Web3 and blockchain have been taking over the tech landscape over the last few years. Many individuals are flocking to the industry, looking to kickstart their careers in blockchain. But it can be difficult to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of its technology. Some of the most valuable features you may come across are Merkle and Verkle trees. So what are blockchain trees and how do they work?
What are Merkle Trees?
Merkle trees, also known as hash trees, are data structures used to efficiently verify the consistency of large amounts of data. The data is organized into a binary tree-like structure where each leaf node contains a hash of some data, and each non-leaf node contains a hash of its child node hashes.
A Merkle tree can be thought of as a ledger that records transactions securely. Imagine a ledger with millions of transactions, which is too large to carry around. To simplify it, you could divide it into individual pages, and summarize each page into a hash value. This hash value serves as a digital fingerprint of the page, and any changes made to the page would result in a different hash value.
Next, you would take pairs of pages and calculate another hash value, and so on, until you reach the root hash, which summarizes the entire ledger. This root hash is the Merkle root. To verify the integrity of the transactions, you would only need to compare the root hash you have with a trusted source, instead of comparing every transaction in the ledger.
This is how a Merkle tree helps preserve data integrity while greatly reducing the amount of information you must store.
What are Verkle Trees?
Verkle trees are similar to Merkle trees in their structure. A Verkle tree allows you to organize large amounts of data into smaller chunks, using “witnesses” of the original information. This can be confirmed and validated by anyone with access to the root of the tree.
The most important feature of Verkle trees is their scalability. Through a proving system known as polynomial commitments, a Verkle tree requires just 150 bytes to produce proofs for a billion data points. By contrast, a Merkle tree would require 1 kilobyte for the same amount of data.
Verkle trees can be more expansive than other forms of trees used in blockchains. However, if the width expands too much, calculations can get too long. Thus, proofs get shorter as the width increases.
Difference Between Merkle Trees VS Verkle Trees
|A binary tree using cryptographic hashes to generate proofs of data
|Ralph Merkle in 1988
|1 kilobyte of space for 1 billion data points
|use polynomial commitments to organize data and create witnesses for proofs of data
|John Kuszmaul in 2018
|150 bytes of space for 1 billion data points
|Upcoming Ethereum upgrades
Verkle Tree and Merkle Tree: Benefits
Merkle Tree Benefits
- Data Accuracy: Merkle trees enable the easy analysis of whether data is accurate or not.
- Low Storage Requirements: A Merkle tree compresses the required data for operation into much smaller sizes than storing every transaction individually.
- The backbone of Blockchain Operation: Merkle trees are essential for blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum to operate and serve users.
Verkle Tree Benefits
- Verifiability of Data: Verkle tree data can be easily verified and confirmed by anyone with access to the tree root.
- Lower Storage: Verkle trees can reduce proof sizes to 20 to 30 times smaller than Merkle trees.
- Essential for Future Scalability: As crypto and blockchain gain popularity, Verkle trees are crucial for Layer 1 blockchains to match demand.
Merkle Tree and Verkle Tree: Use Cases
Merkle Tree Use Cases in Blockchain
Examples of blockchains using Merkle trees include:
- Bitcoin – Bitcoin uses Merkle trees to hash the transactions within a block in its blockchain. This allows for efficient verification of transactions without having to transmit the entire block.
- Ethereum – Ethereum uses Merkle Patricia trees in its blockchain to verify the authenticity of transactions. The Merkle tree allows for efficient verification of smart contracts, which are self-executing programs that allow the automatic completion of contracts between buyers and sellers.
- Hyperledger Fabric – Hyperledger Fabric is a permissioned blockchain platform that uses Merkle trees to hash the transactions within a block and enable efficient verification of the authenticity of transactions.
Verkle Tree Use Cases in Blockchain
Verkle trees have unfortunately not been implemented in blockchains yet. However, their fundamentals are sound and the future is promising. According to the founder of Ethereum – Vitalik Buterin – this new form of data validation is going to be an essential part of Ethereum’s upcoming scalability upgrades.
While Ethereum has already completed “The Merge”, several other upgrades are still in the pipeline. You can expect to hear more about Verkle trees as these upgrades come closer to release.
Read more: What is the Ethereum Merge
Merkle trees have been essential for the operation of blockchains so far. They allow blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum to conduct validation without storing every transaction individually.
However, Verkle trees seem like the best next step to handling the rapidly growing demand for crypto and blockchain platforms. These trees require much less storage than the traditional Merkle trees while offering faster performance for platforms.
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