26/05/2022

Merge testing begins on Ethereum network

The blockchain network Ethereum is reportedly moving into its latest round of merge testing, as it moves towards a proof-of-stake (PoS) mechanism.  

 

Testing began in earnest in April 2022, with the successful completion of the first major test (known as a shadow fork). It was repeated twice, and more testing is planned for the coming months.  

 

What is ‘the Merge’? 

 

The Merge aims to shift the decentralised network from the current proof-of-work (PoW) system, a computation-intensive mechanism.  

 

The update is predicted to improve usability – or more accurately, to solve existing usability problems. These include high transaction costs, caused by congestion on the network. It is hoped that the Merge will help to scale the network to cope with capacity, or at least for the time being.

Steven Goldfeder, Offchain Labs CEO, explained to CoinDesk that scaling is likely to be a longer-term issue for the platform: 

 

“It’s … sort of almost a cat and mouse game, right? You scale to a point that we can handle the next 100 million users. But then, you know, they come and you say, how do we get the next billion users and 2 billion users and 10 billion users and ultimately, you have to keep advancing. 

 

And in good news for the platform’s sustainability, it’s also hoped that the long-anticipated transition will cut Ethereum’s energy usage and costs by a huge 95%.  

 

What merge testing is taking place?  

 

Developers are using a range of merge tests to prepare for Ethereum’s Merge to be staged.  

These include Hive tests, to test out the new engine APIs. CoinDesk writer Eli Tan explains a little more about how Hive works: 

 

“Hive is the integration testing platform for the current Ethereum network’s Execution Layer (EL), and is used to test the new engine APIs. 

 

“Like the network itself, Hive tests are constantly evolving. Most recently, testing teams have added the ability for Hive tests to mock the new proof-of-stake Ethereum Consensus Layer (CL) behaviour. This new integration will allow it to run a simulator for the transition from Po W to PoS and see how both the CL and EL will behave.” 

 

Another key test is Kurtosis, the main function of which is to create staging environments which isolate specific aspects of the transition. 

 

On 11th April, developers carried out one of the first major tests on the platform in anticipation of the upcoming transition. During this shadow fork, they discovered that a bug was causing gas limits to be artificially raised by miners.  

 

It’s this kind of bug in the code, one that could be easily missed in earlier rounds of testing, that this kind of focused merge testing is designed to uncover.   

 

Subsequent tests were extremely promising, with one model having the outcome that all client combinations on the network survived the transition. What’s more, they stayed in sync for the first time. In the most recent shadow fork, syncing was examined in more detail, and minor fixable improvements were identified.

  

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