Ethereum's Next Upgrade is Now Being Tested
The first part of the Metropolis upgrade to Ethereum, Byzantium, has officially been deployed on test environment Ropsten. Ropsten allows for developers to test code updates & utilize smart contracts without having to worry about gas cost. The hard fork is expected to remain on the testing environment for around three to four weeks as long as everything goes smoothly
Announced early Tuesday morning by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, Ropsten completed its first private transaction proving to many that it is capable of handling zero knowledge proof transactions. The implementation of zero knowledge proofs is the first step in adding cryptographic aspects to the Ethereum platform. These proofs, also called zk-SNARKs, are capable of verifying ledger transactions without revealing either party involved. One of the main things holding this tech back is the gas inefficiency when making private transactions. The first zk-SNARK transaction on Ropsten cost 1,933,895 gas compared to a regular transaction currently costing around 21,000 gas. It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before private transactions are practical on the Ethereum blockchain.
Along with zk-SNARK functionality, the Byzantium hardfork will also include nine EIPs or Ethereum improvement protocols. These protocols will introduce new changes to the blockchain that will increase functionality and scalability while minimizing risk of exploitation. One of these protocols, EIP 649, is set to delay the the long awaited difficulty bomb (Ethereum Ice Age) previously scheduled for September 22nd and decrease the block reward from 5 to 3 ETH. The difficulty bomb was originally meant to force the switch of Ethereum from a proof of work to a proof of stake consensus. Due to the DAO hack in 2016, the development of the proof of stake consensus algorithm, Casper, was delayed and is about a year behind schedule.
Developers are expected to announce a formal release date for the hard fork shortly provided no major problems arise.