Who's Afraid of Ethereum? The Top 12 Smart Contract Platforms
As Ethereum 2.0 continues to be delayed, competing smart contract platforms have emerged to try and compete. These are Crypto Briefing's top 12 competitors to Ethereum.
- Smart contracts allow for more complex and effecient means of transferring value.
- Most smart contract activity is currently found on the Ethereum.
- The primary feature that competitors improve upon is via scalability.
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Smart contract platforms now allow anyone to design programmable finance and apply them to a myriad of new use cases. For example, the decentralized finance (DeFi) movement, as well as other decentralized applications (dApps), are all dominated by Ethereum-based smart contracts.
One can think of smart contracts as dynamic “if-then” statements.
And if a developer or company combines enough of them together, they can build never-before-seen tools. The advantages aren’t just in this flexibility, either. Smart contracts eliminate many of the costs of intermediaries traditionally included in the fields of law, finance, supply chains, and much more.
Ethereum now has a host of competitors too. Though the project has enjoyed a first-mover advantage, faster, more advanced blockchain projects have emerged to try taking the throne.
In the following Guide, Crypto Briefing outlines the top smart contract platforms and offers readers a broad overview of the smart contract space.
Founder: Vitalik Buterin
Date of creation: Launched in July 2015.
One-liner: The first smart contract platform, and still the biggest in terms of developer activity.
Ethereum was the first blockchain to be developed with a Turing-complete scripting language, Solidity. It was the brainchild of programmer Vitalik Buterin, who recognized the vast potential of blockchain technology through his early engagement with Bitcoin. However, after failing to convince Bitcoin core developers that the platform needed application development functionality, he wrote the white paper for Ethereum.
The founding team comprises Buterin, Anthony Di Iorio, Charles Hoskinson, Mihai Alisie, Amir Chetrit, Gavin Wood, Joseph Lubin, and Jeffrey Wilke. Several of these members have since left Ethereum to work on their own projects.
Ethereum is the current leader of smart contract space and provided a blueprint for many of its successors. It was the first blockchain to gain any significant traction with enterprise adoption, thanks in part to the formation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, which boasts members including Samsung, Intel, and JP Morgan.
Over the years, Ethereum has weathered several significant events, the most notable of which is The DAO incident in 2016, where a hacker exploited a vulnerability in a smart contract and stole $50 million worth of ETH.
The fallout from the incident resulted in a divide in the Ethereum community, with one side supporting a rollback of the blockchain to reclaim the funds, and the other side declaring that “code is law.” A controversial hard fork ensued, resulting in the formation of the Ethereum Classic blockchain.
The biggest challenge facing Ethereum, however, has been its lack of scalability. Despite being one of the most-used blockchains, it frequently suffers from network congestion. Perhaps due to a highly decentralized approach to core development, upgrades are slow to arrive and often beset by delays.
The current upgrade, dubbed ETH 2.0, has been slated for the first phase of implementation in July 2020.
The native token of the platform is ether (ETH), which is the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market cap. Ether is also used to pay the gas fees required for transactions on the platform.
Founder: Diego Gutiérrez Zaldívar (now CEO of IOV Labs), Sergio Lerner, Gabriel Kurman, Adrian Eidelman, and Ruben Altman
Date of creation: RSK was founded in 2016 and launched in 2018.
One-liner: Smart contract platform running as a sidechain of the Bitcoin blockchain.
RSK operates as a sidechain of the Bitcoin blockchain and is merge-mined with Bitcoin. It was developed to bring Ethereum-like smart contract functionality to the Bitcoin network.
Diego Gutierrez Zaldivar, CEO and founder, describes the RSK vision to Crypto Briefing as:
“We developed RSK to add value and expand functionality to the Bitcoin ecosystem by providing smart contracts functionality and greater scalability, establishing the layer needed for Bitcoin to become the financial system of the future.”
The RBTC token is pegged 1:1 with Bitcoin and is the native token of the RSK platform, used to pay for the gas to execute transactions.
