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The blockchain's highly-anticipated and frequently-delayed switch to proof of stake was one of the final tests that Ethereum had to pass before the Merge.
The ninth shadow split of the blockchain went live 15 hours early this morning. Shadow forks, such as the one we have today, rehearse one or two specific modifications that will occur during the Merge. Shadow forks differ from full testnet hard forks, like last week's Sepolia testnet, which relocates the entirety of the Ethereum mainnet to a test environment network.
The purpose of today's shadow split was to test Ethereum's so-called MEV boost functionality. MEV, or "maximum extractable value," refers to how those who issue new ETH can increase their profits by exploiting their network control and prioritizing particular users' transactions.
ETH is now produced by “mining” with specialized technology, but following the Merge, it will be obtained by “validating” or pledging massive amounts of pre-existing ETH.
“With the change to proof of stake, validators will now be the ones executing MEV, so searchers (the people who find MEV) will need to get their bundles to validators now (rather than miners). MEV Boost is basically that,” explained Micah Zoltu, an Ethereum core engineer, to Decrypt.
The MEV boost feature will enable validators to offer space within blocks they create to other validators — a mechanism designed to encourage competition between validators, increase validating profits across the board, and mitigate the risk of validators amassing excessive leverage over the order or cadence of user transactions.
The Ethereum Foundation predicts that the proof-of-stake method of producing new ETH will be 99 percent more ecologically friendly than the existing, energy-intensive proof-of-work approach. Still, it will also result in fewer rewards for the individuals participating. The Merge’s shift to proof-of-stake is anticipated to strand tens of thousands of Ethereum miners, who will be unable to match the business model of Ethereum mining post-Merge and will be left with costly mining hardware.
Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, has previously indicated that the Merge will decrease the danger of nasty miners who take bribes to affect the order of on-chain transactions, in addition to alleviating Ethereum’s sustainability difficulties. Today’s successful shadow fork, which has thus far been free of severe bugs, moves Ethereum one step closer to achieving this goal.
According to Ethereum core engineer Marius van der Wijden, today’s test is “another step in the right direction.”
“We don’t learn that much new anymore with these shadow forks,” van der Wijden told Decrypt, “but they increase our confidence in the software.”
Before the Merge can occur, just one significant test on the Goerli testnet has to be performed. This examination is anticipated to occur next month.