If you’re stuck trying to decide between Solana vs Ethereum, you’re not the only one! With both crypto projects reaching mainstream media headlines, there is often some confusion between the two. Both projects are leading smart contract chains and pioneers within the blockchain industry. However, what is the difference between the two?
In this article, we dive deep into the fundamental differences and analyze Solana vs Ethereum comparisons. We’ll look at each project’s team, history, and native assets. Also, we’ll explore the infrastructural differences, including the types of consensus models, token standards, and smart contract designs.
This article is for readers with a basic understanding of blockchain terminology. If you would like to gain a deeper understanding of how blockchain operates, see our Blockchain & Bitcoin Fundamentals course at Moralis Academy. Check out the leading Web3 development and blockchain education suite online today!
Solana vs Ethereum Overview
When comparing two of the top ten blockchains, there are many different things to consider. First, before diving into technicalities, it’s worth considering the history and background of the development team of each project. This indicates the strength of the foundations of a project.
Vitalik Buterin initially proposed Ethereum in 2013, a then 19-year-old programming wiz and Bitcoin fanatic. Envisioning a new paradigm of decentralization, Buterin introduced smart contract capabilities transforming blockchain from a purely transactional "A to B" payments service to an open-source development landscape for decentralized applications (dapps). Joining Buterin in this revolution were computer science experts Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, Anthony Di Iorio, and Joseph Lubin as additional co-founders.
The Ethereum Foundation (EF) - part of a much larger Ethereum community - is responsible for the development and management of the Ethereum network. However, it is not a centralized entity that controls or runs the network. The non-profit organization facilitates a range of initiatives to allow its global community of developers, artists, leaders, entrepreneurs, and ETH HODLers to contribute to and enhance the ecosystem. This includes events such as the annual Ethereum Devcon. Plus, EF offers a fellowship program and ecosystem support program to offer financial and technical support for developing projects on or using Ethereum technologies.
In 2017, Anatoly Yakovenko, computer science engineer and distributed systems expert, published a whitepaper introducing the "proof of history" (PoH) concept. With experience at Qualcomm, D2iQ (formerly Mesosphere), and Dropbox, Yakovenko knew creating a clock consensus for decentralized networks would solve the blockchain trilemma of increasing scalability without compromise on decentralization or security. A few months later, former Qualcomm colleague, Greg Fitzgerald, operationalized Yakovenko’s whitepaper publishing the project to GitHub under the name "Silk". Furthermore, Fitzgerald’s implementation proved successful in verifying 10,000 transactions in just over 0.5 seconds. Then, shortly after, another Qualcomm comrade, Stephen Akridge, suggested additional throughput potential by offloading the signature verification to graphics processors.
Taking on board the suggestions from Fitzgerald and Akridge, Yakovenko recruited the pair and together founded what would become known as the Solana Foundation in March 2018. Initially, the project was called "Loom". However, at around the same time, an Ethereum layer-2 project called "Loom Network" launched, which caused confusion within the crypto community. As such, the project rebranded to "Solana" as a nod to Yakovenko, Fitzgerald, and Akridge’s favorite surfing beach when they worked together at Qualcomm.
Statistical Overview of Solana vs Ethereum:
(The numbers are accurate as of March 25th, 2022.)
Launch date: July 2015
Market cap: $372.6 billion
Market ranking: #2
Transactions per second (TPS): up to 20 TPS
Block size: 1.875 MB
Number of decentralized applications (dApps): 3,700+
Number of daily active users: 629,000
Average transaction cost: $25-$30 (fluctuates daily)
Number of nodes: 5,917
Launch date: March 2020
Market cap: $31.7 billion
Market ranking: #9
Transactions per second (TPS): up to 65,000 TPS
Block size: 10MB
Number of decentralized applications (dApps): 500+
Number of average daily users: 232,000
Average transaction cost: $0.00025
Number of nodes: 140+
Solana vs Ethereum Blockchain Infrastructure
From the end-user perspective, both Solana and Ethereum are similar as public, open-source smart contract-compatible blockchains. However, under the hood, the blockchain infrastructure comparison of Solana vs Ethereum offers a broad array of technological advancements and developments. While both blockchains generally aim for the same outcome, each project does so in different ways. This includes the use of programming languages, consensus models, and development tools.