RSK now operates as part of a technology stack with the Bitcoin network as a base layer. The RSK Infrastructure Framework (RIF) layer runs on top of RSK, providing a marketplace of developer tools. These include storage, payments, and a naming service.
RSK hasn’t gained the same traction as Ethereum in the North American and European markets. However, it does have a far bigger footprint in its native Latin America.
The company that operates RSK, IOV Labs, last year acquired Taringa, the biggest social network in Latin America with over 30 million users. It’s also the platform of choice for Money on Chain, which operates the Dollar on Chain stablecoin and has recently expanded into offering stablecoins collateralized by the RIF token.
— MoneyOnChain ⚡ – DeFi for Bitcoin (@moneyonchainok) April 7, 2020
RSK can scale up to around 400 transactions per second. However, some of the tools available on the RIF layer can run even faster. For example, the Lumino payments protocol can handle up to 5,000 transactions per second.
The RBTC token is merge-mined with Bitcoin, and the RSK network has previously managed to gather around 45% of the Bitcoin network hashrate, making it highly secure compared to many other platforms dependent on a smaller number of miners or nodes.
Founders: Lior Yaffe, Kristina Kalcheva
Date of creation: Launched on mainnet in January 2018.
One-liner: “Parent-and-child chain” architecture with lightweight smart contract capabilities and no blockchain bloat.
Ardor is operated by Jelurida and has its roots in the Nxt blockchain, which was one of the first PoS networks and has been running since 2013. Ardor was created by the same team to overcome the adoption challenges of traditional linear blockchain architecture.
These include the use of a single token, a lack of customization capability, and blockchain bloating as a result of processing and storing every single transaction in the same way.
Ardor aims to overcome this with an architecture that comprises the main parent chain and child chains. Each child chain is entirely customizable according to user requirements and can use its own token. Ardor also makes use of stateless, lightweight smart contracts programmed in Java.
Lior Yaffe, Core Developer and Co-Founder of Ardor, explains the lightweight smart contracts as follows:
“The contract code itself is a simple Java class uploaded to the blockchain and therefore digitally signed and time stamped. However, the execution of the contract is only performed by nodes who choose to run the Contract Runner addon. This removes the need for ‘metered’ execution using the gas model and removes the risk of systematic failure in case the contract malfunctions.”
“Furthermore, this enables contracts to work as oracles, to freely integrate with external systems and thus removes the need for a separate layer of oracles.”
The first and main child chain of Ardor is Ignis, which offers unique features and functions across other child chains operating on the Ardor network. These include asset issuance and user account configuration. Ignis also provides various on-chain features, including a voting system, exchange, and data cloud.
Ardor and Ignis each operate their own tokens, under the tickers ARDR and IGNIS, respectively.
Founders: Jaynti Kanani, Sandeep Nailwal, Anurag Arjun
Date of creation: 2018, mainnet launched in 2020.
One-liner: Plasma and PoS side chains create a scalable layer 2 for the Ethereum network.
Matic Network is a layer 2 scaling solution that utilizes sidechains for off-chain computation. T
he network is secured through an adapted version of the Plasma framework and a decentralized network of Proof-of-Stake (PoS) validators.
Jaynti Kanani, a co-founder of Matic, describes the vision of the project as follows:
“Matic aims to overcome the scalability and usability-related problems of the blockchain space by leveraging a combination of blockchain scaling, developer platform and tools, and a keen focus on user experience. We believe the answer to enabling widespread adoption of blockchain technology lies with second-layer solutions focused on scalability. Thus, Matic Network provides massive scaling capabilities whilst leveraging the security and decentralization of the Ethereum mainchain.”
Matic Network achieves significant scalability, with a throughput of 65,000 transactions per second without compromising on decentralization.
The project achieved early recognition from some of the biggest names in crypto, with both Coinbase Venture and Binance Labs providing financial backing.
