Cosmos Stargate Upgrade Overview

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Introducing Stargate, the largest Cosmos upgrade yet. Stargate will enable higher transaction throughput, cross-chain transactions, accelerate UI development, and so much more.

At a Glance

Join the Cosmos Stargate announcements channel!

If you're running a block explorer, wallet, exchange, validator, or any other service (eg. custody provider) that depends upon the Cosmos Hub or Cosmos ecosystem, you'll want to pay attention, because this upgrade will involve substantial changes.

  1. Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC)- cross-chain transactions  
  2. Protobuf Migration - blockchain performance & dev acceleration  
  3. State Sync - minutes to sync new nodes
  4. Full-Featured Light Clients
  5. Chain Upgrade Module - upgrade automation

Help us to get the word out--this is a major leap for the Cosmos Network and we want everyone on board ?

Cosmos Hub to Lead the Stargate Upgrade

In December 2019, the Cosmos Hub’s only major upgrade delivered new power to ATOM stakers by way of governance: parameter changes and community spending. Prior to the Cosmos Hub 3 upgrade, the chain had to be halted to change economic parameters, which can now be changed via governance proposal. Importantly, funds from the community pool can be spent via governance proposal, a powerful tool to accelerate Cosmos Hub development.

Currently, we have a stable network with a strong set of Cosmos Hub validators. We have a functioning governance system with strong participation, and we have used our community pool to fund two projects. However, the Hub is still independent from the rest of the Cosmos ecosystem, and the Hub was designed to connect the Cosmos ecosystem together.

The next step is the Stargate upgrade, coming later this year. Stargate will improve the Cosmos ecosystem in a few major ways. Perhaps one of the most well-known benefits being delivered in Stargate is the ability to connect Cosmos-based chains together using Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC), and the Cosmos Hub will be leading the way for the Stargate upgrade.

If you’ve been following the Cosmos ecosystem lately, you have likely seen an explosion of ecosystem activity in preparation for the launch of the much-anticipated IBC protocol. Stargate will usher in more than just IBC.

Stargate Overview

The Cosmos ecosystem will look to Cosmos Hub governance to vote on the features of the largest Cosmos upgrade yet. Here are the primary features:

  1. Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC)
    The ability to exchange transactions of value and data across compatible chains
  2. Protobuf Migration
    Accelerates front-end development and 10x to 100x better blockchain performance
  3. State Sync
    A new node can synchronize 200x faster, participating in consensus in minutes rather than days
  4. Full-Featured Light Clients
  5. Chain Upgrade Module
    Enables validators to upgrade the chain software asynchronously in minutes rather than an hour or more

In essence, this launch will complete the roadmap laid out in the Cosmos whitepaper, as discussed by Zaki Manian (Iqlusion). Here's a recent Q&A:

Cross-Chain Connections via IBC

Cosmos’ flagship, the Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol, is set to launch with the Stargate update. IBC will mark the emergence of a much-anticipated interoperable Cosmos network: the ability to securely and trustlessly exchange data and token value across sovereign chains that support IBC. That means that 1) tokens and 2) data will be exchanged across different blockchains, and we anticipate that the Cosmos Hub will be the first to secure those cross-chain exchanges.

New to IBC? Here’s a simple explainer. Want to dive deeper? IBC is being addressed in a number of spots, and here are a few places to start:

  1. IBC documentation
  2. Interchain Standards Github
  3. Game of Zones website
  4. IBC overview paper

IBC is what will take siloed, Cosmos-based blockchains and bring them together to make an ecosystem called the Cosmos Network.

If you plan to support tokens beyond the Cosmos Hub’s ATOM with your wallet, exchange, block explorer or other application/service, check out the IBC security model (demonstrated extensively during Phase 3 of Game of Zones) in order to effectively balance novelty and safety for your users.

The Cosmos Hub will strive to be the most secure and reliable hub that links them all together, with its battle-tested validator set and with the economic power of the ATOM. A truly decentralized Interchain should have no single point of failure, and hubs like the IRIS Network will also route interchain transactions.

Accelerating Performance & User Interface Development via Protobuf

It could be that IBC has stolen all of the attention, or perhaps the name “Protobuf Migration” is not nearly exciting enough, but the Protobuf Migration will do a number of key things for Cosmos blockchains. Beginning with the Cosmos Hub, we’ll see significant improvements to performance, compatibility, interoperability, operability and developer ease-of-use. What does that mean?

