Plasma has been created in order to help the scalability of the Ethereum blockchain. It is a solution to register transactions and smart contracts in one or several side chains of Ethereum, to alleviate the demand placed on it.
Plasma provides a framework for building applications outside the main chain that are safe, scalable and quick to execute. It serves to improve the operation of various applications for games, databases and payment networks. Plasma can be applied to other blockchains in addition to Ethereum’s.
It was officially presented as a project in 2017 by Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, and Joseph Poon, developer of the Lightning Network project, under the name Plasma: smart, scalable and secure contracts.
The scalability of a network consists of its ability to handle an increasing amount of work and its willingness to expand to adapt to this growing demand. In the case of blockchains, this discussion has focused mostly on the performance of transactions. Thus, Plasma was presented as a project that would reduce the data load in the main chain, reducing costs and increasing the speed of transactions, but without sacrificing security.
How does it work?
Plasma stores cryptocurrencies in a root chain in order for them to be safe. The fundamental principle of Plasma is that all cryptocurrencies can go back to the root chain in case of a security failure in the side chain. Thus, this solution allows you to take advantage of some of the utilities of the side chain (such as low-cost transactions, for example) while keeping crypto assets securely.
Applications developed with Plasma tend to use common building blocks. In this way, applications require a smart contract implemented in another blockchain that serves as the root (Ethereum, for example). The smart contract is set up with special rules that ensure that user funds are always safe.
Among the Plasma implementations mentioned on its official website are MVP, Plasma Cash, and Plasma Debit.
Plasma MVP is a design for a simple blockchain, based on UTXO. This implementation allows payment transactions that have high performance but does not allow more complicated constructions on the blockchain, such as scripts or smart contracts.
Plasma Cash is an implementation that uses non-fungible tokens to represent fixed amounts of crypto assets. It provides greater security against hacking and is designed for collectible games, as well as for supply chain management and logistics. With this implementation, the amount of data that users must process decreases because if a certain amount is deposited in the Plasma Cash chain, the user receives a single token for the value he deposited, which cannot be divided or merged.
Plasma Debit is a combination of Plasma Cash and Lightning Network. Thus, each token found in this implementation is a payment channel between the user and the operator of the chain. Users send crypto assets to the chain’s smart contract and a unique token is created for them, as in Plasma Cash. However, this token is also a payment channel, ideal for individual operations, especially micropayments.
Plasma has also been investigated for other uses. Plasma Snapp, for example, aims to reduce the complexity of Plasma, thus paving the way for more complex protocols than just token transfer. Plasma Bridge, meanwhile, would allow two different blockchains to interact with each other through a shared plasma chain, thus allowing atomic exchanges.
Research and applications
Currently, research that would affect Plasma’s designs is focused on creating cheaper commitments; implement Zk-SNARKs in Plasma to improve privacy; improve the completion time of transactions (to reduce the approximate 25 confirmations or 6 minutes established by the root chain, Ethereum, in this case); a generalized Plasma design, applicable to other aspects; and that users can withdraw funds quickly or allow atomic exchanges, among other investigations that improve the Plasma Cash and Plasma MVP protocol.
Among the platforms that have implemented Plasma so far are OmiseGO and Loom Network.
OmiseGO uses Plasma to build a scalable exchange and payment network platform. In April, it launched the new version of its network based on Ethereum, called Ari. With it, connectivity with Plasma would be improved, to carry out transactions of ethers and ERC20 tokens.
The gaming platform built on Ethereum, Loom Network, for its part, uses Plasma Cash to secure non-expendable tokens in its DAppChains. This increases security in DAppChains, since critical operations are allowed without the need for a relatively high level of trust.
LeapDAO, for its part, is a decentralized organization that is focused on creating scalability solutions for Ethereum, which launched its first public deployment of a Plasma network in February. Called Testnet Zeta, it anchored its first block in the Ethereum Rinkeby test network. Plasma’s network would be viable based on the Tendermint consensus algorithm. In addition, it would use a single Plasma operator, which was managed by the DAO community and would use a Minimum Governance system in smart contract updates. In addition, this network would allow the transfer of ERC20 and ERC721 tokens thanks to Plasma Cash.
On the other hand, Wolk is a project that is focused on creating protocols for a website that does not use servers, where user data and the application code “are stored everywhere and nowhere” thanks to the blockchain, as can be read on their website. Thus, blockchain nodes contain and protect the data. Wolk incorporates Plasma Cash into its database service architecture and maintains an implementation of Plasma Cash’s root chain contracts.
Although Plasma was thought in 2017 to improve the scalability of the Ethereum blockchain without sacrificing security, years later this is still a problem that shows no solution. In fact, a few days ago, Vitalik Buterin estimated that the problem of scalability “is a large bottleneck for Ethereum”, since the network is almost full and proposed a solution that would allow more efficient work, but sacrificing full security network.