Before launching its mainnet on Jun. 3, 2020, Matic had already attracted more than 50 dApps, making it the most adopted layer 2 platform in the space. dApps on Matic encompass a variety of niches ranging from gaming to DeFi, with notable projects including Decentraland and whitelabel betting platform BetProtocol.
The network’s token, MATIC, is used in a similar way to Ethereum to pay gas fees for transactions.
Whitepaper author: Douglas Horn (now founder of block producer, GoodBlock).
Date of creation: The Telos Mainnet was launched on Dec. 12, 2018, by the Telos Launch Group.
One-liner: Telos is a dPoS blockchain based on EOSIO software with a focus on governance.
The Telos network was created to combine flexible governance and high transaction speeds using EOSIO software. Telos never held an ICO and has been a community-driven bootstrapped project since inception.
With a network capable of handling 8,000 transactions per second, the Telos platform attracted gaming apps Angry Warlords and BLOX to its platform.
With governance credentials that rival those of Tezos, Telos has also attracted several dApps for social good in its first year. Sesacash allows cross-currency conversions in Africa. Seeds is an experiment in regenerative money that incentivizes people to behave in environmentally-friendly ways. And, finally, Murmur, a blockchain-based social network, recently switched from EOS to Telos to take advantage of lower-cost transactions.
Telos lacks the profile of some of the other top smart contract platforms, but its feature-rich network and commitment to governance could give it an edge over the long run.
The network aligns itself with what it sees as a future economy built on interconnected smart contracts governed by its users. In the words of whitepaper author Douglas Horn:
“The dApps coming to Telos or emerging from our own Telos Works incubator are leveraging the massive speed and capacity, functional governance, and unique tools available to any dApp on Telos, like the Telos Decide governance engine. A significant portion of developers has also expressed to us that the ethos of Telos as a truly decentralized, egalitarian, and forward-thinking platform that has managed to build itself and foster other projects without an ICO or centralized ownership is an important area of alignment with their own aims.”
Founder: Dan Larimer, (now CTO of Block.one)
Date of creation: EOS was launched in January 2018.
One-liner: EOS is a dPoS blockchain based on EOSIO software. It is also a top smart contract platform.
The EOS blockchain protocol is powered by the EOS token, which has consistently ranked in the top ten in terms of market cap since its launch in January 2018. Fueled by a record-setting $4 billion ICO, the EOS network emulates computing resources, including CPU, GPU, and RAM, all of which are supported by EOS token holders.
Larimer developed the delegated Proof-of-Stake (dPoS) consensus mechanism, whereby EOS token holders vote 21 block producers (BPs) to operate the network, with standby contenders on notice to assist if required.
Adrianna Mendez of Cypherglass, a founding EOS block producer and paid stand by BP, told Crypto Briefing that:
“EOS continues to showcase the potential of delegated proof of stake. Two years after its launch, it’s the most used and fastest-growing blockchain in the world. The possibilities for developers are endless.”
Delegated PoS offers speed and scalability advantages over pure PoS consensus mechanisms. Games and gambling apps dominate the top 20 apps on EOS, although a decentralized exchange, Newdex, boasts daily volumes around $15 million.
Founder: Silvio Micali
Date of creation: Mainnet launched Jun. 5, 2019.
One-liner: Algorand aims to build a “trusted, public, and permissionless infrastructure for the borderless economy.”
The Algorand network is operated by a pure proof-of-stake consensus mechanism with a transaction throughput rivaling large finance and payment networks. It is scalable to manage billions of users. It claims to be the world’s first blockchain to “provide immediate transaction finality without the fear of forks.”
The Singapore-based project attracted $4M in seed funding from Pillar and Union Square Ventures in early 2018. It then landed a second $64 million raise from a broad slate of investors that October.
Upon Coinbase’s listing of ALGO in 2019, the platform’s native token was argued to be one of the fastest cryptocurrencies on the exchange.
