Imagine all of the data a single online platform or application contains. Where can they store all of this data? Especially when the data is constantly growing or modified? They would have to break up all the data into smaller parts in order to manage them better, right? Well, essentially, data sharding does just that. So, what is blockchain sharding? Blockchain sharding is when blocks of data are split between multiple blockchains. Now, that’s a lot to process, we know. We’ll break it down later in the following paragraphs. Think of it this way, as blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies gain popularity, scalability can become an issue. Blockchain sharding may just be the solution to that.
What is Blockchain Sharding?
Now, let’s dig deeper into the question, “what is blockchain sharding?”. The process of “sharding” means taking something apart into smaller sections. Accordingly, blockchain sharding means splitting blockchain data into smaller portions, creating another layer/chain. Furthermore, each blockchain has the same protocol, and each blockchain shard contains its own unique data. Moreover, while one blockchain layer might store data on a token, the other may be used for network governance.
Blockchain sharding is massively efficient and productive. By breaking apart data storage across blockchains, information can be processed and maintained quickly and relatively easily. Also, blockchain sharding allows for more transactions to occur at one time within the network and for those transactions to occur almost instantly.
The process of sharding allows for nearly limitless transactions and data storage. Given the growing popularity of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, sharding will provide scalability solutions for networks that would otherwise struggle to keep up with the demand. The image below is one example of what a blockchain shard could look like:
Is Sharding for SQL or NoSQL?
Now that we can answer, “what is blockchain sharding?”, let’s move on to other aspects of sharding. Sharding is possible with both SQL and NoSQL databases. SQL is a data query language. Essentially, it is used to communicate with and manage a database. The NoSQL framework is designed to support the automatic distribution of data across servers worldwide. Therefore, NoSQL more often accompanies sharding than SQL.
The Role of Nodes in Blockchain Sharding
Now that we can confidently answer the question “what is blockchain sharding?”, let’s discuss the role of nodes in blockchain sharding. Normally, nodes contain all of the vital information of a network: the transaction history, operations, data, account balances, etc. Further, each node is independent and responsible for storing all of the information within its respective network. Since they contain and process all this information, nodes can validate every transaction that passes through the network.
Moreover, nodes are essential for the decentralization and security of the blockchain network. However, storing the entire network history in every node can significantly slow down transaction time in a regular blockchain. Blockchain sharding could be the solution to this operational delay.
Blockchain sharding allows the network to break down the transactions into multiple parts so that the nodes do not have to carry the entire transaction history of the network. Since the nodes do not have to process all of the information, the network is far less likely to experience scalability issues yet is still able to maintain the same level of security in the network as traditional blockchain networks. Moreover, preventing nodes from downloading every single transaction history of the network can have pros and cons. Let’s continue the discussion in the paragraphs ahead.
Benefits of Sharding
With its growing popularity and adoption, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies still have a way to go with scalability. These networks need to be able to handle hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of transactions in a matter of seconds. Some networks are still battling this scalability issue as it can take 10-15 minutes to process a transaction in some cases. Blockchain sharding allows blockchain networks to break down these transactions into much smaller data parts. In turn, it would result in a much faster transaction time that is still equally as reliable and secure as ever before.
Blockchain also provides the benefit of network security. With data spread across multiple blockchains and nodes, the idea is to make manipulation by hackers more difficult. Blockchain sharding can provide this level of security and scalability without slowing down transaction times, a massive win for the future of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
Challenges of Sharding
Now that we’ve answered the “what is blockchain sharding?” question and its benefits, let’s get into the challenges we may face with blockchain sharding. While dispersing data into multiple blockchains and nodes is advantageous, it also brings challenges that developers must overcome to make crypto and blockchain more adoptable.
The thing about blockchains that do not use sharding is that they are straightforward. Users can re-trace a transaction back to its roots. As such, “regular” blockchains make it easy for users to re-trace and validate the entire history of a transaction. On a blockchain that uses sharding, locating the entire history of a shard can be pretty complex and nearly impossible. When participants want to interact with a sharded blockchain, they will not be able to download and validate the entire history of the shard. So, if a part of a transaction becomes lost or modified, it may never be found again, causing permanent losses and damages for its users.
Furthermore, there are some disadvantages surrounding blockchain networks that use blockchain sharding. Consensus mechanisms such as PoS and PoW are a key part of any blockchain network. They keep the network secure and decentralized. However, when a blockchain is split into multiple layers, not every node has to authenticate every single transaction. Instead, only the nodes on a blockchain network will have to validate the transaction on a specific shard. In this way, the entire network isn’t decentralized, but each shard is.
Additionally, blockchain sharding presents some security issues. There is the possibility of a shard overriding another or a shard being completely taken over. This disadvantage could potentially allow for malicious shards to enter the network.
Is Sharding Good for Blockchain?
