Ether (ETH), which is the second largest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization, is popular among cryptocurrency investors due to its native ETH token. However, its native Solidity programming language and Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) are central to the adulation it receives from the developer community. In fact, the Ethereum blockchain continues to attract decentralized application (DApp) developers due to its flexibility, the wide range of developer tools available, and the platform’s large user base.
The EVM, which forms the core of the blockchain architecture, is the program that runs the code of your applications or smart contracts as they are called, providing an execution environment for them that runs on top of the Ethereum network. In addition, the EVM is Turing-complete and can therefore run any program coded in any programming language, allowing developers to easily create smart contracts and custom DApps for the burgeoning Web3 space.
In addition to these important functionalities, EVM has access to all nodes on the network, handles the execution of smart contracts, and efficiently manages all transactions on the Ethereum blockchain, making it one of the most powerful virtual machines out there. nowadays.
What is the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) and how does it work?
Conceptualized in 2013 by programmer Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum network owes its phenomenal success as the blockchain of choice for DApp developers to the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) which was designed by Gavin Wood during his tenure at Ethereum. Written in C++ and using the LLVM project compiler, the EVM is a continuously operating special state machine whose immutable operations determine the state of each block on the Ethereum blockchain.
The EVM not only governs what nodes can or cannot do to the distributed ledger that maintains the Ethereum blockchain, but also defines the specific rules for changing state from one block to another. This latter functionality is what enables the smart contract functionality that Ethereum has come to be known for.
To understand what an Ethereum virtual machine does, you have to see each of the different functions that it fulfills to guarantee the proper functioning of the Ethereum network. For every input it receives, the EVM produces an output that is deterministic in nature and follows a mathematical function in the simplest sense.
Functioning as a stack machine that pushes transient values to and from a pushdown stack, the EVM is 1024 elements deep, each element being a 256-bit word. It also maintains a temporary memory in the form of a byte array, which changes between two transactions on the Ethereum blockchain. The smart contract codes that have been compiled are executed by the EVM in the form of a collection of 140 standard opcodes, while other blockchain-specific stack operations are also implemented by it.
Thus, the EVM has a machine state that is volatile by nature during the processing of any transaction and a global state that contains information related to the different accounts maintained on the Ethereum blockchain. All actions are governed by the EVM code, which itself has gone through several iterations since the launch of the Ethereum network in 2015, leading to different EVM implementations currently in use.
In fact, the EVM takes care of maintaining a level of abstraction between the thousands of Ethereum nodes and the running code, acting as a function that delivers consistent results without divulging many details to clients or nodes.
What is the purpose of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)?
The EVM has been reliably powering all applications running on the Ethereum network without any significant downtime. For developers, the EVM acts as the umbrella program that runs smaller programs known as smart contracts on Ethereum, while also giving them the freedom to write these smart contracts in a variety of programming languages such as Solidity, Vyper, Python and Yul, among others.
Due to this flexibility that EVM offers, the Ethereum blockchain has spawned thousands of DApps in the decentralized finance (DeFi) and NFT space. Each of these DApps and the smart contracts that compose them are converted into bytecode that is entered into the EVM and distributed among all the nodes of the Ethereum network. When a smart contract is deployed, the EVM is in charge of communicating with all the nodes and effecting state changes when a consensus has been reached.
It can be said that the EVM is inserted inside each Ethereum node to execute the smart contracts using bytecode instead of the base programming language, thus isolating the physical host computer from the machine code on which Ethereum runs.
Advantages of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)
Thanks to the way EVM works, developers can execute code without worrying about its impact on the rest of the network or the possibility of it doing mischief with personal data or files hosted on any of the node computers.
Furthermore, they can execute complex smart contracts in different computing environments with distributed consensus. This ensures that the failure of a single node does not have any negative impact on the execution of the DApp or the smart contract, since the EVM code remains the same on all nodes. Furthermore, since account data is held globally in the EVM, developers find it perfect for writing custom smart contract code and creating distinct DApps that can access this global data set and produce reliable results.
The sanctity of the outcome is what makes the EVM in particular, and the Ethereum blockchain in general, well suited for the sustainable expansion of the Ethereum ecosystem of DApps and smart contracts. Add to this the library of standard code available for developers to choose from, a growing number of EVM-compliant Layer 2 blockchains, and a large number of potential EVM use cases possible, and it’s easy to see why the EVM is the preferred platform for Web3 development.
Drawbacks of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)
Despite the many advantages that EVM offers, there are certain disadvantages that should be considered by developers and entrepreneurs building on Ethereum. The most important of these are the high transaction fees or gas costs associated with executing a smart contract on the Ethereum network.
Paid in ETH, these fees vary depending on the complexity of the contract and the network congestion at the time of execution, making it imperative for developers and entrepreneurs to price their services. Furthermore, since Solidity is the preferred language for coding in the EVM, it implies that developers must have adequate experience with it and possess a minimum of technical knowledge to create efficient smart contracts using it.
The latter is important, as any additional computing requirements will lead to higher gas costs and will ultimately be detrimental to the success of the project. If developers choose to code using other languages, they must be careful to resolve any inherent duplication in the code, as the EVM will proceed to compile them anyway. Although updating smart contracts is possible at a later stage, it carries security risks associated with creating an intermediate smart contract that references the original smart contract address.
The future of EVMs
Despite the revolutionary changes that EVM has brought to the blockchain ecosystem, this technology for reading and executing code is being improved by various blockchain projects.
Since cross-chain interoperability is the most important aspect for developers, many EVM-compliant blockchains have been propped up, most of which offer less gas and higher transaction speed than the Ethereum protocol. As a result, these blockchains are now able to interact with Ethereum users seamlessly and are facilitating fund transfers to their own networks using blockchain bridges.
However, with the Ethereum protocol successfully completing the merger in September 2022, the next goal is to move from EVM to Ethereum WebAssembly (eWASM). Designed to be highly modular and platform independent, eWASM is being touted as the next game changer for the Ethereum protocol and could encourage other blockchains to employ this runtime environment for smart contracts as well. However, whether eWASM will replace EVM as the most reliable mechanism for smart contracts is a question that only time can answer.
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