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Bridges

A cornerstone technology of blockchain interoperability is the blockchain bridge. Blockchain bridges are ways for two economically sovereign and technologically diverse chains to communicate with each other. Bridge designs come in a variety of flavors ranging from centralized and trusted to more decentralized and trustless. Polkadot favors the latter bridge designs for its ecosystem, however there is nothing that blocks a development team from building and deploying the former.

While bridge designs are now getting to a place where they are sufficiently planned out, there has not been too many that have been used heavily in production. For this reason, you can consider this page a work in progress. It will be updated as more information is determined and available.

Bridges are specifically for making the Polkadot ecosystem compatible with external blockchains such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Tezos (among others). For information on XCMP, the native interoperability technology that allows parachains to trustlessly communicate, please see the dedicated crosschain page on the Wiki.

Bridging Methods#

Building a bridge that is as decentralized and trustless as possible can be done through any of the following methods (ordered by suggested methodology):

  • Bridge pallets - For Substrate-native chains, use a bridge pallet (e.g. Kusama \<\> Polkadot bridge, since both networks' parachains use Substrate).
  • Smart contracts - If the chain is not on Substrate, you should have smart contracts on the non-Substrate chain to bridge (e.g. Ethereum mainnet will have a bridge smart contract that initiates Eth transactions based on incoming XCMP messages).
  • Higher-order protocols - If your chain does not support smart contracts (e.g. Bitcoin), you should use XClaim or similar protocols to bridge.

via Bridge Pallets#

Receiving messages on Polkadot from an external, non-parachain blockchain can be possible through a Substrate pallet. The Substrate instance can then be deployed to Polkadot either as a system-level parachain (native extension to the core Polkadot software) or as a community-operated parachain.

An example of a bridge that would strictly use bridge pallets would be a Kusama \<\> Polkadot bridge, since both use parachains based on Substrate.

For the standalone chains that will not have a parachain bridging module on Polkadot (non-Substrate), it will be necessary to deploy bridge contracts (see below).

via Smart Contracts#

Given the generality of blockchain platforms with Turing-complete smart contract languages, it is possible to bridge Polkadot and any other smart contract capable blockchain (Ethereum, EOS, Tezos, etc).

Those who are already familiar with Ethereum may know of the now archived Parity Bridge and the efforts being made to connect PoA sidechains to the Ethereum mainnet. The Parity bridge is a combination of two smart contracts, one deployed on each chain, that allow for cross-chain transfers of value. As an example of usage, the initial Parity Bridge proof of concept connects two Ethereum chains, main and side. Ether deposited into the contract on main generates a balance denominated in ERC-20 tokens on side. Conversely, ERC-20 tokens deposited back into the contract on side can free up Ether on main.

To learn more on how Bitcoin and Ethereum can Cooperate and Collaborate Through Polkadot, check out this explainer video here

via Higher-Order Protocols#

Higher-order protocols (like XCLAIM) can be used to bridge, but should only be used when other options are not available. XCLAIM, in particular, requires any swappable asset to be backed by a collateral of higher value than the swappable assets, which adds additional overhead.

An example of a network that would be well-suited for higher-order protocols would be Bitcoin, since it does not support smart-contracts and it's not based on Substrate.

Examples#

Ethereum Bridge (Smart Contracts \<> Polkadot)#

As explained by Dr. Gavin Wood in a blog post from late 2019, there are three ways that the Polkadot and Substrate ecosystem can be bridged to the Ethereum ecosystem.

  1. Polkadot <-> Ethereum Public Bridge.
  2. Substrate <-> Parity Ethereum (Openethereum) Bridge.
  3. The Substrate EVM module.

Please read the blog article for fuller descriptions of each one of these options.

Bitcoin Bridge (XCLAIM \<> Substrate \<> Polkadot)#

The Interlay team has written a specification on a Bitcoin bridge that is based on the XCLAIM design paper. The protocol enables a two-way bridge between Polkadot and Bitcoin. It allows holders of BTC to "teleport" their assets to Polkadot as PolkaBTC, and holders of PolkaBTC to burn their assets for BTC on the Bitcoin chain.

The Bitcoin bridge as documented in the specification is composed of two logically different components:

  • The XCLAIM component that maintains all accounts that own PolkaBTC.
  • The BTC-Relay that is responsible for verifying Bitcoin state when a new transaction is submitted.

For full details on how it works please refer to the specification.

There is now a reference implementation and testnet available.

Additional Resources and Examples#

For Bridge Builders#

If your team is interested in building a bridge between an external chain and Polkadot, there may be funding available from the W3F grants program. Please first check that the chain you are intending to bridge between hasn't already been built or is in the process of being built by another team. More popular chains with clear use cases will be given priority, and novel bridge designs are welcome.

Resources and Examples#