Figment’s First Look: Mina
Figment is involved in Mina’s (previously Coda) initial testnet. Last year, we hosted an AMA with Mina CEO Evan Shapiro, and Mina employees Pranay Mohan and Emre Tekisalp, but this is our first independent deep dive into the project.
Tiny, Portable Blockchain
Mina bills itself as the “world’s lightest blockchain”. Current cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum store massive amounts of data on their blockchains, and will only continue to increase in size. Mina however, claims that their blockchain will always stay the same size (about 20 kilobytes), no matter the usage.
If true, Mina’s network could solve the blockchain scalability problem, which will save billions of dollars in energy use, per year. This also means that Mina could be accessed from any device (including phones), and would enable frictionless integration of cryptocurrencies into applications for developers.
The main selling point for Mina is that their blockchain will be small and will never grow in size, which the team at Mina likes to call a “succinct” blockchain.
Scalability – As of February 5th, 2020, the full Bitcoin blockchain is currently over 243GB, and it will continue to grow, which makes it impossible to download on most end user computing systems, thus making users trust intermediaries to verify transactions. Mina plans to solve the blockchain scalability problem by creating a fixed blockchain size of around 20k, which will be downloadable by anyone who has basic storage and internet access.
True Decentralization – Most blockchains tend to become more centralized as they grow in size. This is because the barrier of entry is constantly becoming more difficult. Because Mina plans to create a fixed blockchain that is roughly the size of a few tweets, anyone with basic compute power has the potential to be directly involved in the network.
Sustainability – Bitcoin, at its current form, is not sustainable. This is mostly due in part to the ever increasing difficulty of mining blocks on the network. Mina’s constant sized blockchain and proof of stake consensus will keep Mina sustainable, even as it scales.
Where could we see Mina’s tech?
Because of its size, we could potentially see Mina’s tech everywhere. It could, theoretically, run on any native browser or phone without having to download any extension or trust additional 3rd parties.
How it will work
Mina describes itself as the “first cryptocurrency protocol with a constant sized blockchain”. A constant sized blockchain would dramatically reduce the resources necessary to verify a chain’s history, which would increase the number of transactions a protocol can process. How does Mina plan to do this? By combining recursive composition with zero knowledge-succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge proofs, or zk-SNARKs.
zk-SNARKs let Mina create a proof of computation, and then share it with anyone. This will create an unforgeable certificate that transactions are performed correctly, without proving the entire computation. This is a rough example of what zk-SNARKs will allow Mina to accomplish. You can take a deeper dive into the technical aspects by reading Mina’s whitepaper.
There will be 3 types of roles within the Mina network, Verifiers, Block Producers and Snarkers.
Verifiers – It is expected that most of the network’s participants will be able to verify. Verifiers can improve the validity of the network by downloading a zk-SNARK, which will certify consensus information. These zk-SNARKs are bits in size and will take milliseconds to download.
Block Producers – Block Producers are similar to miners or stakers in other networks. They are incentivized by block rewards, and network fees, which are paid by users. There is a responsibility of Block Producers that is unique to Mina’s protocol. For every transaction they want to add to a block, they must “SNARK” an equal amount of previous transactions. For example, if I want to add 10 transactions to a block, then I must SNARK 10 transactions beforehand. Block Producers are able to produce SNARKS as well, but they are also able to purchase them from other network participants, Snarkers.
Snarkers – Snarkers produce zk-SNARKS that verify transactions. They are compensated in fees paid out by the block producer. Snarkers can post fees they want to charge to produce zk-SNARKS, which in turn, creates a natural marketplace that Mina calls “the Snarketplace”.
More information on the relationship between Verifiers, Block Producers, and Snarkers can be found in Mina’s recently release Economic and Monetary Policy Whitepaper.
CEO Evan Shapiro has a MS in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon, and CTO Izaak Meckler was earning his PhD in Cryptography at Berkeley prior to forming Mina. They recently raised $15 million from investors that include Coinbase Ventures, and Paradigm. They have over 20 employees and counting. All of their software is open source, and they highly value collaboration and inclusiveness.
Individual tokens on the network will be called mina. The initial supply of mina will be 1 billion.
Mina plans on using a variant of Ouroboros Proof of Stake. As long as everyone is staking in the network, block rewards and fees will be distributed proportionally. Token holders who do not stake or delegate to the network will experience dilution in comparison to those who do. Mina’s inflation rate will start at 12%, and will slowly fall to 7% over 5 years. It will stay at 7% by default, but can change based on the chain’s governance.
The Mina Network will be secured by a proof-of-stake consensus. You can choose to stake your mina yourself or you can delegate your tokens to another node. The benefit of delegating your tokens to another node is that you do not have to be online all the time to constantly earn rewards and fees, as long as the node you are staking to is functioning properly.
The Mina team is considering adding slashing penalties, but there are currently no penalties for block producers being offline. Nevertheless, being offline will discourage delegations.
The Mina testnet is currently live. There are various rewards for block production as well as SNARK work. Participation in the testnet can lead to becoming a Genesis Founder Member. Genesis founding members will receive 6.6% of initial tokens when the mainnet launches. Distributions will be potentially locked up for 4 years, and Genesis founding members will have to participate as block producers on the mainnet. More testnet updates can be found here.