The Ultimate Guide to the Ethereum Roadmap (2024)

The Ultimate Guide to the Ethereum Roadmap (2024)

Ethereum's long-standing struggles with scalability are no longer being accommodated by developers. Rightfully so, the developers are demanding answers i.e. infrastructure-level improvements and Ethereum is responding. The scalability-focused Dencun upgrade is already here, bringing proto-danksharding to Ethereum. 

Meanwhile, outside of Ethereum, the accrual of developer interest and growing trading volume in networks like Solana is a mild concern. 

Numerous debates on the philosophy and culture of the protocols have begun. The debate is neverending from macro topics like ‘How decentralized a blockchain is?’ to design principles that blockchains employ to scale their network.

Fortunately, for Ethereum, however, Vitalik Buterin recently tweeted an updated roadmap diagram for 2024:

In this blog, we will explain what the Ethereum roadmap looks like, the major updates, how they affect layer-2 networks, and everything about the future of Ethereum.

What is the Ethereum Roadmap of 2024?

The Ethereum roadmap of 2024 is a six-phase journey proposed by Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s co-founder. The six phases, namely — the Merge, the Surge, the Scourge, the Verge, the Purge, and the Splurge — are the technical way forward for Ethereum. Each of the six phases hyperfocus on key improvements like better decentralization and ease of node operations.

Source: Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Founder (Warpcast)

Don’t let the infographic overwhelm you; we got you covered.

Here is a quick overview of all six phases of the Ethereum roadmap shared by Vitalik Buterin:

  1. The Merge is the only completed phase of this roadmap. It transitioned Ethereum from Proof of Work (PoW) to Proof of Stake (PoS) in September 2022, making the network more energy-efficient while introducing staking rewards.
  2. The Surge phase aims to scale Ethereum to handle over 100,000 transactions per second. L2 solutions, especially rollup scaling, are the key here to make the network faster and reduce costs. Proto-danksharding i.e. the EIP-4844 is a major step in this phase.
  3. The Scourge phase is Ethereum’s attempt to answer the decentralization concerns of its PoS design. It focuses keenly on fighting economic centralization within mini-markets like the MEV i.e. maximal extractable value and liquid staking. 
  4. The Verge seeks to bring Verkle trees into use on Ethereum to improve the efficiency and security of data storage and retrieval on Ethereum. The other major focus is the use of SNARK proofs to make computation lighter, making node operations simpler and easier.
  5. The Purge focuses on simplifying Ethereum, removing technical debt, and reducing the cost of network participation. This will further streamline the network’s functionality and efficiency.
  6. The Splurge will represent all improvements and optimizations that Ethereum will receive post all the major upgrades. In this phase, the focus would be on refining and fine-tuning the network while implementing what Vitalik calls 'the fun stuff' to ensure smooth operation. 

Now, how did Ethereum reach here? In the next section, let us understand the major upgrades that the network has undergone till now and how it has helped Ethereum.

Ethereum’s Journey till the Merge

Vitalik Buterin published the Ethereum whitepaper, for the first time, in 2014. From the official launch of the network in 2015 to the Dencun upgrade in January 2024, and the proposed roadmap for the next decade or more, Ethereum’s journey is one for the history books.

From a protocol improvement perspective, here are major upgrades that Ethereum has undergone to date:

Early days of Ethereum

Ethereum's journey began with the Olympic testnet, serving as the final stress test before the official launch. This was followed by the Frontier thawing which lifted the gas limit per block and set the default gas price. 

The network's first major upgrade was Homestead in March 2016. This was the upgrade that transitioned Ethereum from a beta project to a production environment for a world run by smart contracts. Homestead brought many protocol improvements, including EIP-2, EIP-7, and EIP-8, and introduced the Mist wallet, enhancing user interaction with the Ethereum network.  

Byzantium (October 2017)

The Byzantium upgrade is a key milestone in Ethereum’s journey. It included nine EIPs, laying down the foundation for the network’s privacy and scalability.

Key EIPs were:

EIP-198 introduced precompiled contracts for efficient cryptographic operations. 

EIP-649 delayed the difficulty bomb and ensured more predictable block times.

EIP-684 prevented contract overwriting to ensure that once a contract is deployed, its address cannot be hijacked or unintentionally overwritten.

