What is Sharding and Why is it Important? 

by Oct 29, 2023Blockchain Technology0 comments

It’s widely known that Ethereum has a problem with how long and expensive it takes to do a transaction. For example, if you want to buy an NFT on Ethereum, the fee you have to pay can go up to $100. Scalability issues with blockchains are a common problem, even though they’re being used in more and more pilot programs for things like international financial transactions and managing supply chains. That’s why the developer community is working on a plan to improve blockchain scalability and capacity called Sharding. Sharding is a way to divide a database used by blockchain organizations so it can handle more transactions at once. Sharding works by breaking up the whole blockchain network into smaller networks called “shards.” Each shard is unique and independent because it has its own specific data.

What is Sharding?

Sharding is a technique that helps distribute the work of processing transactions and storing data across a network of computers. Instead of each computer trying to handle all the transactions, they are divided into smaller parts called shards.

Each shard contains its own set of data, but some information may still be shared among the computers to keep the system secure and decentralized. This way, every computer can see all the transactions, but they don’t have to process and store everything.

What is Sharding

In the context of blockchain projects, sharding involves breaking down large data tables into smaller, more manageable pieces called shards. Each shard has its own unique data that sets it apart from the others. Sharding can help reduce delays and prevent overwhelming amounts of data.

A good example to understand sharding is the Ethereum Network. It’s important to note that Ethereum was not just about creating a new currency; it also focused on developing a way to handle a large number of transactions efficiently.

Why is Sharding Important?

Sharding is important for several reasons:

Scalability 

One of the primary reasons for implementing sharding is to improve the scalability of blockchain systems. By dividing the network into smaller shards, each responsible for processing a subset of transactions or data, sharding allows for parallel processing and increases the overall capacity of the network. This means that more transactions can be processed simultaneously, leading to higher throughput and improved performance.

Increased Transaction Speed

Sharding helps to reduce the time it takes to process transactions. With traditional blockchain systems, every node in the network needs to process and validate every transaction, which can cause bottlenecks and delays as the network grows. Sharding allows different shards to process transactions independently, enabling faster transaction confirmation and reducing latency.

Lower Costs 

Sharding can help reduce transaction costs associated with blockchain systems. By increasing the capacity and efficiency of the network, sharding enables a greater number of transactions to be processed within a given timeframe. This can potentially lead to lower fees for users, making blockchain-based applications more accessible and cost-effective.

Improved Resource Utilization

Sharding allows for better utilization of computational resources in a blockchain network. Instead of each node having to store and process the entire blockchain, sharding enables nodes to focus on a specific shard, reducing the storage and computational requirements for each individual node. This can make blockchain networks more lightweight and efficient, enabling a wider range of devices to participate in the network.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Sharding provides flexibility in managing and evolving blockchain systems. As the network grows, new shards can be added to accommodate the increasing load. Sharding also allows for easier upgrades and modifications to the system without disrupting the entire network. This flexibility and adaptability are crucial for the long-term sustainability and evolution of blockchain technology.

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Horizontal and Vertical Sharding

Horizontal and Vertical Sharding

Horizontal Sharding

Horizontal sharding is a scaling technique used in blockchain systems that allows for the parallel processing of transactions by dividing the network into multiple smaller partitions, or “shards.” Each shard is responsible for processing a subset of the total transactions on the network, which can greatly increase the throughput and speed of the overall system.

In a horizontally-sharded blockchain, each shard maintains its own set of state and transaction history and is responsible for processing transactions related to a subset of accounts or assets. Transactions that involve accounts or assets that belong to different shards must be coordinated and processed by a cross-shard communication mechanism.

Benefits 

  1. It allows for greater scalability, as each shard can process a smaller subset of transactions and therefore handle more transactions per second.
  2.  reduce the cost of running a node on the network, as nodes only need to store and validate transactions related to their specific shard.
  3. Horizontal sharding can also improve the network’s security, as a successful attack on one shard does not compromise the entire network’s security.

Challenges

However, some challenges are associated with implementing horizontal sharding in a blockchain system. For example, cross-shard communication can be complex and require additional coordination mechanisms to ensure that transactions are processed correctly. Additionally, sharding can increase the complexity of the consensus protocol and may require significant changes to the existing blockchain architecture.

Vertical Sharding

Vertical sharding is another technique that can be used to scale blockchain systems. In contrast to horizontal sharding, which divides the network into smaller partitions, vertical sharding divides the blockchain into smaller sections or “segments,” each containing a subset of the blockchain’s data.

In a vertically-sharded blockchain, each segment is responsible for processing a specific type of transaction or data, such as transactions related to a particular asset or smart contract. This allows for more efficient processing of transactions and can increase the overall throughput of the system.

