The Blockchain Trilemma – Can It Be Solved?

Blockchain technology has evolved in a way that has surprised many tech enthusiasts. And it is no wonder why, as blockchains are providing many significant solutions for the crypto industry and not only. Furthermore, considering the number of improvements that developers make to various blockchains, blockchain technology may play a crucial role in many industries with each year that passes. 

However, there is one thing that bothers blockchain developers all around the world, and it is called the Blockchain Trilemma. 

Thus, what is it, what are the main problems it tickles, and is there any way to solve them?

Well, the answer is maybe, but not entirely. But let’s take it one step at a time and find out more about the Blockchain Trilemma first. 

What Is the Blockchain Trilemma?

The Blockchain Trilemma is a concept implying that one blockchain cannot achieve decentralization, scalability, and security at the same time. This term was first brought into discussion by Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, which has faced this problem on the Ethereum blockchain, too.  

So, let’s see what these three terms are and why it is impossible to get optimal levels of all three on a blockchain. 

What Is Decentralization?

One of the first things anyone learns about blockchains is that there is no entity controlling the network. The data and the power are shared among multiple nodes (computers) all around the world. Thus, it is fair to say that the blockchain is decentralized. Furthermore, the network is open to anyone willing to participate and gain a little percentage of control over it. Every user has access to all the data on the blockchain. 

Nonetheless, one of the biggest problems with blockchain decentralization is that only some developers manage to achieve it entirely. Furthermore, decentralization can negatively impact scalability and security, if not even significantly reduce it. This can happen because when a blockchain prioritizes decentralization, the fact that data is spread on a tremendous number of computers means that transaction speeds and the overall security of the network will be affected. 

What Is Scalability?

Scalability is a blockchain’s ability to support an increasing number of transactions per second so that all the network’s participants can have a positive experience on the blockchain. 

Suppose you have ever wondered why some blockchains cannot have remarkably high numbers of transactions per second (Bitcoin can complete an average of 7 transactions per second). In that case, it is because they may prioritize security and decentralization, which can reduce the overall TPS (Transactions per Second). 

It is possible that scalability may not be a blockchain’s main priority. Why would a network provide one of the biggest TPS in the industry if it can be hacked at any time, right? However, the best-case scenario would be to deliver a satisfying level of all three primary blockchain characteristics. Still, few existing networks have managed to tackle this problem in a way that will bring significant results.  

What Is Blockchain Security? 

Decentralization is great. However, a blockchain that achieved decentralization and lacks security may have some problems along the way. And even if developers like to think that their project is untouchable, the truth is a bit different. 

There are multiple types of attacks that a blockchain can suffer, and attacking such a network will most probably result in it losing tremendous amounts of crypto, as well as other problems, such as double-spending. 

Even though blockchains’ security has surprisingly improved over the years, attackers have worked on their activity, too. 

Some of the most popular attacks that can affect blockchains include 51% Attacks, Sybil Attacks, Dusting Attacks, Phishing Attacks, and Routing Attacks. And each of them can bring major losses to a network. Take Binance Exchange, for example. In October 2022, the crypto project was hacked and lost 2 million BNB tokens ($516 million at the time of writing). Furthermore, in 2018, Bitcoin Gold suffered a 515% attack and lost almost 400,000 BTG (more than $5 million at the time of writing). 

Considering such attacks that occurred over time, increasing a blockchain’s security should represent one of the main developers’ goals. 

Potential Solutions

The fact that the Blockchain Trilemma exists and affects networks worldwide is no news to crypto enthusiasts. Nevertheless, what can be done in order to get the Scalability Trilemma one step closer to being solved? 

Over time, there have been many projects that tried to solve the Blockchain Trilemma. And one solution that they found was working with various consensus mechanisms. For instance, while Proof of Work (PoW) provides a surprising level of security to the networks using it, it lacks scalability, and Bitcoin is one of the best examples of this. Other blockchains chose to work with Proof of Stake (PoS) so that they can increase the TPS, thus working on their scalability. This has brought the ability to complete more transactions per second but came with a downside, too: the lack of security. And this way, many blockchains found themselves going around the Scalability Trilemma. 

On the other hand, some newer projects aim to solve one of the industry’s biggest problems another way: gasless technologies. 

For instance, Redlight Finance wants to provide a high level of scalability in a natural way through gas-free transactions. This way, the team can focus on achieving security and decentralization and constantly work on achieving great levels of these two while seeing the benefits of letting scalability work “on its own”.

Final Thoughts

Blockchain has brought significant benefits to the crypto industries and not only. These days, many other industries plan on using blockchain in their strategies, too. 

While blockchains provide security, decentralization, and scalability, one concept says that a specific network cannot achieve satisfying levels of all three features simultaneously. This is called the Blockchain Trilemma, and these days, blockchains’ main goal is to solve it. 

However, the projects that have already tried to solve the Scalability Trilemma found themselves in a situation where they had to admit that it is almost impossible (at least for the moment). 

However, many blockchain projects try to tackle the problem in various ways so that they can contribute to solving the Blockchain Trilemma after all. 

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