Quick bytes:
‘Difficulty bomb’ was a mechanism used to exponentially increase mining difficulty. This was done to encourage miners to shift from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake and discourage forks. With the Merge, the difficulty bomb was no longer needed.

Constantinople (February 2019)

This upgrade was tailored to optimize Ethereum's efficiency and fee structure, aligning with the network's continual evolution. 

Key EIPs included:

EIP-145 introduced efficient bitwise shifting in the EVM (Ethereum virtual machine), lowering computational costs.

EIP-1014 (CREATE2) enabled state channels and off-chain transactions for better scalability.

EIP-1234 delayed the difficulty bomb and reduced block rewards to 2 ETH.

Istanbul (December 2019)

Istanbul focused on enhancing Ethereum's interoperability with other blockchains and bolstering its resilience. Major inclusions were:

EIP-152 added a Blake2 compression function, bridging Ethereum and Zcash, and opening avenues for interoperability with other chains.

EIP-1108 reduced gas costs for privacy-focused cryptographic operations, making technologies like zk-SNARKs more practical and affordable.

EIP-1344 added a chain ID opcode to improve the security of layer 2 solutions.

After the Istanbul upgrade, most of Ethereum’s developmental efforts were directed toward preparing the network for the Merge i.e. the transition to PoS. 

Key improvements include:

The Berlin upgrade in April 2021 adjusted gas prices and added new transaction types. The key EIPs were EIP-2565 which balanced gas costs for modular exponentiation, EIP-2929 which increased gas costs to prevent spam and DoS attacks, and EIP-2718 which introduced a new transaction type that had flexible forward compatibility.

The London upgrade in August 2021 revamped the fee structure and further delayed the difficulty bomb. The key EIPs were EIP-1559 which introduced a new fee model with base fee and transaction fee burning and EIP-3554 which postponed the difficulty bomb.

All these efforts end up as a platform for the six phases outlined by Vitalik Buterin which we will explain in the next section.

What are the phases of Ethereum Roadmap 2024?

Let us go over each of the six phases in detail:

The Merge

The Merge is the only phase of the roadmap that is live on Ethereum. It started with the launch of the Beacon Chain — a PoS chain that ran parallel to Ethereum's then-existing PoW mainnet. The Merge itself took place in September 2022, merging the mainnet with the beacon chain, transitioning the network entirely to PoS. 

Post the Merge, the Shanghai upgrade allowed validators to withdraw their staked ETH. 

More importantly, Ethereum has prioritized achieving finality within a single slot, with irreversible confirmation of transactions and blocks.

Learn more about the Merge here

Benefits of single-slot finality (SSF)

  • Faster finality improves user experience (reducing wait times for transaction confirmations), and
  • Enhances security (reducing the window for potential attacks like MEV or censorship).

However, single-slot finality requires more computing power per node. This shall reduce the number of participants who can run validating nodes due to higher hardware requirements, sacrificing decentralization.

The Ethereum Foundation has confirmed that SSF is still in the research phase and is not expected to be implemented for several years.

The Surge

This phase of the Ethereum roadmap is already underway with two major moves:

  • The launch of Holesky testnet which now serves as a testing environment for staking, infrastructure, and protocol developments within Ethereum.
  • The Dencun Upgrade going live, bringing proto-danksharding to Ethereum and scaling the network’s data availability using blobs.

Zooming out of Vitalik’s roadmap, the Surge can be seen in two parts.

Basic rollup scaling is brought about by proto-danksharding i.e. EIP-4844. The introduction of blob transactions reduces the data required to process a transaction, improving efficiency in rollups. On top of this, the Dencun upgrade has an EIP to prune memory data regularly — further reducing data storage needs.

Full rollup scaling is the end goal, where the network can handle 100,000 transactions per second. 

For this, Vitalik suggests the need for zkEVMs and optimistic rollups.

  1. ZK-EVMs i.e. zero-knowledge Ethereum virtual machines provide a way to execute and verify transactions off-chain in a manner that is also compatible with Ethereum. A lot of efforts have been made in the field of zkEVMs with Polygon zkEVM being a frontrunner. However, the complexities of zk-proofs have paused the larger adoption from taking place.
  2. Optimistic rollup fraud provers are part of the security mechanism that allows the network to maintain integrity and trust, even as it scales up transaction processing capabilities. Similar to the nascency of zkEVMs, optimistic rollups are yet to garner the attention of major dApps and protocols.   

Along with zkEVMs and Optimistic rollup fraud provers, Vitalik suggests two mechanisms:

  • Data availability (DA) self-healing refers to the ability of the network to recover missing data necessary for rollups to function.
  • peerDAS is a data availability sampling network construction aiming to improve Ethereum's DA scale while maintaining a minimal workload at less than 1MB per slot.

The Scourge

The Scourge phase aims to mitigate the centralization concerns introduced by PoS and MEV. It addresses the economic structures around staking and block production that could otherwise lead to a concentration of power among a few large players.

Two key areas of the Scourge phase:

MEV — Maximal extractable value

MEV was meant to be a reward system for Ethereum validators and users but has resulted in increased centralization and censorship. Dark pools have increased i.e. private transactions directly sent to validators who then include these transactions into the block. This is an unfair practice that might turn Ethereum into a “pay-to-play” system.

Vitalik suggests a few ways to decentralize the MEV market:

  1. Inclusion lists: This mechanism could specify which transactions must be included in a block. It aims to ensure fair transaction ordering and mitigate the impact of MEV by reducing the ability of validators to arbitrarily decide which transactions to include or exclude.
  2. Proposer-Builder Separation (PBS) and ePBS: The PBS model, particularly its enhanced form ePBS (execution PBS), separates the roles of proposing blocks and constructing their content. 
  3. MEV Burn in ePBS: This approach involves burning a portion of the MEV. This ultimately reduces the economic incentives that drive centralization.

Liquid staking

Ethereum's current staking model is largely two-tiered, involving node operators and delegators. Node operators run nodes and provide collateral, while delegators contribute ETH without further participation requirements. This carries a high-risk element of centralization in node operators.

With players like Lido controlling nearly 33% of all the staked ETH, the risk of centralization is too big to ignore.

To counter this, Vitalik proposes a few approaches:

  1. Raising the maximum balance of ETH that counts towards staking rewards. The goal is to potentially incentivize more staking, which could improve network security by increasing the number of validators.
  2. Making it easier for validators to operate nodes in terms of enhancements to client software or changes in network protocols. Reducing the technical barriers should attract more developers.
  3. Explore total stake capping for liquid staking protocols to prevent over-centralization of network control. This ensures a more distributed and decentralized network.

The Verge

The goal of the Verge phase is to simplify block verification. Vitalik feels the process should be as simple as downloading only a minimal amount of data, performing some basic computations, and then verifying these via a SNARK proof. This would make the process much more efficient, allowing for broader participation in the network's security.

For this to happen, two key components are needed. They are:

  1. Verkle trees are a proposed data structure for Ethereum that aims to significantly improve the way nodes store and validate state data. They use a "witness" to the state data that comes with the block. This witness is a collection of necessary state data pieces and cryptographic proofs that it's part of the full data.

Vitalik suggests the cryptographic proofs be zkSNARKs —Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge. 

  1. SNARK proofs are cryptographic proofs that enable one party to prove to another that they know a value, without revealing the value itself. They are compact and quick to verify, making them ideal for blockchain applications requiring privacy and efficiency.

Now, combining Verkle trees and SNARK proofs, Vitalik envisions a SNARKed Ethereum which would include:

  • SNARK proofs to verify the state transitions in the consensus process, enhancing the efficiency and security of block validation. 
  • Sync committees enable clients to keep up with the state of the blockchain with less data, and can verify blockchain data with reduced computational load. This makes Ethereum more accessible for users with limited resources. 
  • Specialized hardware designed to efficiently process SNARK proofs, potentially speeding up their computation on the network.

The Purge

The primary objective of the Purge is to simplify Ethereum by reducing technical debt and lowering the costs of network participation. This includes mechanisms to remove or archive historical data, thereby reducing the burden on validators and node operators.

Most of the Purge upgrade revolves around one EIP i.e. EIP-4444.

EIP-4444 — Bound Historical Data in Execution Clients

According to this EIP, Ethereum nodes will prune data older than one year and will not serve headers, block bodies, and receipts older than this on the peer-to-peer network.

The benefits of this EIP are:

  • Reduces hardware requirements for nodes.
  • Allows nodes to remove code dealing only with legacy transactions.
  • Decreases bandwidth usage as nodes need to sync less data.

Apart from EIP-4444, the Purge phase has a few more improvements:

Eliminate gas refunds

The EIP-3298 proposes to remove the gas refund mechanism for storage operations, namely SSTORE and SELFDESTRUCT. This is intended to prevent gaming of the gas token mechanism and simplify the fee market.

P2P History

Vitalik suggests the community needs peer-to-peer networking protocols (like the Portal Network) to enable nodes to retrieve historical data. This retrieval should not come at the cost of each node having to store the entire history locally — which is the status quo.

Apart from these two improvements, Vitalik has penned down a series of recommendations to simplify the EVM.

Here is a quick sneak peek into the recommendations:

  • Eliminate the SELF-DESTRUCT opcode, which allows contracts to be removed from the blockchain and their balance sent to a specified address.
  • Reworking the gas calculation mechanisms to make them more predictable and less complex.
  • Transitioning certain precompiled contracts into EVM bytecode implementations to unify the handling of these functions within the EVM.
  • Expanding the address space to accommodate more smart contracts and on-chain activity.
  • Reducing the size of the active state that nodes must manage by expiring or achieving older states.
  • Modifying the event logging system to improve efficiency and potentially lower costs.
  • Remove old transaction types to accommodate newer, more efficient formats.
  • Standardizing the serialization of data structures within Ethereum to simplify interactions and reduce errors.

The Splurge

The Splurge phase, going by the terminology, aims to be about splurging efforts and resources in any direction required to improve Ethereum. Vitalik, however, has proposed two key areas where maximum efforts are going to be employed:

  1. Making EIP-1559 multidimensional essentially simplifies gas fees and other fees on Ethereum. There are two approaches to multidimensional pricing — A. Gas prices for special resources (like calldata, storage use) become a ratio of their base fee to the gas base fee. 

B. Fix the gas base fee to a small amount (e.g., 1 wei) and set the gas price for using each resource to its base fee. Here, gas and ETH become synonymous.

  1. ERC-4337 or Account Abstraction (AA) and its implementation. The debate also flows into whether AA should be officially enshrined into Ethereum's protocol, meaning the network itself supports various account types directly, or if it should remain a feature add-on for those projects that need AA.

Apart from this, Vitalik has also talked about deep crypto i.e. obfuscation, delay-encrypted mempools, and verifiable delay functions. Although, it’s good to note that the Splurge phase is nowhere near us and is a decade-long game that Ethereum is playing.

Parting thoughts: Future of Ethereum 

Vitalik’s roadmap for Ethereum is essentially a sneak peek into the future. The improvements and upgrades outlined in this roadmap are visionary, detailing how each aspect of the network will be enhanced and made more user-friendly as the network grows. 

If the successful execution of the Merge is anything to go by, Ethereum is set to successfully implement all the upgrades. What this means is that developers and users alike will have a more leveled playing ground — free of latency and affordable for the masses.

Developers in web3 and those who are planning to start are receiving a battle-tested playground, with enough tooling and resources to build any solution they intend to.

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1. Is the final Ethereum roadmap or will there be more changes?

The Ethereum roadmap is not static; it is expected to evolve as the network matures, adapting to new technological developments and community feedback. Developers and users alike can expect iterative revisions and additional proposals that may gradually change the way everyone interacts with the network.

2. How does the introduction of Verkle trees and SNARKs affect on-chain data storage?

Verkle trees and SNARKs are set to make on-chain data storage more efficient by reducing the amount of data needed for transaction verification. This improvement could lead to faster transactions and lower storage costs for the network.

3. What are the expected benefits of the Ethereum upgrades for average users?

The exact benefits can be hard to guess at this moment. However, given all the proposed upgrades go well, users will experience faster transactions due to more efficient data structures and state transition proofs. The network's capacity to handle transactions is touted to increase, potentially reducing costs. 

4. Can users expect the Ethereum gas fees to decrease with these upgrades?

While the upgrades aim to improve scalability and network efficiency — which could lead to reduced gas fees — the actual cost for users will still be subject to market dynamics like demand for blockspace. Sharding and rollup scaling are expected to reduce some of the network congestion, thereby potentially lowering fees.

5. How will the upgrades affect the decentralization of Ethereum?

Ethereum, especially in the Scourge phase, aims to tackle the decentralization concerns head-on. By reducing the entry barriers for validators and easing the node operations, Ethereum is making it easier for anyone to run a node. And more nodes mean a more decentralized Ethereum.