Spotlight on Polygon’s zkEVM Technology

June 15, 2023

Polygon’s multi-chain architecture offers a suite of solutions that cater to different needs within the decentralized ecosystem. These solutions include Polygon PoS (Proof of Stake), Polygon zkEVM (Zero-Knowledge Ethereum Virtual Machine), and Polygon Miden, among others. Each of these components serves a specific purpose, such as improving transaction throughput, enhancing privacy, or providing app-specific chains. If you are interested in reading about Polygon’s network overall, check out our recent article titled “Examining the Progress and Growth of Polygon”. 

Polygon’s most recent development, zkEVM, went live near the end of March, 2023. zkEVM has been an eagerly anticipated upgrade, due to its potential scaling benefits on Ethereum and for its EVM-equivalent capabilities.

Let’s dive in to understand what all of this really means for both Polygon and Ethereum.

What is zkEVM?

zkEVM stands for Zero-Knowledge Ethereum Virtual Machine and its core concept is similar to a standard zk-rollup, a Layer 2 scaling solution that batches a large number of transactions and verifies them on the main chain via a cryptographic validity proof. zk-rollups help greatly reduce the essential data of transactions, decreasing costs and increasing throughput.

Polygon zkEVM aims to maintain a general-purpose approach into its core. Polygon zkEVM enables the seamless deployment of smart contracts written in Solidity onto its chain.

zk-rollups improve multiple aspects of blockchain scaling. Due to being built on top of Layer 1, zk-rollups benefit from the networks consensus to get transactions verified, which guarantees the same level of security. However, zk-rollups tend to be extremely application-specific, requiring more time and effort from developer teams to translate their smart contracts originally deployed on the main chain.


The Benefits of zkEVM

The main component of Polygon zkEVM is called zkProver, which is also its most complex module, solely responsible for the cryptographic proving system. zkProver is responsible for generating the validity proofs and proceeding to verify them. zkProver leverages a combination of cryptographic proofs (STARKs and SNARKs) and innovates with two novel languages (Zero-Knowledge Assembly and Polynomial Identity Language). If you’re interested in learning more about zkProver’s highly elaborated architecture, check out the main documentation linked here.  

Current costs on the zkEVM testnet are already quite low and proof-generation time is fast, ranging from 2-3 minutes from the moment a transaction is sent to being broadcasted on Ethereum. Finality can be achieved in 5 minutes, but the system is set to 30 minute intervals to aggregate many zk proofs and optimize cost.

While Ethereum wasn’t originally built around zk-friendliness, the Polygon team continued to pursue EVM-equivalency, despite also working on a number of impressive projects that addresses the scaling issue from different angles.

EVM and zkEVM have distinct internal mechanisms and work differently from one another – yet, if the same input goes through both layers, the output produced by both will be the exact same.

(“zkEVM Vs EVM: Full Compatibility?” – Ignasi Ramos, Devcon Bogota 2022)

Why does EVM-equivalence matter? 

Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) stems from the concept of virtual machines themselves – it’s the emulation of a computer, but instead of a physical unit, you have software that can run programs and deploy applications. Therefore, the EVM is a decentralized sandbox environment where smart contracts are processed.

The EVM only reads bytecode – a binary language encoded from opcodes and initially generated by human-readable programming languages such as Solidity.

Whether the rollup is EVM-compatible or EVM-equivalent, both concepts try to solve the same problem: by not being able to interact naturally with EVM, applications will always have to be rewritten or modified to some degree before being deployed on a rollup, dramatically hindering its adoption. 

EVM equivalency eliminates this problem by providing developers the same environment they would have on Ethereum, diminishing the level of required change by offering a similar enough framework.

Now, here’s where things get more complex.

The zkEVM dilemma: Compatibility vs Performance  

One may be quick to think compatibility is rendered useless compared to equivalency, but the reality is much more nuanced than that. Contrasting approaches to how much compatibility is necessary to incur a number of different tradeoffs in the rollup’s overall performance. 

You can read Vitalik’s full analysis on the matter here – but to sum it all up, a fully Ethereum-equivalent rollup would inherit the same problems with data load that Ethereum has, sacrificing speed (among other things) during its execution.

The further away we get from compatibility, the faster our rollups get – but the less general-purpose they become and more EVM incompatibilities emerge.

(“The different types of ZK-EVMs” – Vitalik Buterin)


It’s a delicate balance that even those native to Web3 are not unfamiliar with – every choice in blockchain’s architecture comes with a tradeoff, this is often where opinions start to diverge. 

Regardless of which solution is truly best – diversity among solution stacks is healthy for the space, as a true testament to all the developer teams’ effort and dedication that has been put into the zk-rollups environment. Almost every team has been making commendable progress at a remarkable speed. 

Polygon aims to make the most of the existing Ethereum infra and tooling – wallets, RPC providers, developer tools, etc. The team’s end goal is a fully equivalent layer. The team is focused on being bytecode compatible without relying on any intermediary programming language between the rollup and the EVM.

What does that mean for Ethereum? 

Ethereum has been a playground for innovation for years now. The zkEVM coming to life represents a step toward a much faster, cheaper, and overall usable Ethereum. Aside from things like zkEVM, Ethereum isn’t solely relying on Layer 2s for scaling, as every update ever since the Beacon Chain was shipped back in 2020 aimed at least partially at scalability. 

The Ethereum Merge back in September 2020 introduced Proto Danksharding. The Shanghai and Capella upgrades on Ethereum enabled staking withdrawals. All of these upgrades combined with future zkEVM advancements dictate a very optimistic narrative toward improving scalability and overall health for Ethereum. 


Staking with Figment

If you are interested in staking Polygon or Ethereum, Figment offers a host of services aimed at delivering safe and reliable staking rewards for your assets. Figment is the world’s leading provider of blockchain infrastructure. Our 200+ institutional clients rely on Figment to provide best in class staking services including seamless and easy integrations, complete staking coverage, detailed rewards reporting, insights, and more.

Figment’s Protocol team has extensive Polygon knowledge intended to help dive into the specifics such as upgrades and staking information. Meet with us to learn more about staking

The information herein is being provided to you for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be relied upon as, legal, business, or investment advice. Figment undertakes no obligation to update the information herein. 


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