development experience. It achieves this by providing an array of tools, technologies and features that developers can use to build and power their products.

Broadly, these include:

  • One-Click Deployment: Developers can choose to deploy one of a range of preset Ethereum-compatible blockchains in a single click even with no development experience.
  • Modular Architecture: These blockchains can be customized with a growing range of optional modules, allowing developers to tailor the consensus model, governance capabilities, virtual machine implementation, and more to their specific needs. This means they can build a blockchain that is perfectly tailored to their requirements — e.g. prioritizing security over speed or user-friendliness over developer-friendliness.
  • Arbitrary Message Passing: Polygon chains can communicate with both one another and Ethereum, allowing smart contracts on one chain to leverage data and assets from another where permitted. Put simply, this means tokens deployed on one chain can be used on any other chain in the Polygon Network while enabling more feature-rich DApps.
  • Security-As-a-Service: For use cases where security is paramount, developers can tap an array of security services, using Ethereum-based or dedicated validators to add an additional layer of security to their applications. This makes it suitable for enterprise use cases where developers need to manage their own validator set, or for public chains where it is acceptable to bootstrap security from a pre-existing validator set.

As a framework for building highly scalable interoperable blockchains, Polygon gives developers the opportunity to build on the solid foundations of Ethereum, while further benefitting from the additional capabilities Polygon provides.

Moreover, developers can choose from a variety of security models when building their Polygon chains, this includes Proof of Stake (PoS), Plasma or Hybrid (PoS + Plasma) security. They can also choose which scaling system to implement, including layer-2 options such as optimistic rollups (ORs) and zk-rollups — ensuring they can meet their technical requirements or ideological concerns.
Or in more simple terms, Polygon allows developers to build blockchains that are secured in different ways and process transactions differently. As of now, developers can choose from one of three different scaling solutions, but this will expand to at least eight in the near future. Right now, the platform supports two consensus mechanismsProof of Authority and Proof of Stake — which determine how the network is secured and how blocks are produced.

Read more: What Are Cryptocurrency Layer 2 Scaling Solutions?

The Polygon Architecture

Polygon is different from many blockchain platforms in that rather than existing as a single layer, it’s actually formed of four separate layers — two of which are optional while the other two are mandatory.

This makes it incredibly customizable, giving developers a great deal of flexibility when building blockchains and novel decentralized applications.

Briefly, these layers are as follows:

Optional layers

  1. Ethereum Layer: The base layer on top of which Polygon operates. This is used for things like staking, communication between ETH and Polygon chains, and transaction settlement through the checkpoint mechanism. Despite being a layer-2 solution, projects can opt to skip using Ethereum and instead rely only on Polygon validators for security.
  2. Security Layer: An optional security-as-a-service layer that allows Polygon chains to make use of validators to improve security. This layer can have various implementations, allowing developers to choose how their validators are managed (e.g. in terms of registrations, rewards, shuffling, etc). This is for developers that want to add an additional layer of security to their chain.

Mandatory layers

  1. Polygon Networks Layer: This is the ecosystem of different sovereign blockchain networks connected with one another using Polygon technology. Each of these is responsible for its own local consensus, transaction grouping and block production. This means if one Polygon chain suffers downtime, the others remain unaffected.
  2. Execution Layer: This is Polygon's execution environment, which developers can use to execute their smart contract code. This takes the form of a virtual machine which is used to interpret code as well as the logic used to transition the blockchain to the next state.
In this case, the term “state” is used to describe the current arrangement of the blockchain, including the list of confirmed transactions, user balances, active addresses, etc. As transactions are processed and smart contract operations are performed, the state is gradually updated. This is achieved through state transitions.

By stratifying across four layers, Polygon is able to modularize different blockchain functions and maximize flexibility for developers.

How Polygon Fits Into the Blockchain Landscape

The final part of the Polygon lightpaper describes its positioning — that is, where it fits into the broader blockchain landscape.

Right now, this is primarily comprised of popular layer-1 blockchains, like Ethereum and BNB Chain; sidechains that work alongside a layer 1 to extend their functionality like RootStock (which extends Bitcoin); and interoperability solutions to enable cross-chain communication and asset transfers, like Polkadot and Cosmos.

Did you know? Layer 1 blockchains operate independently, whereas layer 2 blockchains operate on top of an underlying blockchain (typically a layer 1).

Polygon sits at the intersection of these alternative platforms and protocols by providing a flexible framework for developing custom blockchains and applications. It aims to offer the most attractive mix of features across key factors, like Ethereum compatibility, scalability, security, interoperability and user experience, to become the platform of choice for developers.

Long-term, Polygon aims to contribute to a "world in which people and machines collaborate and exchange value globally and freely, without gatekeepers or intermediaries.” It is hoped that the project will provide the infrastructure to power part of this new world, and help knock down financial and social borders.

Also Read: The Ultimate Guide to the Polygon Ecosystem

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