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Polkadot vs. Ethereum

Both protocols are blockchains at their core but serve fundamentally different roles in how they are utilized:

  • Ethereum is a general-purpose blockchain that hosts the Ethereum Virtual Machine, an environment for executing smart contracts. Ethereum is homogenous but can utilize rollups and layer two solutions to scale its usage.
  • Polkadot is a heterogeneous, multi-chain protocol (a "layer 0" or metaprotocol) that hosts multiple layer one blockchains and allows them to partake in shared security. Polkadot acts as a meta-protocol allowing multiple protocols to coexist and work together.

In the context of blockchains, the term "shards" or "sharded protocol" is typically used to refer to sub-protocols or as a general term to refer to a form of horizontal scaling.

High-Level Comparisonโ€‹

Both protocols have fundamentally different goals:

  • Ethereum is a general-purpose blockchain based on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Ethereum is not specialized nor optimized for any particular application. Instead, its primary focus is the Ethereum Virtual Machine for executing smart contracts. Ethereum achieves scalability via rollups are secondary protocols that utilize Ethereum as a settlement layer.

  • Polkadot is a multi-chain protocol that provides shared security and secure interoperability for each of its parachains. Each parachain (also called an "appchain" in this context) is specialized towards a specific focus and optimized towards that goal. Parachains must abide by the Parachains Protocol.

Polkadot does not directly run a virtual machine for smart contracts, as Polkadot's primary purpose is to validate the protocols that operate under it.

However, several parachains provide smart contract functionality. Parachains on Polkadot can even run an EVM for executing smart contracts written in Solidity using Frontier, an Ethereum compatibility layer for Substrate.

As a general summary, one could also say that Polkadot coordinates and validates sub-protocols that follow the Parachains Protocol (which are akin to an optimistic-style rollup). In contrast, Ethereum coordinates inputs and outputs for the EVM. On Polkadot, any sub-protocol can have its own logic so long as it compiles to WebAssembly.

Scalability Approachesโ€‹

Ethereum favors a rollup-centric approach for scaling transaction throughput. Danksharding is how Ethereum plans to better accommodate and facilitate rollup activity by providing better utilities, such as data availability via Proto-Danksharding, for rollups to record state to Ethereum.

Danksharding will allow for much more space to be utilized per block on Ethereum, where blobs of data will be verifiable for an amount of time before being pruned from the network. This approach will enable data availability at layer one and further enable layer two protocols on Ethereum to flourish more readily.

In contrast, Polkadot require parachains to register themselves in accordance with the Parachains Protocol. Once registered, Polkadot validates the state transitions of each parachain as per their parachain validation function (PVF). Data availability is an integral part of validating the parachain state. This approach enables parallelized interactions between parachains. They can trust that each sub-protocol's respective state is valid, as Polkadot collectively validated them.

Rollups vs. Parachain Creationโ€‹

Ethereum primarily focuses on optimizing itself for rollups; Polkadot's parachains protocol allows validation to occur on the protocol level without needing a layer two solution.

Rollup vs. Parachain Comparison

For a more in-depth comparison of parachains versus rollups, take a look at the rollup comparison page

On Polkadot, each parachain hosts its own core logic, called a runtime (sometimes called a state transition function). Polkadot uses WebAssembly (Wasm) as a "meta-protocol".

Parachains have the option of using cross-consensus messaging (XCM) to communicate with one another and facilitate inter-chain reactions. It is also possible to utilize XCM on Ethereum as it is merely a format for describing state transitions on a particular network.

Architectural Differences: Polkadot and Ethereumโ€‹

As previously mentioned, Ethereum is a general-purpose virtual machine that can run sandboxed programs are written in Solidity, whereas Polkadot is a meta-protocol for other parachains to connect and interact with each other.

Ethereum operates as a single, homogeneous chain. Each Ethereum node is divided into two layers: the consensus and execution layers. Each layer handles the block validation information, peer discovery, and Proof-of-Stake of the Ethereum client.

Polkadot's primary component is the relay chain, which hosts heterogeneous parachains. The relay chain aggregates information from each parachain, where validators agree upon consensus and finality. One can see Polkadot as a series of runtimes, which are state transition functions used to describe parachains and Polkadot itself.

Forks, Upgrades, and Governanceโ€‹

Ethereum's governance is done off-chain, where various stakeholders come to a consensus through some medium other than the protocol itself. Upgrades on Ethereum will follow the standard hard fork procedure, coordinating the community and validators to upgrade their nodes to implement protocol changes.

Polkadot uses on-chain governance, called OpenGov, to facilitate upgrades to the Polkadot runtime. The stakeholders of Polkadot vote on these upgrades, and if successful, the upgrade is enacted automatically in the blocks to come. Polkadot validator operators only upgrade their nodes when the client itself gets updated.

Because of this mechanism, Polkadot can enact chain upgrades using the Wasm meta-protocol without a hard fork. As the WebAssembly runtime for Polkadot (and all of its subsequent parachains) are stored on-chain, this involves simply replacing the runtime with a new WebAssembly blob once governance allowed the upgrade to be enacted.

