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Polygon and ZkSync’s New ZK Rollups: The Future of Ethereum?

Lincoln Murr

Summary: Recently, both Polygon and Matter Labs' ZkSync released their long-awaited zero-knowledge rollups powered by their revolutionary zkEVMs. These scaling solutions for Ethereum could be the tool that onboards the subsequent billion users to Ethereum and helps the smart contract blockchain achieve its goal of being the world's compute and settlement layer. Let's explore what zero-knowledge ...

Recently, both Polygon and Matter Labs' ZkSync released their long-awaited zero-knowledge rollups powered by their revolutionary zkEVMs. These scaling solutions for Ethereum could be the tool that onboards the subsequent billion users to Ethereum and helps the smart contract blockchain achieve its goal of being the world's compute and settlement layer. Let's explore what zero-knowledge rollups are, why they are technologically innovative, and what their future could be. 

As every DeFi user knows, Ethereum has faced scalability and congestion problems. This is because too many people want to use the blockchain, causing high fees and slow transaction times to be the norm. To counter this issue, a scalability solution called a rollup was created. The idea of a rollup is to essentially act as a zip file that compresses a lot of transactions into one batch, executes the transaction in a cheaper off-chain environment, and then publishes the transaction data to the main Ethereum chain. Anyone can interact with these rollups similarly to the main Ethereum blockchain, which is why they are also called Layer 2s since they are a platform built on the main chain.

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Until now, there has been one primary type of rollup, called the optimistic rollup. This technology has been employed by the two most popular Layer 2s, Arbitrum and Optimism. These rollups assume a transaction is valid and give anyone seven days to dispute the claim, after which the transaction is submitted to Ethereum and irreversible. While simple, this model has an apparent time inefficiency and could be improved.

On the other hand, zero-knowledge rollups use zero-knowledge proofs to bundle transactions into a single mathematical proof that can be verified on-chain. They are significantly more secure than other options and rely on math instead of economics to provide guarantees. At scale, ZK rollups are also cheaper than other options, as they require the least amount of on-chain information. Zero-knowledge technology is incredibly complex and is essentially a way to prove that one knows a secret without revealing the secret. 

While there were previously-existing zero knowledge rollups, such as Loopring and DyDx, they have been limited in use-case to specific activities like exchanging and payments. Polygon and ZkSync's new zero-knowledge rollups are based on a new zkEVM, which means that any contract compatible with Ethereum can be deployed and be compatible with zero-knowledge proof computation. Initially, this task was expected to take years, and some doubted it would be possible. However, the rate of development greatly exceeded expectations, and there are now two publicly-usable zkEVMs available today.

Since their release about a week ago, Polygon and ZkSync's solutions have seen several applications deploy or announce intentions to deploy on their Layer 2s. Some of Polygon's first partners include Balancer, Lens Protocol, and The Graph. ZkSync's rollup, called ZkSync Era, boasts a significantly higher total value locked, $38 million compared to $1 million, and the largest DeFi applications include SyncSwap, Mute.io, and SpaceFi. 

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Along with their zkEVM, Polygon has a suite of other Ethereum scaling products, including their popular sidechain, an identity solution, app-specific chains, and more. The MATIC token is used for paying fees on the sidechain and will likely provide governance rights over the ZK rollup. ZkSync, on the other hand, does not currently have a token but has hinted at plans to release one. They will likely conduct an airdrop upon token release, with free tokens going to early users of the rollup. Using ZkSync early could prove incredibly lucrative, similar to how Arbitrum and Optimism's rollups paid out thousands of dollars. 

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Thanks to ZK rollups' security, efficiency, and EVM compatibility, they are expected to rise rapidly in popularity and become the de facto scaling solution for Ethereum. Polygon's zkEVM and ZkSync Era are innovations that were not expected to be seen for several more years and are incredibly optimistic for the short-term and long-term adoption of Ethereum. 

By Lincoln Murr

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