The consensus layer is the backbone of any blockchain network, performing the vital role of facilitating agreement among nodes on the true state of the blockchain.
The consensus layer enables the geographically distributed computers in these networks to come to an agreement on which transactions and blocks are validated and the order in which they occur.
This agreement is essential for the accuracy and security of the blockchain. The consensus layer also provides a number of crucial services to the network including timekeeping, generating randomness, staking operations, governance mechanisms and more. Upgrading Ethereum's original consensus layer has been key to unlocking greater scalability, sustainability and decentralization.
Decentralization levels have been boosted significantly too, as the barrier to participate as a validator securing the upgraded network is far lower compared to expensive mining equipment previously required. This further cements Ethereum's position as a highly secure and resilient blockchain.
Proof-of-work relied on miners competing to solve complex computational problems to add new blocks, consuming vast amounts of power. Proof-of-stake changes this by having validators stake existing Ether coins to qualify for random assignment in adding new blocks. The role of adding blocks and confirming transactions rotates between validators based on the size of their stake.
Transitioning one of the largest and most utilized blockchains in the world to an entirely new architecture underlying the network was always going to need careful implementation. Simply put, deploying massive changes in one go could jeopardize stability and introduce risks. The phased rollout of the upgrade via the initial Beacon Chain, the recent merge, and then shard chains in the future provides a less risky roadmap.
Dividing deployment into multiple releases allowed rigorous testing of each foundational piece and time for bug fixing before introducing the next pillar of the upgrade. Think of it like incrementally constructing a tower block – testing the foundations first results in the strongest end structure. The modular nature of this approach will also make any further upgrades simpler down the line.
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