Advantages

One advantage of vertical sharding is that it can be easier to implement than horizontal sharding, as it does not require as much cross-segment communication or coordination. Additionally, vertical sharding can allow for greater specialization and customization of the blockchain, as each segment can be optimized for a specific use case or application.

Disadvantages

However, vertical sharding also has some limitations. For example, it may not be as effective for handling large volumes of diverse transactions, as each segment is limited to processing a specific type of transaction or data. Additionally, maintaining consistency between segments can be challenging, as each segment operates independently and may not have access to the full blockchain history.

Overall, both horizontal and vertical sharding can be effective techniques for scaling blockchain systems, and the choice of which approach to use will depend on the specific requirements and characteristics of the system being developed.

Types of Sharding Blockchain

No.Sharding TypeDescription
1Network ShardingThe specific type of sharding is used in blockchain systems to improve scalability.
Partitions the blockchain into smaller subsets or shards.
Each shard contains a subset of the blockchain’s state.
Reduces computational and storage requirements for nodes.Requires careful design for consistency and security.
2State ShardingThe specific type of sharding is used in blockchain systems to improve scalability.
Partitions the blockchain into smaller subsets or shards.
Each shard contains a subset of the blockchain’s state.
Reduces computational and storage requirements for nodes.Requires careful design for consistency and security.
3Transaction ShardingThe technique used in distributed database systems to improve scalability and performance.
Involves partitioning transactions across multiple shards.
Allows concurrent processing of multiple transactions.
It uses a sharding key to determine the shard for each transaction.
Requires coordination for data consistency.
4Hybrid ShardingDatabase sharding technique combining range-based and hash-based methods.
Addresses limitations of range-based and hash-based sharding.
Data is partitioned using both range-based and hash-based techniques.
Provides benefits of even data distribution and minimizing hotspots.
Useful in large-scale distributed databases and applications with uneven data access patterns.

Type 1. Network Sharding

Network sharding is a technique used to improve the scalability of blockchain networks. It involves partitioning a blockchain network into smaller groups of nodes, called shards, that can process transactions independently. This allows the network to handle a larger number of transactions simultaneously, as each shard is responsible for processing only a subset of the transactions.

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Each shard operates on a separate subset of the blockchain’s data, which reduces the computational requirements for each node and enables the network to process transactions more quickly. Sharding can also help to reduce the cost of running a node on the network, as it requires less computational power and storage.

However, network sharding also introduces new challenges. One challenge is maintaining consistency between the different shards, which is essential for ensuring the integrity of the blockchain. To address this challenge, sharding protocols typically use mechanisms such as cross-shard communication and transaction routing to ensure that all shards have a consistent view of the blockchain.

Another challenge is ensuring that shards are secure and cannot be compromised by malicious actors. This requires careful design of the sharding protocol and the implementation of robust security mechanisms, such as cryptographic proofs and incentives for honest behavior.

Overall, network sharding is an important technique for improving the scalability of blockchain networks, and it has the potential to enable the development of new applications that require high transaction throughput.

Type 2: State sharding 

State sharding 

State sharding is a specific type of sharding that is commonly used in blockchain systems to improve scalability. In a blockchain system, every node in the network must maintain a complete copy of the blockchain, which can become unwieldy as the size of the blockchain grows. State sharding solves this problem by partitioning the blockchain into smaller subsets, or shards, and distributing the processing of each shard across a subset of the nodes in the network.

Each shard contains a subset of the state of the blockchain, which includes the current balances of all accounts and the current state of all smart contracts. By sharding the state in this way, each node only needs to maintain a copy of the shard(s) that it is responsible for rather than the entire blockchain. This reduces the computational and storage requirements for each node, allowing the blockchain to scale to support a larger number of transactions and users.

State sharding is a complex technique that requires careful design to ensure that the shards remain consistent with each other and that the system remains secure and resistant to attacks. However, it is a promising approach for improving the scalability of blockchain systems, and many blockchain projects are actively researching and implementing state-sharding solutions.

Type 3: Transaction Sharding

Transaction sharding is a technique used in distributed database systems to improve scalability and performance. It involves breaking up a large database into smaller, more manageable partitions called shards. Each shard contains a subset of the data and can be managed independently of the other shards.

In the context of transactions, transaction sharding involves partitioning transactions across multiple shards. This allows multiple transactions to be processed concurrently, improving the overall throughput of the system.

One approach to transaction sharding is to use a sharding key to determine which shard a particular transaction belongs to. The sharding key is typically a value that is associated with the data being stored in the database, such as a customer ID or a product SKU. Transactions that involve data associated with a particular sharding key are routed to the corresponding shard for processing.

To ensure data consistency, it is important to coordinate transactions across multiple shards. This can be achieved using techniques such as two-phase commit or multi-version concurrency control.