Steve Kokinos, CEO of Algorand Inc., told Crypto Briefing that:
“Smart contracts need to be scalable and secure. At Algorand we’ve developed smart contracts built directly into Layer-1 to operate securely without compromising scalability or security while maintaining low execution cost. By focusing on simplifying developer experiences, Algorand enables real-world use cases like cross-chain atomic transfers and regulated disbursements with rapid confirmation time and immediate finality. These use cases are made possible by our pure proof-of-stake protocol, which was designed from the ground-up to deliver a secure, scalable, and decentralized platform necessary for mainstream adoption of blockchain technology.”
Early in 2020, Tether launched an Algorand version of its stablecoin on the platform, “representing the first significant use of Aglorand’s Standard Asset (ASA) specification.”
Other significant partnerships include one with World Chess, which intends to conduct a hybrid IPO and STO alongside a listing on the London Stock Exchange. AssetBlock also launched a real estate investment platform on the network in 2019, cementing Algorand’s reputation as a reliable partner for innovative corporate initiatives.
The high-profile smart contract platform has attracted RHOVIT, a gamified content platform, Meld Gold, an Australia-based tokenized golf asset trading network, and the tokenized investment platform, Republic.
Founders: Kathleen & Arthur Breitman
Date of creation: Mainnet launched Sep. 17, 2018.
One-liner: Tezos is the innovative brainchild of the Breitmans who wanted to create a self-amending cryptographic ledger.
The Tezos Foundation began the Tezos project with a lucrative ICO in 2017, raising some $232 million for the Swiss-based non-profit. It soon became embroiled in controversy, with a dispute between the Breitmans, who owned the IP, and Johann Gevers, the foundation’s president and the one in control of the project’s funds.
The resultant delayed launch saw investors sue the project as confidence faded. Intended as a network that boasted unrivaled governance processes, internal governance itself had become an issue.
Despite its tumultuous start, the network was finally launched in 2018. Its governance processes were indeed innovative. With decision-making processes baked into the system, protocol upgrades proposed by developers are approved by stakeholders. Once approved, the developer is paid.
The process incentivizes decentralized development and improvements. The on-chain governance properties of the network extend to its Proof of Stake mechanism, with token stakers known as bakers earning rewards for securing the network.
As Alison Mangiero, president and co-founder of TQ Tezos told Crypto Briefing:
“In Tezos, we already see widespread participation because unlike in proof of work and other stake networks, all stakeholders can help to secure the network (via baking or delegating), and avoid being diluted by inflation (of course all stakeholders can also participate in network upgrades by evaluating, proposing, or approving amendments to the protocol itself).”
Its protocol also allows Bitcoin and Ethereum to be represented on the network. As the whitepaper states, “Tezos can instantiate any blockchain-based ledger.”
From a hyped ICO to legal dramas and finally, a blockchain network lauded for its innovation and governance properties, Tezos has become one of the top smart contract platforms in the industry.
Founders: Emin Gün Sirer, Kevin Sekniqi, Maofan Ted Yin
Date of Creation: 2018, still in the testnet phase. Planned to launch mainnet this summer (July).
One-liner: A more malleable version of Ethereum that allows users total control at all stacks of the technology.
Another top smart contract’s platform, the AVA blockchain and its creators, AVA LAbs, have attracted top investors from throughout the crypto space. Like many of the “Ethereum Killers,” founders of the project are aiming Ethereum’s significant flaws. These flaws have primarily been user control over the production process and scalability.
In an interview with the co-founder of AVA Labs, Kevin Sekniqi told Crypto Briefing that AVA offers users three tiers of control. “First, there’s the network layer, the middle layer, which would be the actual blockchain or virtual machine, and then there’s the application layer,” he said. He added:
“AVA will support multiple smart contract languages and formats, but at launch it has complete support for the Ethereum Virtual Machine, and all of the tools that have fueled DeFi’s growth to-date, including MetaMask, Web3.js, MyEtherWallet, Remix, Truffle Suite, and more.”
