Next Gen Consensus Platform
Avalanche is a new decentralized application (aka smart contract) platform with a unique and innovative metastable consensus mechanism that significantly improves performance, scalability and security compared to older smart contract platforms like Ethereum. Unlike the Ethereum network that have highly concentrated mining pools or the EOS network that relies on 21 nodes, the Avalanche network enables hundreds or thousands of nodes to participate in consensus while achieving high performance and scalability. Founder and CEO Emin Gun Surer, a well-known and highly respected Bitcoin and cryptocurrency researcher and associate professor at Cornell University, leads the Avalanche Labs team.
The decentralized application category (aka smart contract platform) in cryptocurrency is currently dominated by Ethereum. However there is much more competition in this space than in the money category that Bitcoin dominates. Hence there is much higher probability that a newer platform can overtake Ethereum than a monetary cryptocurrency can overtake Bitcoin. There are many more complex architectural software decisions that core developers need to consider to build a sustainable general purpose blockchain platform for applications. The Ethereum platform has a strong network effect especially in DeFi and one of the largest cryptocurrency developer communities, yet performance, scalability and high fees seem to be the biggest challenges it needs to overcome before it can attract applications that have more widespread adoption. We’ve already covered two very different designs with Ethereum and EOS. Avalanche is a new decentralized application blockchain platform that has an innovative consensus mechanism. The consensus mechanism is the fundamental foundation that determines how secure, fast and scalable a blockchain platform can be and is often the most important aspect of blockchain technology.
The Avalanche project started with a white paper titled Scalable and Probabilistic Leaderless BFT Consensus through Metastability that was published pseudonymously by Team Rocket along with the Avalanche Labs founders Maofan Yin, Kevin Sekniqi and Emin Gün Sirer in May, 2018. The white paper describes the Snow protocol family that enables 3,400 transactions per second and confirmations within 1.35 seconds built around consensus using network subsampling and a gossip algorithm that enables incredibly fast dissemination of data throughout the network. In just a bit over two years the Ava Labs team was able to develop their technology for a public launch that’s scheduled September 21st.
Emin Gun Surer has been active in the cryptocurrency space for many years. He’s written research papers on bitcoin selfish-mining attacks and a bitcoin scaling solution called Bitcoin-NG. He is the co-founder of bloXroute, a company focused on the layer 0 networking layer. He also worked on one of the very first proof-of-work minted coin in 2002. The Ava Labs team consists of pioneering researchers at Cornell University. AvaLabs Chief Protocol Architect is Maofan “Ted” Yin a co-author of a paper introducing the Hotstuff consensus algorithm, an algorithm that Facebook’s Libra protocol is based on.
On July 15th, 2020 Ava Labs conducted a token sale that raised $42.5 million in just 4.5 hrs among participants from about 100 countries.
In August, Avalanche announced that Quantstamp, a well-known blockchain security firm, will audit and help optimize the main network’s codebase before launch. Another well-known security firm Whiteblock was also hired to help analyze, optimize and stress test the Avalanche platform before launch. Ava Labs also joined LACChain Alliance alongside 24 organizations such as ConsenSys, MIT Media Lab, Enterprise Ethereum Alliance to accelerate the development of the blockchain ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region.
In June, Ava Labs raised $12 million from the following VCs and funds: Initialized, Galaxy, Bitmain, Dragonfly Capital, NGC, IOSG Ventures along with other individuals. It also announced an integration with Chainlink to enable price feed oracles on the Avalanche platform.
In May, Ava Labs announced more than 1,400 community members had joined its community hub in two months and many contributed to open source development, educational content, translations, social media outreach, graphics, videos, and testing feedback. Ava Labs launched it’s community platform called the Avalanche Hub in February to help with software development, marketing, research, education and more here: The platform also rewards the community for their contributions and support.
The following are projects incorporating Avalanche technology:
Athereum – An Ethereum (EVM) compatible smart contract chain will enable any Ethereum project to seamlessly port over their applications using the same development tools like Remix, Truffle, Web3 and wallets like Metamask and MEW. This smart contract chain would be a subnet on Avalanche and will be available on launch. The Ava Labs team have proposed a ‘spoon’ of Ethereum called Athereum that would be a new subnet created on Avalanche. Ethereum holders and developers would receive new tokens 1:1 in an airdrop and could try out or switch to the Avalanche platform.
Polyient Games – an investment firm focused on blockchain gaming and NFTs is launching a decentralized exchange
Torus – Ava Labs has integrated DirectAuth by Torus to create easy onboarding with wallets that have one-click logins with Google and 2FA
Jelly Swap – will enable atomic swaps for peer-to-peer trades across various blockchains
NoTex – Simple word editor and decentralized blogging platform
Protocoh – Nigeria-based team focused on payments & remittances within Africa
Groundbreaking Metastable Consensus
Avalanche is based on the Snow consensus protocol family. There are various characteristics of the Snow protocol consensus that enable high performance and scalability. It uses epidemic and gossip protocols to reduce the communication overhead in the network. A subsampling mechanism allows the network to smoothly degrade if more malicious nodes are introduced in the system and can allow a higher safety guarantee to prevent an inconsistent transaction from being accepted in the network. In most byzantine fault tolerant (BFT) systems, one-third of the nodes cannot be malicious or the system could stall or break down. In the Snow protocol, the ratio of malicious actors is parameterized and more than one-third of nodes can be malicious by sacrificing liveness, in other words allowing delays until the nodes achieve consensus. The Snow protocol is also synchronous meaning messages between nodes have to be sent at a certain time window to ensure all non-malicious nodes are in consensus and to guarantee liveness. This restriction is necessary to minimize exploits that are possible under a fully asynchronous network that does not restrict communications to time windows. Avalanche uses proof of stake to prevent Sybil attacks and transaction fees to prevent flooding attacks.
