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Parachains FAQ

General

What is "parachain consensus"?

"Parachain consensus" is special in that it will follow the Polkadot Relay Chain. Parachains cannot use other consensus algorithms that provide their own finality. Only sovereign chains (that must bridge to the Relay Chain via a parachain) can control their own consensus. Parachains have control over how blocks are authored and by whom. Polkadot guarantees valid state transitions. Executing a block finality outside the context of the relay chain is outside the scope of trust that Polkadot provides.

How about parachains that are not Substrate-based?

Substrate provides FRAME Pallets as part of its framework to seamlessly build a rustic-based blockchain. Part of FRAME are pallets that can be used for consensus. Polkadot being a Substrate-based chain rely on BABE as the block production scheme and GRANDPA as the finality gadget as part of its consensus mechanism. Collectively, this is a Hybrid Consensus Model, where block production and block finality are separate. Parachains only need to produce blocks as they can rely on the relay chain to validate the state transitions. Thus, parachains can have their own block production where the collators act as the block producers, even if the parachain is not Substrate-based.

Is 100 a hard limit on the number of Parachains that can be supported?

No.Polkadot network went through a significant number of optimizations, and there are several updates planned in the near future. The exact number of parachains that the Relay Chain can support without any degradation in performance is yet to be discovered. Also, with the blockspace over blockchains paradigm which brings parathreads into the picture, there is no hard limit number on the number of blockchains that can be supported by Polkadot .

What happens to parachains when the number of validators drops below a certain threshold?

The minimal safe ratio of validators per parachain is 5:1. With a sufficiently large set of validators, the randomness of their distribution along with availability and validity will make sure security is on-par. However, should there be a big outage of a popular cloud provider or another network connectivity catastrophe, it is reasonable to expect that the number of validators per chain will drop.

Depending on how many validators went offline, the outcome differs.

If a few validators went offline, the parachains whose validator groups are too small to validate a block will skip those blocks. Their block production speed will slow down to an increment of six seconds until the situation is resolved and the optimal number of validators is in that parachain's validator group again.

If anywhere from 30% to 50% of the validators go offline, availability will suffer because we need two-thirds of the validator set to back the parachain candidates. In other words, all parachains will stop until the situation is resolved. Finality will also stop, but low-value transactions on the Relay Chain should be safe enough to execute, despite common forks. Once the required number of validators are in the validator set again, parachains will resume block production.

Given that collators are full nodes of the Relay Chain and the parachain they are running, they will be able to recognize a disruption as soon as it occurs and should stop producing block candidates. Likewise, it should be easy for them to recognize when it's safe to restart block production - perhaps based on finality delay, validator set size or some other factor that is yet to be decided within Cumulus.

Parachain Development Kits (PDKs)

Parachain Development Kits are a set of tools that enable developers to create their own applications as parachains. For more information, see the PDK content](/docs/build-pdk#parachain-development-kit-pdk) and Parachain Development page.

Security

Is security correlated to the number of validators? What about the number of parachains?

Security is independent of the number of parachains that are connected to the Polkadot Relay Chain. The correlation of security and the number of validators exists as the higher number of validators will give the network stronger decentralization properties and make it harder to try to take down. However, the biggest indicator of the security of the network is the economic signal of the number of DOT that are bonded and staked. The greater the number of DOT staked by honest validators and nominators, the higher the minimum amount of DOT an attacker would need to acquire a validator slot.

In what scenarios do parachains need their own security?

Most parachains will not need to worry about their own security, since all state transitions will be secured by the Polkadot Relay Chain validator set. However, in some cases (which are considered more experimental), parachains may require their own security. In general, these cases will revolve around lack of data available to Relay Chain validators.

One example is if the state transition function is some succinct or zero-knowledge proof, the parachain would be responsible for keeping its data available as the Relay Chain won't have it. Additionally, for chains with their own consensus, like the one that enables fast payments on Blink Network, there would probably need to be a Byzantine agreement between stakers before a parachain block is valid. The agreement would be necessary because the data associated with the fast consensus would be unknown to Relay Chain validators.

Slot Auctions

How will parachain slots be distributed?

Parachain slots are acquirable through auction. For more information on the auction process, please see the parachain slot auctions article. Additionally, some parachain slots will be set aside to run parathreads chains that bid on a per-block basis to be included in the Relay Chain. (Parathreads are not implemented yet.)

Why doesn't everyone bid for the max length?

For the duration of the slot, the tokens used for bidding in the auction are locked up. This suggests there is an opportunity cost associated with bidding, as the tokens could have been leveraged for something else.

How does this mechanism help ensure parachain diversity?

The method for dividing the parachain slots into intervals was partly inspired by the desire to allow for a greater amount of parachain diversity, while preventing particularly large and well-funded parachains from hoarding slots. By making each period a three-month duration but the overall slot a 2-year duration, the mechanism can cope with well-funded parachains, ensuring they secure a slot at the end of their lease, while gradually allowing other parachains to enter the ecosystem to occupy the durations that are not filled. For example, if a large, well-funded parachain has already acquired a slot for range 1 - 8, they would be very interested in getting the next slot that would open for 2 - 9. Under this mechanism, that parachain could acquire just period 9 (since that is the only one required) and allow the 2 - 8 range of the second parachain slot to be occupied by another party.

Why is randomness difficult on blockchains?

Generating a random number trustlessly on a transparent and open network opens up the possibility for bad actors to attempt to alter or manipulate the randomness. There have been a few solutions that have been proposed, including hash-onions like RANDAO and verifiable random functions (VRFs). The latter is what Polkadot uses as a base for its randomness.

Are there other ways of acquiring a slot besides the candle auction?

Aa parachain slot can also be acquired through a secondary market where a 3rd party has already won a parachain slot and has the ability to resell the slot along with the associated deposit of tokens that are locked up to another buyer. This would allow the seller to get liquid tokens in exchange for the parachain slot and the buyer to acquire the slot as well as the deposited tokens.

A number of system or common-good parachains may be granted slots by the governing bodies of the Relay Chain. System parachains can be recognized by a parachain ID lower than 1_000, and common-good parachains by a parachain ID between 1_000 and 1_999. Other parachains will have IDs 2_000 or higher. Such parachains would not have to bid for or renew their slots as they would be considered essential to the ecosystem's future.

How are auctions scheduled?

The parachain slot auctions are scheduled through the governance. At least 2/3 of the Council can initiate an auction, however, Root origin (via referendum) is needed to cancel an auction. Here is a proposal that gives a glimpse of what goes into planning auctions schedule - Proposed Polkadot Auction Schedule 2022.