A better Cosmos future with Protobuf

Applications will be way faster, gas costs will be much lower, and there will be more transactions included in each block. Applications will be more reliable and easier to create, supporting a lengthy list of programming languages. Protobuf is expected to clear the biggest bottleneck in Cosmos--one that touches every layer. Clearing this bottleneck will enable the teams working on Cosmos to see what else can be improved going forward.

A performance increase of one or two orders of magnitude

We expect transaction throughput of the Cosmos Hub (and others that upgrade) to increase by 10x to 100x. This will be very important for the Cosmos Hub to handle an ever-increasing volume of cross-chain transactions. It also makes it easier on the nodes that run the network. Around 50% of CPU time when running `gaiad` is currently spent in the encoding and decoding logic, and that’s about to change, thanks to the migration to Protobuf. And there’s more.

Reliability, composability, and better UIs

Protobuf will introduce a standard for composability. That means easier development of reliable front-end user interfaces (UIs) that work together with other UIs. Current UIs need an intermediate process to read/write blockchain data, which makes things slow and unreliable. Not only will web apps (in Javascript) be able to communicate directly with a Cosmos node, applications using any of the many Protobuf-supported languages will do this as well. Protobuf will be critical to attracting user interface developers who want to make great new Cosmos apps.

New nodes up and running in minutes via State Sync

At 6 or 7 seconds per block, Tendermint makes new blocks very quickly. That’s great for blockchain performance, but challenging for participants that need to synchronize a new node, which can take days. This is a big problem for a validator operator that needs to replace a failed validator. The current workaround is downloading a public snapshot, which makes syncing much faster, but it’s a security risk for the validator and the network. State Sync will enable a Cosmos node to be up and running securely within minutes, not days.

Full-Featured Light Clients

According to Zaki (Iqlusion), Tendermint’s light client security model allows full nodes to bootstrap themselves securely without waiting days to sync all past state. “As an ecosystem, we need to figure out a way to distribute light client trust roots in less than 21 day unbonding time to full nodes.” Expect more details from the Interchain GmbH team’s deep dive on the Tendermint 0.34 plan.

Chain Upgrade Module

The initial versions of the Cosmos Hub used a flexible but painful chain halt to upgrade the blockchain. When we upgraded to cosmoshub-2 and cosmoshub-3, we stopped the Cosmos Hub for over an hour--a disruption we can’t afford as the Cosmos Network relies more and more upon the Cosmos Hub. This method of upgrade is challenging for validator operators and introduces an additional layer of risk for their operations, as well as to their delegators, who may be slashed. Thanks to the Regen Network team, this new upgrade module will automate the upgrade process to reduce the coordination complexity, potential for human error, and the demands on the validator operators to all upgrade at the same time.

Stargate will enable the ability for a governance proposal to specify either an upgrade block height or time, safely shut down block production on the legacy chain, and then enable validators to opt into running the management process that seamlessly deploys the new software, migrates the state, and starts the new chain.

The Regen Network has been running this upgrade process for nearly a year on their testnets and their validator community has already built up considerable experience with it. We’re anticipating a future of Cosmos Hub upgrades that are much less eventful, something we are all looking forward to.

Next Steps

Block explorers, wallets, exchanges, we are asking you to schedule time in August for integration testing against the Stargate network.

Validators, we are hoping that nearly all validators in the Cosmos Hub will participate in the Stargate testnet as a simulated upgrade. We are anticipating the first testnet to be July 27.

Join us for the Stargate testnet to get used to this process. The Stargate team intends to run testnets and upgrades (using the Cosmos Hub genesis file) to broaden the pool of experience.

Follow along on Twitter via @cosmos to ensure you don’t miss updates, and join our Discord #stargate channel to ask questions or to lend a hand, and join the Cosmos Stargate announcements channel!

Get the word out on Twitter, translate and/or repost this article and others, or help us by syndicating it onto your own blog or channels. This is a major leap for the Cosmos Network and we want everyone on board ?

Special thanks to Jack (Akash) for hours spent with me getting this article detailed. A big thank-you to Zaki (Iqlusion) for substantial contributions and information. Thanks to Billy (ICF) and the rest of the Stargate team for helping to get this article right.

Hopefully you found this useful. Feedback is always welcome! I’m on Twitter.

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