Anything within the state transition function, the transaction queue, or off-chain workers can be upgraded without forking the chain, as these are all part of the WebAssembly runtime.

Block Production & Finalizationโ€‹

Both Ethereum and Polkadot use hybrid consensus models where block production and finality are decoupled.

For finalization, Ethereum utilizes Casper FFG, which works with LMD-GHOST as the fork choice rule for finalization.

Polkadot utilizes GRANDPA for finalization. Rather than decide on a block-by-block basis, GRANDPA can finalize chains of blocks. Both finalization mechanisms are both GHOST-based and can both finalize batches of blocks in one round.

For block production, both protocols use slot-based protocols that randomly assign validators to a slot and provide a fork choice rule for unfinalized blocks. Polkadot uses BABE for block production. BABE includes two mechanisms for selecting block producers, one of which is a fallback in case the first fails, which allows for chain liveness. BABE produces unfinalized blocks on top of the chain already finalized by GRANDPA.

There are two main differences between Ethereum and Polkadot consensus:

  1. Polkadot's:polkadot }}

  2. Ethereum typically has many validators per round (called an epoch on Ethereum) to provide strong validity guarantees while Polkadot can provide stronger guarantees with fewer validators per round. Polkadot achieves this by making validators distribute an erasure coding to all validators in the system, such that anyone - not only the round's validators - can reconstruct a parachain's block and test its validity. This data availability is a core part of Polkadot - ensuring state is valid for its state transitions. The random parachain-validator assignments and secondary checks are performed by randomly selected validators, making it less likely for the small set of validators on each parachain to collude.

Staking Mechanics: Ethereum PoS vs. Polkadot NPoSโ€‹

Polkadot uses Nominated Proof of Stake (NPoS) to select validators from a smaller set, letting smaller holders nominate validators to run the network while claiming the system's rewards without running a node. Polkadot needs about five validators for each parachain in the network. For more information, see the staking page.

Ethereum is a Proof of Stake (PoS) network that requires 32 ETH to stake for each validator instance. Validators run a primary Beacon Chain node and multiple validator clients - one for each 32 ETH. These validators get assigned to "committees," randomly selected groups to validate blocks in the network.

Interoperability and Message Passingโ€‹

Polkadot uses Cross-Consensus Messaging (XCM) for parachains to send arbitrary messages to each other. Parachains open connections with each other and can send messages via their established channels. Given that collators communicate directly to the relay chain, they will be connected and can relay messages from parachain A to parachain B if needed through these message passing channels (see: HRMP, VMP, and other message passing mechanisms for XCM).

Messages do not pass through the relay chain. Only validity proofs and channel operations do (open, close, etc.). This enhances scalability by keeping data on the edges of the system.

Currently, Ethereum rollups can communicate using shared sequencers, which provides a common ground of interoperability between layer two solutions.

Polkadot plans to have the concept of Accords are opt-in treaties for different protocols to partake in. Accords ensure that logic about interoperability is kept consistent and cannot be changed and undermined by participating protocols. This helps ensure that any XCM message can be properly interpreted and executed as needed on the target protocol in a fully trustless environment.

SPREE (Shared Protected Runtime Execution Enclaves) is the mechanism that provides shared logic for cross-consensus messages, and will be used to construct Accords.

DApp Support and Developmentโ€‹

Ethereum supports smart contract development using Solidity. These contracts are immutable, and cannot be changed once published on-chain.

Polkadot supports smart contracts through parachains, usually using the ink! smart contract language, but also Solidity through Frontier-enabled parachains. On Ethereum, smart contracts can call each other; however, they are fixed on-chain to the domain of Ethereum. On Polkadot, smart contracts can call each other in the same parachain and across parachains.

On Polkadot, developers have the option of either using smart contracts, calling extrinsics from pallets that modify the chain's state in some particular way or merely use Polkadot's RPC to directly retrieve and act on-chain information. DApps on Polkadot are often composed of these multiple components working together to modify, retrieve, and watch state changes live as they happen.

For a more comprehensive list of how to build on Polkadot, be sure to check the Build Section.


Ethereum and Polkadot both use a sharded model. Danksharding plans to utilize a rollup-centric approach by focusing on data availability. The Polkadot ecosystem is secured by a main chain, called the "relay chain," which in turn manages cores and allows tasks, such as parachains, to be run on top of those cores and messages to be sent between them.

The primary differences between the two protocols are:

  • Ethereum processes EVM-compatible state transitions, whether through rollups or on the mainnet itself, while Polkadot allows its parachains to have an abstract state transition function implementation.
  • Governance processes in Ethereum are planned to be off-chain and thus require coordination for a hard fork to enact governance decisions. In contrast, in Polkadot the decisions are on-chain and enacted autonomously via forkless upgrades.
  • Validator selection mechanisms differ as Polkadot can provide strong availability and validity guarantees with fewer validators per protocol.