The first mechanism of the protocol is called Slush where each node randomly queries a fixed number of other nodes to determine what state a transaction should be in, for example the color ‘blue’ or ‘red’. Each node will perform the query multiple rounds until a certain threshold is met, but is memoryless and doesn’t track the history of each round. The next mechanism called Snowflake adds a counter for each round that keeps track of how many consecutive samples a node has received the same information about state (eg. color) from other nodes for a particular transaction. The final mechanism called Snowball adds another confidence counter that keeps track of the total samples it received for a particular state (eg. color) from other nodes. These mechanisms allow the network to achieve consensus based on preset parameters based on desired safety and liveness thresholds. There are also liveness and safety guarantees for non-malicious transactions so double-spends will not occur. There are no such liveness or safety guarantees for malicious transactions.
The Avalanche network uses two consensus mechanisms based on the Snowball protocol. The Avalanche consensus is optimized for directed-acyclic graph (DAG) technology for asset and token transfers. The DAG data structure improves the efficiency and scalability of the network and allows the network to combine multiple instances of the Snowball protocol to resolve any conflicting transactions in the DAG. The Avalanche consensus uses the same UTXO transaction mechanism as Bitcoin. The three reasons Avalanche can achieve scalability despite having thousands of nodes is: 1) it maintains a partial order of only the relevant spending relations instead of having to order all transactions linearly in the global network 2) it’s leaderless so transaction validation begins randomly at nodes anywhere in the network 3) the number of messages that each node must consider does not grow as the network scales. The second consensus mechanism on the Avalanche network is the Snowman consensus for its platform and smart contract chains that are optimized for totally ordered linear data instead of a DAG.
Avalanche Network Architecture
Avalanche allows any application creator to build customizable blockchain subnetworks that are specific to their needs and enables blockchain interoperability within it’s network similar to Cosmos and Polkadot. Avalanche even enables multiple blockchain networks to interoperate directly without depending on the main Avalanche blockchain to be an intermediary. Most cryptocurrency ecosystems make the platform dependent on one token, one virtual machine and one network. Avalanche takes a more open approach that removes the dependency of blockchain subnetworks on a single network. Avalanche has an asset and token transfer chain called X-chain for sending and receiving AVAX and other assets using a DAG data structure using the Avalanche consensus mechanism. The Avalanche network has a default smart contract chain called the C-Chain based on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (VM) that uses the AVAX token as gas. It also has the platform chain called P-Chain that validates other subnets in the network. Both the P and C-Chains use a linear ordered data structure using the Snowman consensus mechanism. Project developers using Avalanche technology can use any of these data structures or consensus mechanisms based on their requirements.
There are 360 million tokens that will be released to the team, developers, investors, community and foundation. There will also be inflation of new coins from staking until the supply reaches a maximum supply of 720 million tokens. The first year inflation will be 7-12%. Transaction fees on the network will be burned and will reduce supply and create some deflationary pressures. The initial token supply at launch will be about 16.75 million and each quarter about 26 million tokens should be unlocked for the first 1.5 years, about 4 million each quarter after that until 4 years and then an estimated 2.5 million each quarter until the 10th year.
Roughly 32% of the initial token allocation went to both private and public investors with very fair pricing to public investors with vesting schedules of 1 to 1.5 years. 20% was allocated to the team with a vesting schedule over 4 years. 10% remain for strategic partners. 19% for a developer and community endowment and airdrop. Lastly 19% is reserved for a foundation with a vesting period of 10 years. Hence the token allocation seems fair and balanced with sufficient and proper long term incentives for all the participants in the ecosystem.
Available on mainnet launch Sept. 21, 2020:
The Ava Labs team has executed very quickly without a lot of funding and have gained fairly good community support in a short amount of time. The novel Avalanche consensus mechanism is in a class of its own and solves the security and scalability issues that plague most public blockchain platforms. The network architecture and tokenomics are also very well designed. The biggest challenge for the Avalanche community is to win the mindshare of Ethereum developers and other business application companies to adopt the platform in an increasingly competitive space. Ava Labs will also have to rapidly build a larger developer and advocate community as more and more new platform projects saturate the market and make it more difficult to spread awareness. Launching a performant and reliable live network will be the first step in gaining adoption and with adequate long term funding for the Ava Labs team, endowment and the foundation the Avalanche network is poised to be a top platform if the team and community continue to execute as quickly and effectively as they have so far.
You can buy AVAX tokens at Binance anywhere outside the US: