TL;DR: We are excited to announce the newest member of the Polygon solution suite - Polygon Miden, an upcoming STARK-based, EVM-compatible rollup. The project is led by Bobbin Threadbare, former Facebook’s core ZK researcher who led the development of Winterfell. Today we are releasing Polygon Miden’s core component - Miden VM, the first open-source STARK-based VM. We will continue working and investing in this and other Polygon’s ZK-based efforts, with the ultimate goal of becoming the industry’s leading ZK powerhouse.
We recently announced that, moving forward, Polygon will be focusing on ZK (Zero-Knowledge) cryptography as the most promising technology for scaling blockchains. We have formalized our thoughts and plans in our ZK Thesis and committed $1B from our treasury to support this effort.
The first foray into the exciting world of ZK was the recently announced acquisition of Hermez Network (now Polygon Hermez). Soon after, we announced Polygon Nightfall, a privacy-focused rollup built in collaboration with EY. We are now continuing our ambitious quest to become the industry’s leading ZK powerhouse with our work on Polygon Miden.
What is Polygon Miden?
Polygon Miden will be a STARK-based ZK Rollup. ZK Rollups are very promising solutions but their main drawback is that it is hard for them to support arbitrary logic and transactions, including those of the EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine). Polygon Miden solves this challenge using its core component - Miden VM, a STARK-based virtual machine. Miden VM supports arbitrary logic and transactions and has one important additional feature - for any program executed on the VM a STARK-based proof of execution is automatically generated. This proof can then be used by anyone to verify that a program was executed correctly, without the need for re-executing the program or even knowing what the program was. With Miden VM, it becomes somewhat straightforward to build a ZK Rollup that can execute any transaction and program, including those currently living on Ethereum.
This in itself is a big thing; however, there are multiple additional reasons why we are excited about this project. Here we will briefly outline the most important ones.
Development is well underway
Polygon Miden is already under active development. Today, we are pleased to release the 0.1 version of Miden VM, an early prototype targeted toward developers who want to stay on the cutting edge. In the coming months we plan to significantly expand the feature set of the VM and develop it into a production-grade ZK virtual machine with a unique set of characteristics.
Miden VM itself is an evolution of Distaff VM, the first practical STARK-based virtual machine. Distaff has been in development since early 2020 and has gone through several iterations of development and user testing. Miden VM improves on Distaff by replacing the underlying proving system with Winterfell, a highly-performant STARK prover developed at Facebook’s Novi.
As mentioned above, the development of Polygon Miden is spearheaded by Bobbin Threadbare, the core developer of both Distaff VM and Winterfell. Prior to building Distaff and Winterfell, Bobbin made multiple contributions in the field of STARK-based proving systems, such as genSTARK library as well as AirScript and AirAssembly languages (supported by the Ethereum Foundation).
The core STARK components are being developed in collaboration with Alan Szepieniec, a prominent cryptographer with significant contributions in ZK and post-quantum cryptography.
Our primary goal with Miden VM is to guarantee “Ethereum-compatibility”. We will achieve this by offering the ability to compile Solidity-based smart contracts directly into Miden Assembly - the native language of Miden VM. Additionally, this approach allows us to keep the VM flexible enough to be a compilation target of other higher-level languages. Of special interest are safe blockchain-centric languages with support for formal verification, such as Move.
Privacy by design
Even though Polygon Miden is first and foremost a scaling solution, we don’t want privacy to be an afterthought. We believe that privacy will become one of the most important topics in the industry once the pressing need for scaling is met to a satisfying extent, and we are planning and preparing for this.
To this end, we are embedding privacy-enabling capabilities into the very core of the VM even now. For example, programs in Miden VM are represented by Merklized Abstract Syntax Trees (MAST), which makes it possible to selectively reveal parts of a program while keeping the rest of the program private.
As mentioned above, Miden VM uses zk-STARKs as the underlying proving system. STARKs stand out among many other proving systems in that they do not require a trusted setup and rely on well-established cryptographic assumptions. STARKs are also provably post-quantum secure, and thus systems built with them have a measure of future-proofness not available to many other proving systems.
Polygon Miden is our first “STARK-only” solution (Polygon Hermez is already working with some STARK primitives such as FRI); we are excited to continue working on it and explore the potential of this great technology.
Open source now, and always
Polygon Miden is a fully open-source project (under MIT license), developed with Web3 standards and ethos in mind. Our goal is to develop it in the open with inputs and contributions from the community. We welcome participation from other projects which may wish to use Miden VM in or outside of the blockchain context.
Polygon Miden is, to the best of our knowledge, the only fully open-source STARK-based scaling solution. Open-source software is (or at least should be) the standard in Web3, which itself was started to move us away from proprietary, unauditable software and platforms.
Wider Polygon vision
Blockchain infrastructure, including scaling infrastructure, is still in the early phases of development. There is a lot of work and innovation ahead of us in order to be able to onboard the first billion of users, and that is why we at Polygon currently want to support as many meaningful scaling efforts as rationally and practically possible.
Accordingly, we are excited to already have three ZK-focused efforts that will coexist under the Polygon umbrella (Polygon Hermez, Polygon Nightfall, and Polygon Miden). These projects are not considered to be competitors by any means. On the contrary, the three teams are already collaborating and will work together to advance Polygon’s and Ethereum’s infrastructure and adoption.
This announcement, together with the acquisition of Hermez and the announcement of Polygon Nightfall, are big and important events for us, but they only mark the beginning of all the efforts and great work that we aim to facilitate at Polygon. As always, we encourage all individuals and teams working on these exciting technologies to reach out to us, learn more about our work and explore opportunities for collaboration.
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