Transaction sharding is particularly useful in applications that require high transaction throughputs, such as e-commerce websites, financial systems, and social networks. Distributing transactions across multiple shards, allows these systems to scale horizontally and handle a large number of concurrent users.

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Type 4: Hybrid Sharding

Hybrid sharding is a database sharding technique that combines the benefits of both range-based and hash-based sharding methods. In range-based sharding, data is partitioned based on a range of values, while in hash-based sharding, data is partitioned based on a hash function.

Hybrid sharding is designed to address some of the limitations of these two methods. In a range-based sharding approach, data skew can lead to uneven distribution of data across shards, which can cause performance issues. On the other hand, in a hash-based sharding approach, data access patterns can lead to hotspots, where a small number of shards receive a disproportionate amount of traffic.

In hybrid sharding, the data is partitioned using both range-based and hash-based techniques. The range-based method is used to split the data into relatively equal partitions based on a predetermined range of values. Within each partition, a hash function is used to further subdivide the data into smaller shards.

This approach provides several benefits. By using range-based sharding, the data is distributed more evenly across shards, which can improve performance. Additionally, by using hash-based sharding within each partition, hotspots are minimized as the data is further distributed across multiple shards.

Hybrid sharding is particularly useful in large-scale distributed databases, where the amount of data is vast and requires complex partitioning strategies to ensure efficient data retrieval and processing. It is also useful in applications where data access patterns are uneven and hotspots are a common occurrence.

Is sharding secure?

In terms of security, sharding can offer some benefits. By distributing data across multiple servers, sharding can make it more difficult for an attacker to compromise the entire database. If an attacker gains access to one shard, they will only have access to a portion of the data rather than the entire database.

Sharding can also help to reduce the impact of certain types of attacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. By distributing the database across multiple servers, the impact of an attack on any individual server is reduced.

However, sharding also introduces some security challenges. For example, it can make it more difficult to ensure data consistency and integrity across the entire database. If data is modified on one shard, it may not be immediately reflected on other shards.

Another potential security issue with sharding is that it can make it more difficult to manage access controls and permissions. With multiple shards, it can be more challenging to ensure that the right users have access to the appropriate data.

Overall, while sharding can offer some security benefits, it is important to carefully consider the potential security implications when implementing this technique. Proper configuration, access controls, and monitoring are critical to ensure the security and integrity of the database.

Examples Of Sharding

Each user desires speedy and efficient transaction processing when utilizing blockchain operations. However, heavy traffic congestion can negatively impact network latency and bandwidth. This is where sharding comes into play, improving a blockchain network’s scalability.

Here are some examples of sharding in cryptocurrencies:

Ethereum 2.0 

Ethereum 2.0 

Ethereum, the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency, is currently implementing sharding in its upcoming Ethereum 2.0 upgrade. The new network will be divided into smaller shards, each capable of processing transactions in parallel, increasing the overall transaction throughput and reducing network congestion.

Zilliqa

Zilliqa

Zilliqa is a blockchain platform that uses sharding to increase the network’s throughput. Zilliqa’s sharding approach partitions the network into smaller shards, each capable of processing transactions in parallel. This allows Zilliqa to handle a high number of transactions per second, making it one of the fastest blockchain platforms.

QuarkChain

QuarkChain

QuarkChain is a blockchain platform that uses sharding to increase scalability. QuarkChain’s sharding approach divides the network into several sub-chains, each of which can process transactions independently. This allows QuarkChain to handle a high volume of transactions and achieve high scalability.

Harmony

Harmony

Harmony is a blockchain platform that uses sharding to improve transaction throughput and reduce network latency. Harmony’s sharding approach divides the network into smaller shards, each of which can process transactions independently, increasing the overall transaction throughput and reducing network congestion.

Elrond

Elrond

Elrond is a blockchain platform that uses sharding to increase transaction throughput and reduce network latency. Elrond’s sharding approach divides the network into smaller shards, each of which can process transactions independently. This allows Elrond to handle a high volume of transactions and achieve high scalability.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sharding is an important technique for improving the scalability, speed, cost-efficiency, resource utilization, and adaptability of blockchain systems. It involves dividing the network into smaller partitions or shards, each responsible for processing a subset of transactions or data. Horizontal sharding enables parallel processing and increased throughput, while vertical sharding allows for more efficient processing and specialization. Sharding offers benefits such as greater scalability, faster transaction processing, lower costs, improved resource utilization, and flexibility in system management and upgrades. However, it also presents challenges such as maintaining consistency, ensuring security, and addressing the complexity of cross-shard communication. Overall, sharding is a crucial solution for addressing the scalability limitations of blockchain technology.

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