While there are alluring advantages to blockchain sharding, it’s crucial to keep in mind that its benefits are not yet guaranteed. Blockchain technology and blockchain sharding are still in their developmental phases. Devs must overcome hurdles and the potential dangers that blockchain sharding could present. However, blockchain sharding could be the answer to better scalability and latency. With further research and development, blockchain sharding could resolve its security and corruption issues to lead the way for the future of blockchain technology.
Blockchain networks that do not utilize blockchain sharding can only process a limited number of transactions per node in a given amount of time. Each node must verify the entire transaction before the transaction can be complete. In this way, every single node in the blockchain contains the entire network history. So, the network can become clogged relatively easily and significantly slow down transaction time.
Blockchain sharding can benefit blockchain networks in that it provides scalability, accessibility, and security like never before. Sharding allows the nodes in a network to avoid downloading the entire history of a network and from having to validate every transaction that takes place within the network, thus, saving time and resources. With transaction times being faster, more reliable, and user-friendly, sharding could help blockchain networks gain popularity with more users around the world.
Blockchain Networks that Utilize Blockchain Sharding
Now that we know the pros and cons of blockchain sharding, let’s discuss blockchain networks already using this technology. Blockchain networks such as NEAR Protocol, Ethereum Beacon Chain, Polkadot’s parachain, and The Open Network (TON) are already utilizing blockchain sharding. These blockchain networks present a solid case of growth for the future of blockchain sharding.
Let’s take a look at Polkadot’s parachain, for example. The Polkadot parachain offers a simpler perspective on the blockchain, which associates with the security of a relay chain. Essentially, the Polkadot network breaks apart transactions into “parachains” that are easier and faster for the network to process while still maintaining the decentralization and security of blockchain technology. While blockchain sharding is still developing and in its infancy stages, there are already many other applications that have actively been data sharding for many years. Let’s discuss these other examples of applications that use data sharding.
Other Examples of Applications that Use Sharding
Some applications you are already familiar with, such as Facebook (now Meta), Apple, Google, and Netflix, use data sharding. Facebook has one of the largest MySQL data clusters in the world. Furthermore, this data is spread across two continents and held on thousands of servers across multiple media centers. Moreover, on Facebook, user data is stored in a shard along with thousands of other users’ data.
So, where do they store, process, and maintain all of this data? Well, these gigantic social networks utilize sharding with a combination of their own servers and Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is the world’s largest cloud service provider. We’ll go into more detail about how some of these platforms work with AWS for sharding and other services.
With more than 200 million users worldwide, Netflix is the world’s leading television streaming network. Streaming in 190 countries and providing over 125 million hours of shows and movies every single day, Netflix utilizes AWS for almost all of its computational and storage needs. Further, AWS provides databases, analytics, recommendation tools, video transcoding, and hundreds of more functions. In total, Netflix has a whopping 100,000 servers on AWS.
AWS allows Netflix to create a studio in the cloud. This virtual studio allows artists to collaborate virtually without any geographical or technological barriers. Furthermore, Netflix uses AWS services to attract and retain quality talent around the world. AWS keeps Netflix’s remote work environment running smoothly and user-friendly. With AWS services, Netflix can create culturally diverse content and deliver it to its users in a way that is secure, instant, and can meet any capacity. Thanks to AWS, Netflix can stream its content around the world seamlessly and instantly.
Formerly known as Facebook, Meta recently announced that it would deepen its ties with AWS. As Facebook, the company was already using AWS services for much of its computing and storage services. Now, as Meta, the company will utilize the world’s largest cloud provider even more.
Take a look at Facebook’s data sharding chart below:
As one of AWS’ main customers, Apple has a major multiyear agreement with Amazon. Apple spends more than $30 million a month on AWS services while also investing in building its own cloud platform. Apple’s investment in these cloud computing services represents its dedication to providing its users all around the world with a quick, seamless service.
How to Know if Your Database Should Use Sharding
Sharding is an excellent solution for data applications with high data requirements, high volumes, and workloads. Data sharding allows multiple complex transactions to take place in a system in virtually no time, effortlessly. Accordingly, this provides ease of use for both its users and developers. However, data sharding does come with a cost.
Sharding a database or blockchain network will make it a bit more complex than other systems. Such complexity may require more time and effort to maintain while also requiring more data storage. It goes without saying that the benefits of data sharding outweigh its disadvantages.
Blockchain Sharding – Summary
We’ve answered the “what is blockchain sharding?” question and its advantages, disadvantages, the types of companies and blockchain networks that utilize the option, and how to know if your company should use data sharding. In short, blockchain sharding combined with efficient consensus mechanisms is creating an even brighter future for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. Moreover, a handful of blockchain networks and other platforms, such as Apple and Facebook, are already utilizing data sharding, and it is proving to be a game-changer for applications that have major data and bandwidth requirements.
Developers continue to research and develop ways to improve scalability and security issues regarding blockchain sharding. The fact that a part of a transaction’s history can be compromised because of sharding is still a puzzle to solve for developers. However, the benefits of blockchain sharding are more advantageous than not.