Portal Prague 2024

Piper Merriam,project


I am sitting here on the third and last day of our summit event in Prague. The last two days have been full of deep discussions about the Portal protocol, pouring over our designs and plans. Much of our time has been focused on the near term plans for finishing our MVP goals of delivering our three core networks that are slated to deliver unprecedented access to Ethereum's Execution data, freeing users of long sync times and heavy hardware requirements.

Since Ethereum's launch, this data has been locked away behind the high cost of running an Ethereum full node. The goal of Portal is to shift the core paradigms of Ethereum's peer-to-peer distributed networks away from the status quo of priviledged access to this data into an egalitarian model that is inherently friendly towards broader participation and easier access.


Portal Network Endgame

One of the more important discussions we had this week was setting our roadmap items for both the near term future as well as the dependency chain for our longer term plans. In the short term, our focus remains to deliver the core data needed by execution layer clients. This is our MVP and we are on track to deliver it by the end of 2024.

The Portal History network is largely feature complete. The only remaining work is centered around handling proofs for the most recent headers that are entering the network as new blocks are added to the chain. Our network requires chain data to be canonically anchored, which requires proofs against the HistoricalSummaries from the beacon state. These proofs end up being mutable during the roughly 27 hour period during which the latest batch of the accumulator is still filling up. Our teams are still deciding on a strategy for how clients will handle these ephemerally proven headers at the tip of the chain as they pass beyond the period boundary. One of our main take-aways from the roadmap discussion is that the history network is ready for 4444s adoption and we consider the network as a whole to be in "production" status.

The Portal Beacon network is also largely feature complete. The individual client implementations are implementing logic to handle trusted beacon chain block roots for bootstrapping into our beacon network. Recent work has been focused around the proving paths that are needed from the beacon state and sourcing this data for our beacon network bridges. The beacon network is still in the last stages of development and is expected to enter production over the next 1-2 months.

The Portal State network is under active development across all portal client teams. We are on track for delivering the initial phase of our state network by Devcon 2024, which will support fetching arbitrary state data from tip of the chain. Both the Trin and Ultralight clients have implemented state bridges in their client which can start at the genesis state, execute the next block, extract the state diff, and gossip all of the state data into the network. We have run some small experiments to validate our designs and are now moving onto full implementations in our clients.

All of this puts the Portal project on-track to deliver the production MVP of our three initial networks by Devcon.

State Network

State trie diagram

Our primary focus here is delivery of the initial stage of the network which implements full archival storage of all historical state in time for Devcon 2024. We spent most of our time focused on the development dependencies needed to make this timeline a reality. Most of the work that is still to be done is in our bridge infrastructure which is responsible for generating all fo the trie data and gossiping it into our network. Our client teams have found that supporting the actual content types for state network is relatively simple. The complexity is in the sheer scale and magnitude of Ethereum's state data. Our current plan is to initialize our network with a snapshot of the state taken near the tip while in parallel we work forward from genesis to backfill all of the historical state data.

Our biggest bottleneck for our state bridges is the rate at which data can be gossip'd into the network. Luckily, this is an area where there are lots of easy and effective optimizations that simply need to be implemented. This work will be important in ensuring that our state bridges are both able to backfill state from genesis at a reasonably fast rate as well as the more important requirement that the state bridges can keep up with new state being generated at the tip of the chain as each new block is mined.

We spent a very small amount of time discussing the second stage of the state network, which will be focused on implementing a second storage model that is focused on storing only the most recent state from the tip of the chain. This alternative storage model is designed for faster access to state data and depends on our initial stage plans for having archival state storage.

And lastly, we spent some time today discussing the proposed third stage for our state network, which would implement a storage method similar to Erigon's reverse diff (opens in a new tab) based approach to archival storage. This model would reduce the overall storage requirements for the network and be a building block for more efficient syncing of archival nodes. This topic is still being actively researched.

Verkle & Portal

Milos at the whiteboard

Related to state data, we also spend some time discussing Verkle tries which will change to how Ethereum stores state data. Milos Stankovic has been doing research on how Portal can handle Verkle. Luckily, most of our plans for how to handle state in the current Merkle context apply directly to how it looks like state will be handled under Verkle. There are still a few unsolved problems surrounding how to efficiently implement archival storage under Verkle.

4444s and Execution Clients

EL Adoption

EIP-4444 (opens in a new tab) was originally authored in 2021 and advocates for execution layer (EL) clients to drop chain history for block that are sufficiently old. Since then, the conversation has been largely centered around the alternative data sources that are needed in order to ensure that once clients drop this data that we can still reliably retrieve it. Portal network has been aiming at serving as part of the 4444s solution, with our history network being well suited for storing and serving individual block data.

In the recent ACD interop event in Kenya the EL teams got together to discuss finalizing 4444s plans and implementing the functionality in their individual clients. During our event this week we discussed loose plans that we'll be proposing to EL teams to provide them with support in integrating with the Portal history network with the expressed goal of delivering 4444s this year.


Glados plans

Glados is our network monitoring infrastructure. It provides visibility into the current and historical status of our live networks. During the summit we discussed future plans for more graphs, visualizations and information we want from Glados and new types of monitoring that we need to gather the necessary data. Glados has continued to be a key driver in our development process. It tells us important metrics about our network as well as helping us identify problems as they occur.

Longer Term Designs and Plans

During our discussions we covered a number of research topics focused on solving longer term problems and protocol designs. Some of the "simpler" things in this category are ideas around how to support "super" nodes on our network that store an above average amount of data. The way our DHT storage and retrieval mechanism is built makes it difficult to discover content on nodes that are very far away from the location in the network where that content is addressed. This is simply an inherent property of how the DHT/Kademlia routing works. To solve this, we are exploring how to have our clients represent themselves on the network in multiple locations which makes them inherently easier to discover since each of these network identities would be an entry point into getting at the content they store.

Another major topic of research is around a scheme for storing large SSZ objects in our network. This feature would enable our networks to do more efficient bulk storage of things like deep history data or potentially even deep archives of very old state data. The storage format this offers can be significantly more efficient than many of our current models. The biggest benefit we see from this approach is bulk downloading of this data, very much similiar to being able to "torrent" this data from our networks. This would allow for bulk syncing of the history data and possibly even fast bootstrapping of full archive nodes.

These topics are still actively being researched.


Group picture

This was our second Portal summit and it was impressive to see how far everyone on the project has come both in their expertise with the Portal protocol itself as well as their broader knowledge and understanding of the Ethereum protocols. The team left with a deep feeling of satisfaction and excitement. The Portal protocol is something I first imagined a full four years ago. During that four years the teams and engineers working on the various clients have turned that idea into a well specified protocol with four distinct clients and a growing suite of monitoring and testing infrastructure. My satisfaction comes from seeing the tangible imminence of the thing that was imagined being something that is real. And my exitement is in having tangible results in a live production network that we can point to to demonstrate the results of our work.

This project was always meant to be revolutionary at the execution layer. We are well on our way to delivering a new class of Ethereum execution client and I'm excited to show all of you the future of Ethereum's execution layer.

Portal Website
Portal Specs