Transmission Gas Cost Reduction – What Ethereum’s Mainnet Has to Say
Analysis of block size vs. uncle rate on Ethereum, including our high-load test conducted on Mainnet on Monday July 15 2019, supports EIP 2028 and the new gas cost of 16 gas per byte. In fact, this data suggests that gas cost can be further reduced in the future.
Introduction and the Parity update of March 2019
As we explained in the EIP 2028 description, reducing the gas cost of transmission will allow larger blocks and this might affect network security, as measured by uncle rate. To start the discussion, lets review on Etherchain the correlation between average daily block size and uncle rate.
The Parity update
In March 2019 Parity modified its block propagation method. Prior to the change, a Parity node would process a block before sending it on the network. After the change, Parity nodes joined other nodes (Geth, pantheon, Nethermind) in transmitting blocks before processing them, once the following three conditions were met: (1) Block body matches the block header (txHash, uncleHash), (2) Proof Of Work in the header is valid, and (3) the block is on the longest PoW chain. The actual processing happens concurrently to this but does not prevent block propagation. This change caused a dramatic 3x reduction in uncle rate, and unlinked the linear correlation between block size and uncle rate that was evident before the change. More details are available in Vitalik’s tweet.
The plot below shows this dramatic effect. The pre-March 2019 points are colored blue and the post-March 2019 ones are colored red (the big red dot at the bottom right corner will be discussed later).
This plot originated from https://etherchain.org/correlations
The Big Red Dot
StarkWare is responsible for the Big Red Dot, the increased average block size on Monday July 15 2019. (All our transactions originated from this address). That day also holds the Guiness World Record for largest average block size in Ethereum’s history, as seen clearly on the next plot taken from Etherchain. We explain the experiment that caused it, and what we learned from it, next.
The Experiment - A Bunch of Zeros
Not all bytes are equal on Ethereum. In particular, a zero byte costs only 4 gas (compared with 68 gas for all non-zero bytes). This allowed us to generate bigger blocks that have a low gas cost. Ethereum uses snappy compression so we had to be a bit careful to create blocks that have many zeros (and low gas cost) but cannot be compressed significantly (no more than roughly a factor 2x compression), though their gas cost was 5x lower than that of typical (or random) data.
On Monday July 15 2019, we generated a large number of such transactions and submitted them to Ethereum’s mainnet, to measure the effect of larger blocks on uncle rate. We created roughly 2,000 blocks that varied in uncompressed size between 45-534 KB. Here’s the first block in our experiment, here’s the last one and this is the largest one. But, as the the big red dot in the plot above shows, this long period of large blocks had little noticeable effect on the daily uncle rate.
Taking 20% daily uncle rate as an upper bound on acceptable uncle rate, we believe that gas cost can be reduced even below 16 gas per byte. This is the take-away message of the Big Red Dot. But now lets take a look at the experiment in greater granularity and see what we learn from it.
Big Red Dot in finer granularity
Here is a plot of the block size from recent days. The big peak towards the right comes from the blocks of our experiment (and prior peaks are our trials a few days earlier).
To parse this data at finer granularity, we took a small time window of 10,000 blocks and broke it into buckets of 50 blocks (roughly 11 minutes). The next plot shows uncle rate as a function of uncompressed block size. Bear in mind that the average uncompressed blocksize is 23KB, compressed to an average of 15KB. We maintained a similar compression ratio (of roughly 2x) for the blocks in our test, even though we managed to generate blocks that are 22x larger than the average (max-ing at 535 KB uncompressed). The buckets of 50 consecutive blocks during our experiment were up to 7.5x bigger than average. As can be seen, there is little to no effect on uncle rate per bucket.
A block brother is a block that is not part of the main chain, but sits as the same height as another block (i.e., brothers are uncles, but attributed to individual mainnet blocks). The next plot shows brother count as a function of individual block size. Inspecting this plot, we still see no adverse effect of increased block size, even when average block size is larger than the average block size (of 25 KB) by a whopping factor of 22x.
To conclude, we see no adverse effect of increasing today the average block size by a factor of 7.5x, nor of increasing the individual blocksize by a factor of 22x. Based on this, the conservative choice of reducing transmission gas cost by a factor of roughly 4x, to 16 gas per byte, is well-founded. Our code modifications for Parity and Geth have been posted earlier.