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Zcash's Sapling Hardfork is a Major Win for Average Cryptocurrency Investors

Oct 30, 2018

  • Zcash (ZEC) is a cryptocurrency developed and launched by expert cryptographers that ensures privacy through the use of shielded transactions that hide transaction details and users’ identities. Zcash leverages a zero-knowledge verification protocol that builds zero-knowledge proofs, called zk-SNARKS, that enable transactions to be verified without revealing sensitive details about the transaction.
  • Zcash’s blockchain offers two different types of addresses: the most common address, called a t-type address, functions like other cryptocurrencies where users’ data is available on Zcash’s public blockchain and transactions are essentially transparent; the second type of address, called a shielded address, utilizes the privacy features of Zcash’s zero-knowledge verification protocol and hides sensitive information associated with a transaction on Zcash’s public blockchain to ensures a user's privacy.
  • Conducting shielded transactions on Zcash’s blockchain required a relatively large amount of data to be verified, making transaction times long and inefficient in comparison to normal, transparent transactions. For that reason, very few shielded addresses existed on Zcash’s blockchain, as it essentially required users to operate a full node in order to conduct shielded transactions -- that is, until Zcash’s Sapling hardfork.
  • The Zcash development team has been working on building and implementing the Sapling hardfork since Zcash initially launched on October 28th, 2016 -- originally described by developers as a “pet project”, Sapling has since blossomed into a critical upgrade for Zcash and the cryptocurrency privacy space as a whole.
  • The Sapling hardfork was officially activated on the Zcash blockchain at block 419,200 on October 28th, 2018. Sapling introduces a plethora of improvements to the Zcash blockchain:
  • First and foremost, Sapling improves the efficiency by which zk-SNARKS are constructed -- prior to Sapling, it would take a relatively powerful computer up to a few minutes to build a zk-SNARK. With Sapling’s activation, however, it now takes that same computer as little as 1 second to build a zk-SNARK. Developers stress that this speed improvement comes at no cost to a transaction’s privacy.
  • The Sapling upgrade also cuts down on the resources required to construct a zk-SNARK -- before activating Sapling, a zk-SNARK could require up to 3GB of RAM utilization. Now that Sapling is activated, zk-SNARKS can be built using as little as 40MB of RAM utilization. This feature of Sapling allows shielded transactions to be conducted using a low-resource computer or even a mobile phone -- developers praise the new capability to conduct shielded transactions with a mobile wallet as groundbreaking. The low RAM utilization requirement also enables shielded transactions to be conducted using Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
  • Sapling changes the way Zcash handles keys as well: prior to Sapling, Zcash required that both the Spending key (the key used to ‘sign’ a transaction) and the Proving key (the key required to perform zk-SNARK computations) be on the same device to achieve a shielded transaction, which required a certain threshold of computational abilities; now that Sapling is activated, the Spending key and Proving key are kept separate, allowing the Spending key to be kept on a trusted, secure device while the Proving key is generated in a separate, untrusted environment using the Spending key. Because the Spending key only requires basic computational power, and because of the previous feature described above, shielded transactions can be conducted on small computational devices like smartphones, IoT devices, and even offline hardware wallets.
  • Altogether, Zcash developers expect Sapling’s activation to reduce shielded transaction times by 90% while decreasing the weight of shielded transactions by as much as 97%. Sapling enables average users to conduct the anonymous transactions that Zcash is heralded for while introducing the ability to conduct shielded transactions on mobile phones and low-computational devices. Sapling is a major step for both Zcash and the entire cryptocurrency community, as it enables private transactions to be conducted on a larger scale than ever possible. Going forward, investors should pay close attention to how other cryptocurrency projects try and leverage Sapling’s breakthroughs and what initiatives Zcash developers pursue next.