Almost exactly five years after the vision of a heterogeneous multichain framework was first outlined in the Polkadot Whitepaper (aka the Polkadot Paper), parachains are now officially ready for launch on Polkadot. The news that Polkadot is now technically capable of supporting its first parachains, announced today by Polkadot founders Gavin Wood and Robert Habermeier, was followed shortly by a motion for Polkadot Council to open up the network’s first parachain slot auctions, proposed to begin on November 11th, 2021.
Parachains are the diverse, specialized blockchains that connect to the Polkadot Relay Chain and constitute the ‘multichain’ aspect of Polkadot’s groundbreaking multichain architecture. They represent the final piece of core technology outlined in the Polkadot Whitepaper, and their launch marks the last stage of Polkadot’s multi-phase launch process, which began on May 26th, 2020 with the launch of the initial, proof-of-authority version of the Polkadot Relay Chain.
Speaking at the Sub0 conference today on behalf of Parity Technologies, the engineering team commissioned by Web3 Foundation to build Polkadot’s initial implementation, Wood and Habermeier announced Parity’s position that all technical barriers to parachain launch on Polkadot have been surpassed. They explained that parachains, auctions, and crowdloans code is now ready for an initial production release on Polkadot. The last technical steps necessary to complete before launching parachains on Polkadot were the completion of Polkadot’s full code audit, which is now done, and the finalization of parachain disputes, which can now move forward.
In addition, parachains have already been running successfully on Kusama, Polkadot’s ‘canary network’, since the launch of Statemine on June 3rd, 2021. Since then, 11 parachain slot auctions have successfully taken place on Kusama, for a grand total of 12 live parachains. These parachain teams have conducted several ‘forkless’ upgrades on the network and processed several million transactions. In conjunction with Kusama parachain auctions, over 2.4 million KSM has been contributed to crowdloans by more than 49k unique addresses, demonstrating significant community participation in the parachain launch process. The fact that such activity has been taking place on Kusama for over four months without significant issues is an important factor in considering parachains ready for launch on Polkadot.
An important point to note, explained Habermeier, is that being ready for an initial production release does not necessarily mean the code is fully mature. Readiness means parachain code is feature complete, has been unit and integration tested, audited, and deployed and demonstrated on Kusama and Rococo, but may still contain uncaught bugs. The road to maturity means making sure the code is highly-optimized, battle-tested, and stable. Optimizations in the works, according to Habermeier, include contextual execution, which will speed up block times; parathreads, Polkadot’s pay-as-you-go model for parachain connection; and several low-hanging networking optimizations.
Because of this gap between readiness and maturity, Parity has recommended a conservative approach to parachain rollout, suggesting that a reasonable approach would be to ensure that, until the code is mature, the total number of parachains onboarded to Polkadot does not exceed 75% of the number running on Kusama at any given time. It was also noted that, should any unexpected and significant issues arise, Polkadot governance may need to pause auctions until those issues are resolved.
Parity’s technical recommendations cleared the way for Polkadot governance to determine what the initial auctions schedule will look like. Shortly after the announcement of technical readiness for parachains, motion 118 was submitted to Polkadot Council to begin auctions on November 11th, 2021.
According to this proposal, which is now going through a public referendum, the first batch of 5 auctions would take place with 1 new auction each week, with a second batch of 6 auctions to take place with 1 new auction every two weeks. The first batch of 5 parachains would be onboarded to Polkadot at lease period 6, which begins on approximately December 17th, 2021, rather than being onboarded immediately following each auction as has occurred on Kusama. The second batch of 6 auctions would be onboarded for lease period 7, which begins on approximately March 11th, 2022. Each auction on Polkadot will assign a parachain slot for a total of 96 weeks (divided into 8 12-week lease periods) as opposed to Kusama’s 48 weeks.
As with Kusama, each 7-day auction on Polkadot will consist of 2 periods: a starting period followed by an ending period. On Polkadot, the starting period is 1 day and 18 hours, and the ending period is ~5 days. Bidding ends on the 7th day, when the precise moment of the auction’s close is determined retroactively by an on-chain randomness function (VRF). The auction can end at any point during the ending period, a key aspect of Polkadot’s candle auction system, which prevents last minute ‘auction sniping’ for better price discovery.
Those who wish to participate in parachain crowdloans should note that they will need unbonded DOT tokens to participate, and the current unbonding period on Polkadot is 28 days. User-facing functions such as registering parachains and opening crowdloans have not been done yet and will need to be enabled by Polkadot governance. If on-chain governance approves the crowdloan module to be available on-chain, the parachain teams will decide when to start their crowdloan, which can be before or after the start of the first auction.
If approved by Polkadot’s on-chain governance, the initial auctions will take place on Polkadot as follows (note that dates are approximate):