Protocol Roadmap 2023-4: The Next 2 Years of NEAR

Protocol Roadmap 2023-4: The Next 2 Years of NEAR

NEAR has evolved tremendously in the two years since the mainnet launch in October 2020. More than 20 protocol upgrades were done live, most recently the launch of Sharding Phase 1. As we look ahead to the next two phases of sharding and beyond, it’s time for an updated protocol roadmap.

This post will outline the next two years of evolving the NEAR Protocol and the technical priorities we believe will benefit builders and users the most. The roadmap is meant to be a living document and anyone is welcome to make suggestions or proposals on how the protocol should evolve.

The roadmap has two major components: Experience and Core. The Experience section encompasses user and/or developer experience and the protocol features needed to enable those experiences. As an example, an iPhone user can freely start to use applications built on top of NEAR without having to register an account if we have meta transactions and support for Secp256r1 keys.

The Core section, on the other hand, covers major efforts to improve the scalability and decentralization of the protocol. Most notably, this features the launch of phase 2 of sharding, which scales the network to 100 shards with no validators tracking all shards. Phase 2 is planned for 2023. The roadmap goes through 2024 with the delivery of phase 3 of sharding, which dynamically adjusts the number of shards based on demand.

There are a lot of exciting new features on the way. The core protocol team prioritized these based on a combination of: ecosystem-level strategy from NEAR Foundation and Pagoda; feedback from founders and builders; and user research on applications built on NEAR. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the items on the roadmap:

  • Meta Transactions. Meta transactions allow a third party to pay for the transaction cost of any account, which means that users can be onboarded to NEAR apps without having to get NEAR tokens first.
  • Zero-balance Account. Allow accounts with zero balance to exist to make it easy for applications and wallets to create accounts for new users.
  • Secp256r1 keys. Secp256r1 key support would allow iPhone users to have an implicit account onchain. This reduces the friction of onboarding to an even lower threshold than existing Web2 approaches. An iPhone user does not have to go through the process of creating an account through some wallet.
  • Global Storage. In the current paradigm, if a commonly used smart contract is deployed many times, the same amount of storage staking cost has to be paid every time it is deployed. As an example, every account that deploys a multisig contract today has to pay ~3N for storage cost even though the contract is exactly the same across all those accounts and isn’t consuming more physical storage on the implementation level. Global storage addresses the problem by allowing builders to burn tokens to deploy a contract once and then every account can use it without having to pay for the storage staking cost.
  • Running wasm in wasm. Today smart contracts deployed within Aurora interact with each other synchronously. The same can be done for native NEAR contracts if we allow dynamically loading and executing another smart contract within the execution of a smart contract.

All of these features are designed to make NEAR a better technology base for building usable apps. Importantly, many of these features could surpass even the best of Web2 onboarding standards, empowering builders and founders to create without limits on NEAR.

If you are interested in the exciting future ahead of us, feel free to join our effort to make NEAR protocol better! You can check out good first issues on Github, or if you want to submit a proposal to change the protocol, you can follow the NEP process. You can also join engineering discussions around the protocol on Zulip.