The Solana blockchain uses novel infrastructural components, comprising eight main features. This includes the world’s first parallel smart contracts runtime, Sealevel. Unlike Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) or WebAssembly (WASM)-based runtimes, which are single-threaded (operate one contract at a time), Sealevel can process tens of thousands of contracts simultaneously. Also, Solana incorporates "Pipeline", a transaction processing unit that optimizes all hardware in the network for validation purposes. Plus, the project implements "Gulf Stream", an alternative transaction forwarding protocol that negates the use of "mempools". In addition, Solana uses its unique horizontal accounts database scaling solution called "Cloudbreak".
Another innovative aspect of Solana is "Turbine", a block propagation protocol that assists in resolving the scalability issue of the blockchain trilemma. Furthermore, Solana uses "Archivers" for distributed ledger storage on light clients (not downloading all the ledger data) as part of its validation and replication protocol. Finally, as the main inspiration for the project, the cutting-edge proof of history (PoH) and "Tower BFT" protocols facilitate the consensus mechanisms for the Solana network. We’ll look at these in detail in the next section.
Solana operates with a network of validators that verify, manage, and store transactional activity on the chain. Also, Solana uses "clusters" of validators that operate with specific purposes. Anyone can support the decentralization and censorship-resistance of the network using the native SOL asset. Moreover, there are no minimum requirements for staking or becoming a validator. However, there are some technical requirements for running the blockchain alongside costs for partaking within the consensus. That said, the network design is set to be incentivizing for validators, offering an opportunity to earn a passive income.
The mainnet launch of Ethereum in 2015 used a similar blockchain infrastructure to the leading cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. Using a proof-of-work consensus algorithm, the number one smart contract chain operates with a globally distributed network of nodes validating transactions. However, as the focus of Ethereum is facilitating a decentralized development landscape rather than a peer-to-peer payments network, the transactional infrastructure differs from Bitcoin. For example, Bitcoin uses a UTXO model (unspent transaction output), whereas Ethereum uses an accounting model. As a result, this allowed Ethereum to operate with twice the average transaction speed of Bitcoin, around 15 transactions per second (TPS).
As the enthusiasm, adoption, and development of Ethereum grew, so too did network congestion and expensive gas fees. However, co-founder Vitalik Buterin had been working on scaling solutions since the initial launch in 2015, with Ethereum 2.0 promising to resolve these issues. Initially planned for 2019, the first phase of Ethereum 2.0 went live in December 2021. This phase introduces Beacon Chain, marking the beginning of the transition from proof-of-work (PoW) to a proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus. We’ll discuss these in-depth in the next section.
Another element of Ethereum 2.0 is its various approaches to scaling solutions. A popular scaling solution for Ethereum is layer-2 protocols. These include the use of sidechains, off-chain, and zero-knowledge technologies running on top of the Ethereum mainchain. However, most layer-2 protocols are external enhancements to Ethereum by third-party projects and developers. Ethereum 2.0 updates include sharding and zero-knowledge technologies (e.g., zk-rollups, zk-SNARKs) on the Ethereum mainchain. In turn, this will drastically increase throughput on the chain to an estimated 100,000 transactions per second (TPS).
A consensus model is an algorithm or mechanism that allows all nodes and validators in a network to agree that a transaction is valid prior to confirmation. As such, consensus models vary drastically. Here, we discuss the consensus models both projects use as a guide when researching comparisons between Solana vs Ethereum.
As we have already mentioned, Ethereum is in the process of transitioning from a PoW to a PoS consensus. But, what are the differences, and why adjust a core blockchain protocol? Well, there are several reasons. To fully grasp the value propositions, we’ll briefly explain how each consensus model works.