Such customizability allows builders to take control of all dimensions of development. It also offers programmers and entrepreneurs new avenues of exploration.
Any novel experiments on this top smart contract platform would be scalable from day one too. That’s because AVA is leveraging a novel consensus mechanism called Avalanche.
Designed in 2018, Avalanche boasts an estimated 4,500 transactions per second, making it one of the most scalable blockchains in the ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the project lacks the same community as Etheruem and other more established crypto projects. This dynamic is not unusual; Ethereum has long been the most attractive platform for builders. This activity can be seen in the sheer number of projects that spring up almost every week.
Ethereum’s dominance hasn’t deterred Sekniqi, however. He said:
“On our testnet we have more than 700 full block producers actively staking and participating in the consensus protocol. These are full nodes, the highest-level of participants in the system. Further, since launching AVA-X, our accelerator for developers, in April, we’ve fielded hundreds of grant applications and awarded grants for projects like an end-to-end testing suite, atomic swaps, payments and remittances, and infrastructure.”
Further, the backing from names like Andressen Horowitz, Polychain and other VC firms, could see some developers leave Ethereum for newer horizons. AVA Labs is making this transition easier, too, by building a friendly-fork of Ethereum on AVA called “Athereum.”
The fork would resemble many of the features of Ethereum 2.0 but is unlikely to replace efforts towards an improved Ethereum. Like many of the projects on this list, AVA’s viability hinges on reaching a critical mass of developers before ETH 2.0 is launched.
Fortunately, it appears AVA Labs still have some time to make this happen. At the time of press, the first of four phases will be rolled out in 2021, according to ConsenSys.
Founder: Charles Hoskinson
Date of Creation: 2017
One-liner: A multi-tiered blockchain project building out a PoS consensus mechanism capable of hosting smart contracts, dApps, as well as offering users a store of value. The smart contract platform is slated to launch later in 2020.
Charles Hoskinson is one of the founders of Ethereum. In 2014, shortly before the network launched, he left due to disagreements with how the project was structured. Instead of being a fully open source project, Hoskinson was interested in seeking venture capital and creating a for-profit company using the technology.
He then helped found IOHK, Input Output Hong Kong, a company that brought together various academics and engineers to build enterprise-grade blockchains. The targeted clients included government entities and large corporations. They attracted such customers and ultimately began focusing on Cardano in 2015 as a product of the group’s research.
Built using a coding language called Haskell, Cardano embraces the Proof of Stake PoS) consensus mechanism “because it adds a mechanism to introduce secure voting, has more capacity to scale, and permits more exotic incentive schemes.”
Cardano has technically been in the wild since 2017 via the launch of its first iteration called Byron. This “era,” as the team calls it, ushered in the Daedalus wallet for desktop and a light client called Emurgo. The network is currently transitioning into its next era called Shelley.
Shelley will bring about Cardano’s PoS mechanism and lay the foundation for implementing smart contracts, according to the project. Cardano’s smart contracts will be written in another language called Plutus, which is available for review here.
Aparna Jue, Cardano’s product director, told Crypto Briefing that:
“Haskell is recognized not only at a developer level but at an academic level too, due to its mixture of academic and industry-grade talent with credentials in computer science. This means that our smart contracts will be safer and more reliable than smart contracts on other languages, as Plutus has been thoroughly tested and documented to ensure it is of the utmost security. Smart contracts on the Cardano blockchain will also allow for every party to have full visibility of the contract’s exact details, whilst making it virtually impossible for any individual to act in an adverse way.”
It should be noted, however, that Cardano developments have been slow to materialize with the team, often delaying many of its deadlines. For now, there is limited information available regarding the release of Plutus and the Cardano-based smart contract platform. Jue added:
“We are currently putting together a roadmap of features and functionality that will be released in a controlled rollout manner for the developer community to test and provide feedback, as product development refines and iterates, come Q3/Q4. More details will be released when available.
