Rootstock – Smart Contracts on Bitcoin via Sidechains


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Although Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to get serious adoption, it certainly wasn’t the first platform for decentralised apps. That title more or less goes to Ethereum. Bitcoin’s scripting language isn’t as powerful and expressive, so although one can use it to add some logic to transactions happening on Bitcoin’s blockchain, one cannot truly implement smart contracts with it. Bitcoin’s scripting language seems like a toy when compared with Solidity, which is Ethereum’s Turing-complete scripting language. Turing-complete means Solidity is rich and expressive enough to not just build smart contracts but also other, much more diverse decentralised apps.

So, it’s no surprise that the most straightforward choice for today’s dApp developers is Ethereum (but that’s slowly changing). Bitcoin really needs a major infrastructure change if it wants to enter the world of decentralised platforms. Also, wouldn’t it be great if there were a platform that would support Bitcoin as a native cryptocurrency, and would allow easy development of decentralised apps and smart contracts via richer development tools? Rootstock, abbreviated as RSK is the answer to this question.

The official Rootstock website says their aim is “to creating a more accessible, flexible and inclusive financial system that will improve the life of billions of people…. [they’re] putting Blockchain technology at the service of social transformation to build a more secure and transparent world.” Indeed, it’d be nothing short of a revolution if Bitcoin’s current establishment is used to support smart contracts and dApps. Furthermore, if implemented the right way, the Rootstock project will be truly ahead of the dApp platform competition because they’re focusing on the following principles from the ground-up:

  • Being Bitcoin friendly
  • Security
  • Scalability
  • Instant Payments

Rootstock is not just another Bitcoin competitor; it aims to build on top of Bitcoin’s established technology (and reputation). The lack of an expressive scripting language was limiting Bitcoin’s growth, but since Rootstock will fill this very gap, Bitcoin can now rise to its full potential. It aims to accomplish this by being a side chain to Bitcoin’s underlying blockchain, or more technically, by being a two-way peg to the blockchain. This will essentially allow it to use Bitcoin as a native value – as a native cryptocurrency. Rootstock will not mint its own currency, and so it will not be a competitor to Bitcoin.

Security and scalability are two factors which all platforms claim to focus on, but Rootstock is different. Since it will be utilising Bitcoin’s establishment and trust, there are simply no security concerns regarding it. Rootstock uses a technique called “merge-mining” to ensure the same security levels as that of Bitcoin. This also means that there is not much risk for potential Rootstock investors because it will have Bitcoin’s trust behind it. Speaking of scalability, it wasn’t a foundational focus of Rootstock but it claims to support upto 100 transactions per second, which is about the same as Paypal’s level. This is a major blow to other platforms – say Ethereum, which currently only supports about 15 transactions per second. Rootstock enables such scalability via probabilistic verification and blockchain sharding techniques. As for instant payments, it claims that the use of newer protocols, called DECOR and GHOST, will allow payments in as less as 10 seconds.

Another cool thing about Rootstock is that it’ll supposedly have compatibility with Ethereum. The compatibility with Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) will allow dApps to be ported from Ethereum’s blockchain to Rootstock. This is a very developer-friendly feature which will allow for smooth transformation of dApps from EVM to Rootstock. Since Ethereum is a very established and trusted dApp platform, Rootstock virtually needed this functionality, so that it can more effectively attract developers from Ethereum and other platforms.

All in all, the Rootstock extension to Bitcoin seems a logical thing to have, but since it is a new and amateur technology (like majority of other blockchain tech), one cannot decisively tell whether Rootstock will bring more value to Bitcoin. However, having an extension like Rootstock is certainly a better thing for Bitcoin than to continue its journey in an increasingly competitive industry with a limited scripting language.

Saurabh Chaturvedi is a developer focussed on Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto

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