Proof-of-work (PoW) was introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto as the solution to the infamous “double-spending” problem within the scientific community. In short, this requires computers (nodes) to compete to solve an immensely complex equation that can mathematically prove the validation of a transaction. The equation is so difficult that it requires large amounts of computing power for the nodes to repeatedly guess an answer. Eventually, the first node to guess correctly wins the transaction fees and places the transaction into a block. The process repeats until blocks are full and become cryptographically appended to the blockchain. Although PoW is incredibly secure, it uses tremendous amounts of energy. Plus, with substantial upfront costs, it’s easy for the network to become monopolized by a few big players in the network.
On the other hand, proof-of-stake (PoS) works by validators, each having a substantial "stake" at risk (minimum of 32 ETH) and being randomly chosen to "attest" the validation of transactions. Accordingly, validators receive rewards for attesting and proposing new blocks. If validators carry out malicious activities, their stake will be slashed.
The switch from a PoW to a PoS consensus offers many benefits. First, the overall energy efficiency increases by more than 99%. Thus, the running costs of being a validator decrease. However, the initial cost will continually increase in line with the value of ETH. Moreover, validators don’t need expensive mining hardware. Also, providing stronger immunity to centralization, PoS facilitates stronger security support for shard chains.
Conversely, Solana takes an entirely different approach to network consensus. Founding member Anatoly Yakovenko blends his 40+ years of experience in distributed systems with the emerging blockchain industry. The result is the “clock before consensus”, proof of history (PoH). PoH is a revolutionary protocol allowing validators to have verifiable proof of the order of transactions down to a granular level. As a result, the transactional throughput of Solana was 10,000 times faster than other leading chains.
On a fundamental level, proof of history (PoH) is a way to “cryptographically verify passage of time between two events”. In addition, each transaction or piece of data receives a unique timestamp displaying the state, index, and data using cryptographically secure hashes. As such, this can guarantee the order of events and precisely determine the time data was generated. Although critical to the consensus model, PoH is not the main consensus protocol. Instead, Solana uses a practical byzantine fault tolerance (PBFT) mechanism called "Tower Consensus", intertwining with the PoS mechanism.
A collaborative effort of PoS validators using the PoH protocol optimizing the tower consensus makes Solana one of the fastest, most secure, and most decentralized blockchains in the world. The Tower Consensus protocol reduces latency by using the PoH protocol as a global time source.
Another aspect to consider from a developer’s perspective when breaking down Solana vs Ethereum is smart contracts. Both projects are open-source, public blockchains offering developers a landscape to build decentralized applications (dapps). Dapps operate as compilations of preprogrammed smart contracts. Smart contracts are pieces of code that can automate a function. For example, if "x" happens, send "y" to the "z" account. Again, both projects take different approaches to smart contracts. This includes the use of programming languages, toolkits, and token standards available.
One of the best advantages of Solana is that you don’t need any blockchain experience to create an application. Moreover, the Solana ecosystem refers to smart contracts as "programs". As such, developers can use familiar languages such as C and C++ (and the less common programming language, Rust) to build and deploy dapps on-chain. Then, Solana programs will run immutably via the Solana Sealevel runtime protocol. Furthermore, developers can use, merge, and innovate existing Solana programs to create powerful unique tools or applications.
Building anything using blockchain can be akin to building with LEGO bricks. Open-source code can be used and improved by anyone. Solana offers developers a dapp-building experience similar to the Web2 web app design workflow, facilitating a variety of SDKs (software development kits). Accordingly, other on-chain Solana programs can also make use of the JSON RPC API.
