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The OP Stack, The Optimism Superchain and the Interoperable Future

4.6
| by
Kofi J
-

What is the Optimism Superchain?

The Optimism Superchain is a unified network of chains built using the OP Stack. These OP chains share a security and communication layer and are built from the same open-source standardized technology stack. These chains foundationally have the same technical and social fabric; this means no more bridging and no more network switching.


Key Takeaways

  • Optimism is a Layer 2 blockchain built on top of Ethereum that utilizes optimistic rollups for faster and cheaper transactions.

  • The Optimism Superchain is based on the OP Stack, an architectural framework for creating Layer 2 chains that seeks to modularize all elements of a Layer 2 into standardized open-source modules.

  • The OP Stack brings the app-chain thesis to Ethereum, where protocols can create app-specific blockchains.


What is the Optimism Superchain and how it improves interoperability

The standardization abstracts away the notion of singular chains, and this interoperable web of chains becomes a single unit: the Optimism Superchain. In what is potentially the next step of the vertical scaling Layer 2 narrative, the Superchain will transfigure crypto from fragmentation to singularity. Karl Floersch, a core Optimism contributor, uses the analogy that the current state of crypto represents a disjointed marketplace, and the Superchain introduces a supermarket-like user experience.

Crypto, in its current fractured and divided state, cannot onboard the next generation of users; the Superchain has the potential to change all of this.    

The Interoperable Future Superchain

Returning to the idea of modularity, one of the key catalysts for Layer 2 chains will be improvements in data availability on the main Ethereum network.

EIP-4844, sometimes called Proto-Danksharding, will massively increase data availability for rollup solutions allowing them to offer cheaper transactions for end users. EIP-4844 is incredibly important from a technical standpoint, reducing transaction costs by orders of magnitude and because of the larger collaboration this Ethereum improvement proposal has created.

Coinbase engineers helped work on EIP-4844. Through this, they became acquainted with the Optimism team, leading to a budding relationship and Coinbase’s decision to use the OP Stack as the architecture for Base – its own Layer 2 chain. Base will provide Coinbase’s enormous user base (approximately ninety-eight million) with an easy-access on-ramp into DeFi.

Given that Base will use the OP Stack, the technical nuances between the chains abstract away, and a more cohesive foundation appears, meaning reduced risks with assets traveling from Optimism to Base compared to Optimism to the Binance Smart Chain. Ethereum has become an enormous archipelago, and the OP Stack allows the creation of interoperable bridges connected to the mainland.

An analogy for visualization purposes: Layer 1 blockchains exist as islands isolated and siloed. Imagine a tropical paradise; however, nothing but the ocean surrounds it for thousands of miles. Whereas Ethereum and Layer 2 scaling solutions present a rich archipelago with an unlimited number of connected islands, and the OP Stack allows the creation of infinite new islands with bridges where humans pass easily from one land to another.

The Layer 2 narrative is larger than most people can envisage, and it provides the pathway to true global adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. 

What is the OP Stack? 

The OP Stack diverges from the typical approach and produces an architectural framework for creating Layer 2 chains instead of building a one-off scaling solution. The OP Stack seeks to modularize all elements of a Layer 2 into standardized open-source modules for Layer 2 chains.

OP stack

Every Layer 2 chain consists of three central modules: consensus layer, execution layer, and settlement layer. The OP Stack creates standardized open-source building units for each of these elements, allowing the creation of distinct Layer 2s with different properties and qualities.

Ethereum scaled through modularity, and the OP Stack allows Layer 2s to scale similarly. If every constituent element of a Layer 2 becomes a standardized module, it allows for a Lego-like construction of new Layer 2 chains, either general-purpose or application specific. It provides the additional benefit that when code is reused it gets refined and therefore stronger.

The OP Stack creates an open-source library of code and standardized modules for building Layer 2s, which means anyone to spin up a Layer 2 chain, laying the foundation for a Cambrian explosion in the number of chains.

If all the Layer 2s create modules (reusable blocks of code), there will be no possible way of stopping this flywheel effect. David Hoffman from Bankless makes the equivalent between the ERC-20 token standard and the OP Stack, stating that in the future, spinning up a Layer 2 will be as simple as creating an ERC-20 token.

The OP Stack creates a box-ready solution for entities to create Layer 2 chains by distilling each component into a standardized module that can be plugged into the OP Stack blueprint.

Welcome to the plug-and-play era of Layer 2

The App-Chain Thesis 

The app-chain thesis drove much of Cosmos’ early growth, where users could create app-specific blockchains through the Cosmos SDK (Software Development Kit). However, the OP Stack brings the app-chain thesis to Ethereum. Given Ethereum’s advantages of liquidity, users, number of developers, and number of composable applications, the future appears highly Ethereum-centric.

With the ability to build a customizable Layer 2 from a selection of standardized modules thanks to the OP Stack, the app-chain era begins, further feeding the larger Layer 2 narrative.

Two significant clients leveraging the architecture provided by Optimism are Coinbase with Base and A16Z with Magi. 

Base

Base brands itself as ‘A Bridge, not an island.’ This is consistent with Brian Armstrong’s overall vision and business strategy of increasing the pie size compared to monopolizing and extracting value. Base will onboard users of Coinbase, one of the industry’s leading centralized exchanges, into DeFi. It will be completely open-source. The testnet was released in February, and builders from around the world are already building on Base thanks to its permissionless nature.

Base lays the foundation for nearly one hundred million users to enter DeFi and encourages users to explore the ecosystem. It is a cornerstone of the Coinbase vision to onboard the next billion users and begin the larger transition to a fully on-chain economy. 

Magi

Prolific venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz has announced that Magi, a rollup client, will offer an alternative to the OP-node. It is important to understand that Magi is not a Layer 2 chain, and is instead a consensus client.

A16Z noted most developments had been focused on execution clients, which motivated their decision to create a consensus client. Currently, only one option exists, the OP-node, and Magi wants to introduce a Rust-based client and encourage more diversification and decentralization within the OP Stack.

Magi represents a venture capital firm contributing to public goods and pushing decentralization – crypto’s core promise – showing a philosophical alignment with its investment strategy. 

The Inevitable Layer 2 Superchain and Ethereum

As it becomes easier to create Layer 2 chains and the gas costs for these chains decrease, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a future that is not dominated by Ethereum and Layer 2 scaling solutions.

As the OP Stack library enlarges and more standardized modules become available, these modules themselves grow more resilient and reliable, and an increasing number of contributors are creating these modules. The overarching flywheel strengthens for unique general-purpose and application-specific rollups, all feeding value back to Ethereum (the settlement layer).

The crypto world witnesses another era of Ethereum-centrism. 

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Kofi J
Kofi J
Kofi J has been active in DeFi since the 2020 summer explosion and has been rugged more times than he can remember. He hopes to make the decentralized economy a little bit more accessible through his prose. Follow the author on Twitter @k_pangolin

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