Ethereum, the world's second largest cryptocurrency platform, is more than just a digital currency. With its revolutionary blockchain technology, Ethereum provides a decentralized platform for building and running decentralized applications (dApps). But how does Ethereum continue to evolve and improve over time? This is where Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) come in.
EIPs are design documents that propose new features or processes for Ethereum. They enable the Ethereum community to come together and determine the future direction of the protocol. EIPs contain technical specifications for the proposed changes as well as the reasoning behind the changes. Anyone can submit an EIP, and then the community discusses and deliberates to determine if the proposal should be accepted and implemented.
What Exactly are EIPs?
EIPs stand for Ethereum Improvement Proposals. They are technical design documents that are submitted by community members through a standardized process. EIPs contain the technical details and rationale for proposed changes and additions to the Ethereum protocol.
Some examples of protocol changes that have been implemented through the EIP process include:
- Transitioning Ethereum from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake consensus (EIP-3475)
- Adding new Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) opcodes (EIP-3541)
- Modifying gas cost and refund schedules (EIP-3529)
- Enabling rental fees for Ethereum storage (EIP-4488)
EIPs go through different status phases, from Draft, Review, to Accepted and Final. They must meet certain criteria around technical soundness, security implications, and alignment with Ethereum’s goals before being implemented. The EIP process enables community review and ensures changes are made through consensus.
Why are EIPs Important for Evolving Ethereum?
EIPs are the primary mechanism for proposing, reviewing and implementing changes to Ethereum. Here are some reasons why they are so important:
- Open collaboration - EIPs facilitate open discussion and collaboration in determining Ethereum’s direction. Anyone is able to submit or review proposals.
- Technical coordination - EIPs provide a clear technical specification for changes, ensuring proper implementation and integration.
- Transparent process - All EIPs are publicly accessible. Community members can follow the status of proposals.
- Forum for debate - Community members can provide feedback on EIPs, allowing diverse perspectives to be shared.
- Consensus building - Implementing changes through EIPs requires reaching consensus within the community.
As Yusef Barda, a lead contributor to Ethereum states:
"The EIP process helps balance Ethereum governance between users and developers. With a transparent system for proposing changes, we can collectively build the Ethereum we want to see."
EIPs enable the Ethereum protocol to evolve responsibly. They are at the heart of Ethereum's community-driven governance.
The EIP Lifecycle: How Proposals Become Protocol
So what does the lifecycle of an EIP look like? Here are the main stages:
- Draft - An EIP starts as a draft submitted to the Ethereum Magicians forum for initial consideration.
- Review - The EIP is discussed and peer reviewed by community members. It may undergo revisions during this process.
- Accepted - The editors of EIP decide it is technically sound and beneficial. The EIP becomes "Accepted".
- Final - A core Ethereum developer submits code to implement the EIP. After testing, it moves to "Final".
- Active - The EIP code is officially incorporated into the Ethereum protocol. The EIP is now "Active".
Some key points about the lifecycle:
- There is no time limit for an EIP to move through the stages. An EIP can take weeks to years.
- EIPs can be replaced by later EIPs and don't have to reach Active status.
- EIPs can update and iterate through statuses more than once.
- Active EIPs are considered set in stone. The community strives never to remove or replace Active EIPs.
The multi-step process ensures EIPs are thoroughly reviewed before being implemented. The lengthy timeframes result in well-tested and incremental changes.
EIP Standardization: Formatting, Criteria, and Editors
EIPs have a standard format and structure that proposal authors must follow. This includes requirements like:
- A header with metadata like EIP number, title, and author.
- Abstract, specification, and rationale sections.
- Clear technical specifications.
- Motivation for why the EIP should be implemented.
Standardization ensures EIPs are high-quality and contain sufficient information for review. In addition, every EIP is assessed against a core set of acceptance criteria:
- It must represent a net improvement to the Ethereum protocol.
- The proposal must be technically sound and clearly specified.
- Risks and trade-offs must be well understood.
A group of EIP editors manage the EIP repository and process. They facilitate discussions, merge EIP pull requests, and manage EIP statuses. While editors help move EIPs forward, the broader community debates and ultimately ratifies proposals.
EIPs have powered Ethereum's evolution since 2015 by enabling bottom-up, community-driven governance. Through EIPs, anyone can propose changes like moving to proof-of-stake or adding new functionality. With transparent debate and incremental acceptance, EIPs ensure Ethereum improves safely and democratically. As Ethereum aims to become the world's decentralized computer, EIPs will continue to optimize and expand its capabilities.
How Do EIPs Compare to BIPs for Bitcoin?
Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) play a similar role in evolving Ethereum as Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs) do for Bitcoin. However, there are some key differences between the two processes.
The main differences are:
- Participation - Anyone can submit an EIP while only Bitcoin Core developers can submit BIPs. The EIP process is more open.
- Consensus - EIPs aim for community consensus while BIPs rely on Bitcoin Core developer consensus.
- Authority - Bitcoin Core developers have final say over BIPs. EIP editors manage but don't control final ratification.
- Speed - The decentralized EIP process tends to move slower than the more centralized BIP process.
- Scope - EIPs often propose larger, more complex changes compared to BIPs which focus on incremental adjustments.
Overall, EIPs and BIPs both enable their cryptocurrency communities to propose and debate protocol changes. EIPs provide a more open, democratic process in line with Ethereum's decentralized ethos. However, BIPs can sometimes evolve Bitcoin more quickly due to Bitcoin Core's more centralized structure. Both are optimized for their respective community's philosophy.
How Might Governance Decentralization Progress Going Forward?
As Ethereum matures, there is interest among the community to further decentralize and distribute governance processes like EIPs. Some potential ways this could evolve include:
- Formal improvement proposal committees - Creating elected committees to manage groups of EIPs related to certain areas like scalability or security.
- Decentralized discussion forums - Moving EIP discussion onto decentralized platforms rather than centralized servers and apps.
- Liquid democracy - Using blockchain-enabled voting systems to let token holders vote directly on EIPs.
- DAOs - Granting DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) responsibility for funding EIP development and implementation.
- Minimal viable centralization - Maintaining some minimal central coordination as is necessary currently, but continuing to push other governance aspects out to the edges.
Greater decentralization could enable more direct democratic engagement in Ethereum's evolution. But it requires balanced implementation to avoid gridlock or fragmentation. Hybrid approaches that blend central coordination with decentralized public input may allow Ethereum to scale its governance most effectively. The improvement proposal process will likely continue adapting as Ethereum strives to remain at the cutting edge of community-driven decentralized development.