Solana offers two core sets of programs: native programs and the Solana program library (SPL). Native programs are Solana’s most popular one, offering foundational functions for applications. Some of the native programs include the "system", "staking", and "voting" programs. In addition, the Solana program library offers utilities with more focus on tokens, using the SPL token standard. For example, the token program allows developers to mint, query, burn, or transfer tokens. Moreover, this includes both fungible (cryptocurrencies) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
The co-founder and chief technical officer (CTO) of Ethereum, Dr. Gavin Wood, has a significant influence on the adoption of smart contracts today. As Ethereum was a pioneer of smart contract-compatible blockchains, Wood developed an entirely new programming language, Solidity. Solidity was the first Turing-complete smart contract programming language for blockchains. Moreover, Wood devised the yellow paper for the smart contracts runtime protocol, Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). This process is critical to the integrity and compatibility of an application within the Ethereum network, highlighting any bugs in the code.
Initially, the design and deployment of smart contracts and applications on Ethereum were restricted to blockchain developers who had taken the time to learn a new language. However, once the knowledge, application, and utility of smart contracts became popular, so too did the demand for additional coding language compatibility. Over recent years, many independent developers and projects alike have focused on making programming on Ethereum as simple as possible. As such, creating and deploying tokens and applications on the world’s leading smart contract chain is so easy - anyone can do it! If you don’t believe us, save our “How to Create a DAO?” article for later!
Solana vs Ethereum Assets
A key consideration when comparing Solana vs Ethereum is each asset's utility and price action. Both Ethereum (ETH) and Solana (SOL) are strictly speaking coins as the native asset of the chain. As a result, ETH and SOL generally hold similar utilities. This primarily entails securing the network using proof-of-stake (PoS) protocols. Nevertheless, the tokenomic design of each project is significantly different.
At the end of its year of launch in 2015, ETH was valued at $0.93. In November 2021, ETH reached a new all-time high of $4,878, according to CoinGecko. Furthermore, it was in August 2021 that a revolutionary adjustment to the ETH token mechanism came into play. The EIP-1559 update introduced token burning aspects to Ethereum’s tokenomic model. Since Ethereum has no maximum supply, this update brings the potential for deflationary opportunities, reducing the circulating supply, thus, increasing the value of ETH.
During the update, many enthusiasts, experts, and network participants felt unsure. However, in January 2022, "thedefiant.io" announced that Ethereum had successfully seen its first deflationary week. In short, this means that more ETH was burned than was introduced into circulation. At the time of writing, ETH sits at around $3,129, approximately 35.7% down from its all-time high.
In May 2020, a couple of months after launching, the SOL asset was sitting at $0.50. Fast forward 18 months and SOL is just shy of $260 in November 2021. As a result, the Solana (SOL) asset made numerous mainstream media headlines for its substantial price rally. Holders of the SOL asset between these periods would have seen more than a 13,000% increase in returns.
Offering similar utilities as Ethereum (ETH), SOL is the unit of exchange within the Solana ecosystem. This means that whenever users make a transaction, they must cover the computational gas cost using SOL. Fortunately, the average Solana transaction costs 0.000005 SOL, or less than $0.001. The total maximum supply of SOL is 508,180,963, with a current circulating supply of 322,890,300. Further, the SOL asset is around $100 at the time of writing, according to CoinGecko.
Solana vs Ethereum - Summary
If you are stuck needing guidance on Solana vs Ethereum, we hope this article helps. Moralis Academy does not offer financial advice; however, we aim to provide a level of playing field of educational material for readers when carrying out their own research.
Ethereum is currently the largest smart contract-compatible blockchain. It hosts more decentralized applications (dapps) than any other blockchain ecosystem. However, during the wait for the full rollout of Ethereum 2.0, transaction costs can be exorbitant and wait times long. Conversely, the Solana blockchain integrates several novel protocols, solving the trilemma of scalability, security, and decentralization. Moreover, Solana confirms transactions in sub-second speed with minuscule costs. That being said, it doesn’t have as wide of a community or the level of adoption as Ethereum.
For readers wanting to know more about Ethereum, see our Ethereum Fundamentals course for a deep dive on the second-largest blockchain. Alternatively, check out the Moralis Academy blog, including our "Ukraine and Cryptocurrency", "Top Gaming Tokens", and "How to Survive a Bear Market" articles!