Polkadot’s canary network — Kusama

Same kind of technology completely different mindset — Gavin Wood

Poised to usurp Ethereum’s creation of a decentralized internet, the Polkadot ecosystem boasts several innovative features. Kusama, an experimental community research and development network, is Polkadot’s most unique and innovative feature. In today’s article, we shall discuss the purpose behind its existence and its significance.

But before we proceed, let’s talk about testnets and their importance.

Testnet

As the name suggests, a testnet is a separate blockchain that mimics the mainnet’s functionality. It exists primarily for developers to build and test projects/updates in a dynamic and suitable environment that doesn’t jeopardize the mainnet. In essence, testnets are perfect clones of the main network that help evade risk to real funds and operations.

A testnet provides a suitable platform for developers to assess the system’s viability, track performance, and make the necessary tweaks before the new project/upgrade is deployed on the mainnet. Deploying changes directly on the main network can have hazardous consequences, such as hackers exploiting vulnerabilities and draining the network of its funds. Thus, testnets are essential for testing smart contracts and dApps, ensuring seamless upgradation and operations on the mainnet. Some examples of testnets are Rinkeby, Goerli Testnets on Ethereum, Avalanche Fuji Testnet on Avalanche, Mumbai Testnet for Polygon, etc.

Problems with Testnet

A significant problem associated with testnets is their inability to test things that require some degree of value, e.g., governance and stakeholder voting/participation. Such activities are pointless as no individual is sufficiently motivated to vote on a network with literally zero value.

For this reason, Polkadot introduced Kusama, a low-value network in comparison, nonetheless an independent network that, in principle, has casualty. The team believed it was imperative to test certain activities before deploying them on a high-value network like Polkadot. Kusama fundamentally provides a platform where various algorithms for governance, new features, innovations, and experiments, can be tested with real stakes. By design, Kusama is highly experimental, albeit presenting real economic conditions.

Kusama

Kusama is a canary network for Polkadot. The name is inspired by the practice of miners carrying canaries into coal mines as a precautionary measure. The canaries were used to warn them of dangerous gases that could hurt them or cause the mine to explode. Kusama is similar to the canary in that it warns developers of bugs and vulnerabilities in the code being deployed.

If you go through Kusama’s official docs, you will see it is also referred to as Polkadot’s wild cousin. The wild cousin tag is representative of the fast-moving, no promises, expect chaos kind of design that Kusama features.

Comparing Kusama to Polkadot

Kusama and Polkadot share the same codebase implying vast similarities in the underlying structure. In fact, Kusama is an early and unaudited version of Polkadot. Both networks operate as multichain, heterogeneously-sharded blockchains based on nominated proof of stake (NPOS). To know more about their architecture, I recommend reading my previous article that covers the Polkadot ecosystem at length.

While the two are closely related, Polkadot adopts a more conservative approach and prioritizes reliability and stability, whereas Kusama is wild and fast. It is not a testnet but a developmental network that is extremely helpful for early-stage deployment and bold experimentation. Moreover, with Polkadot poised to release “bleeding-edge” technology, it is imperative to work out all the kinks on Kusama before they’re deployed on the mainnet.

The following section will cover the differences between the two networks.

Speed

The speed relates to governance parameters that differ on the two networks, with Kusama allowing for faster upgrades. For example, on Kusama, it takes seven days to vote on proposals/referenda/upgrades and eight days to implement the change post-voting, compared to a month for each on Polkadot. As a result, Kusama is up to 4 times faster than Polkadot.

The shorter period between proposal and execution is essential and one of the key reasons why Kusama came into being. Polkadot features a relatively safer, securer, and more stable environment but its ability to deliver these characteristics rests on Kusama continuously battle-testing all deployments beforehand. Experimentations on Kusama enable developers to gauge the outcome under real-world conditions, and the stakes are relatively lower in case of any mishap (bugs or other problems in code).

Furthermore, Kusama facilitates faster decision-making and implementation than Polkadot, but its speed comes at the cost of stakeholders remaining active and vigilant at all times. Validators on Kusama must update on short notice to keep up with the fast pace. In contrast, validators on Polkadot have around a month to comply with the new upgrades/requirements.

Low barriers to entry

Kusama’s staking requirements are lower than Polkadot’s, presenting lower barriers to entry for validators. The ability to participate on Kusama equips validators to harden their validation infrastructure by subjecting it to stress tests in real economic conditions before they move up to Polkadot. In addition, a lower bonding requirement enables developers to deploy their parachains and exercise increased flexibility when finalizing the design. Consequently, developers can experiment with new and innovative features at a lower cost than Polkadot.

Use cases

It is important to keep in mind that Polkadot is the primary choice for deploying enterprise-level applications and those that entail high-value transactions. In contrast, Kusama is better suited for early-stage applications because it pushes the limits harder and gives up robustness and reliability in exchange for speed, innovation, and experimentation with the latest technology. Its design is perfect for new networks and less established teams that are still unsure of the final design and interested in testing out different features before they upgrade to Polkadot, where the stakes are higher. Launching on Kusama gives the added advantage of building a user base and gaining traction within the dotsama community.

Kusama launched as a pre-production environment with real incentives for Polkadot. Still, several parachains may choose to remain with Polkadot’s wild cousin owing to faster development and greater innovation.

In conclusion

Kusama and Polkadot are independent, standalone networks that share the same code base but have separate communities, tokens, and governance. However, each network is devised for different purposes. For example, Kusama prides itself in being chaotic and supportive of bold experimentation, whereas Polkadot is designed for reliability and stability to support risk-averse, high-value applications.

Developed and supported by Parity technologies and the Web3 foundation, the two networks shall remain closely related, with Kusama supporting Polkadot’s ambition as the future of the decentralized web.

I hope this article helped you better understand Polkadot’s Wild Cousin — Kusama. This article is part of a series covering the Polkadot ecosystem.

The series consists of the articles outlined below.

Part I — Polkadot Overview

Part II — Polkadot’s canary network — Kusama

Part III — Parachain Slot Auctions and Crowdfunding (yet to be covered)

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Everything Blockchain

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Freethinkers, Writers, Blockchain explorers in pursuit of simplifying the different blocks of the chain metaverse.