Founders: Jae Kwon and Ethan Buchman
Date of Creation: 2016
One-liner: Cosmos is a far-reaching project that seeks to add a communication layer between various blockchains. Although it’s primary focus is interoperability, it also enjoys robust smart contract functionality.
Cosmos is a set of blockchain-based tools that have been developed to help engineers build scalable blockchains. The advantage over Ethereum is in Cosmos’ improved customizability and ease. Instead of having to build all layers of a network from scratch, engineers need only focus on the application layer.
Examining the three primary Cosmos tools will help clarify this process. Before Cosmos launched, Jae Kwon developed Tendermint BFT. It bundles the networking and consensus layer into one single platform. This means that builders needn’t reinvent the wheel and can, instead, focus on building their blockchain project.
ABCI is a socket that allows developers to work in whichever programming language they are most comfortable with.
As with many next-generation technologies, Cosmos is faster and more secure than many of its predecessors. It can handle thousands of transactions per second and boasts instant finality.
The team behind Cosmos has also built the Cosmos SDK and the Interblockchain Communication Protocol (IBC).
The SDK is a framework that offers engineers an easy way to manage staking, scaling, and interoperability functions. This framework isn’t exclusive to Cosmos, either. Any consensus mechanism that includes the ABCI socket can also tap the Cosmos SDK.
Finally, the IBC allows this collection of tools to interact with any other network, including Bitcoin and Ethereum. To make the transition for Ethereum developers easier, the Cosmos team has also built Ethermint. It offers many of the same tools and features as Ethereum but is built on Tendermint.
“Inter Blockchain Communication and Agoric’s smart contract architecture both use an ‘object capability’ model, which defines the way a contract, address, or anything else can interact with each other. These capabilities are to be defined explicitly, meaning developers must elect to give an entity in the system particular privileges, for instance moving money around, changing the membership of a group, etc. This model follows a ‘principle of least authority,’ which is the inverse of how most smart contracts are written, where access is granted by default. The result is far greater encapsulation, both from the standpoint of program logic and security —meaning that programs written in this paradigm should be far more composable and securely reusable.”
As one can see, Cosmos is rallying together a large community of developers to create a TCP/IP-like network of blockchains.
The interoperable parts could include networks like Bitcoin as well as more modern iterations down the line. In terms of its smart contract functionality, it offers the same experience as Etheruem while also improving flexibility.
Founders: Mark S. Miller, Brian Warner, Bill Tulloh, and Dean Tribble
Date of Creation: 2018, mainnet TBA.
One-liner: Agoric is backed by highly-experienced engineers who helped work on some of the very first smart contracts long before blockchain technology existed.
Like many of the competitors found in this guide, Agoric is building improvements that Ethereum failed to adopt. Founder Dean Tribble told Crypto Briefing:
“We love Ethereum, which has had enormous success in combining the power of smart contracts with the integrity of blockchain execution. However, some of its strengths for early growth are real issues for large-scale, mainstream adoption, in particular with security: we believe existing security models don’t satisfactorily prevent theft of data or money.“
Agoric plans to solve this security issue by making the programming language as easy to deploy and audit as possible.
The project’s current iteration, called Zoe, offers yet another degree of safety. This framework helps users and developers ensure that they are receiving the goods or services they paid for when interacting with a smart contract. It is like a waiting room for blockchain transactions. Users send their “offer” for a specified transaction to this waiting room. Only once the conditions of this transaction are met, do the funds get released.
Concluding, Agoric’s value proposition is that the top smart contract platforms should be easy to build for most developers. After that, developments are focused on maintaining security throughout a contract’s operations.
A Final Word on the Top Smart Contract Platforms
Smart contracts are one of the more exciting fields within the blockchain ecosystem. And although Etheruem currently dominates developer activity, this may change in the future.
As this list has shown, many projects are looking to attract programmers to faster and more secure networks.
Like any business, however, users are the ones who will enjoy the fruits of this competition.