December 13, 2022 - 17 min read
The EVM, or Ethereum Virtual Machine, is a key piece of software that executes smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. The EVM is required for Ethereum to work, as it is responsible for computing the current state of the Ethereum network. Virtual machines like the EVM mimic the computing power of physical machines using virtual architecture, allowing them to run on many types of hardware. The EVM functions as a global computer that provides its accumulated computing power from distributed nodes to developers, who independently create smart contracts and dApps on the Ethereum blockchain.
In addition to Ethereum itself, many other blockchains are EVM compatible. EVM compatible blockchains have copied a certain amount of code from Ethereum, which speeds up and streamlines the development process, and makes it far easier for these blockchains to bridge assets back and forth from the Ethereum mainnet. EVM compatible blockchains generally aim to increase interoperability with Ethereum and gain some of Ethereum’s core benefits, while providing significantly faster transaction times (more transactions per second), lower gas fees, and a higher degree of scalability. It should be noted that EVM compatible chains also make it much easier to deploy Ethereum dApps on these other blockchains.
While many blockchains are EVM compatible, fewer blockchains are EVM equivalent. While EVM compatible blockchains provide a strong degree of interoperability, EVM equivalent blockchains are in full compliance with the formal specifications of the Ethereum protocol. EVM equivalent blockchains are generally Layer-2s.
Unlike EVM compatible chains, EVM equivalent chains actually fully copy and paste the code of the EVM into the Layer-2, and are beginning to blur the lines between the Ethereum mainnet and the Layer-2 blockchain operating on top of it. The increasingly popular Ethereum Layer-2 Optimism (which uses Optimistic rollups for scaling) is perhaps the best-known Layer-2 currently transitioning from EVM compatibility to EVM equivalence. Another increasingly popular chain introducing EVM equivalence is Metis, a hard fork of Optimism, which is also in the process of achieving EVM equivalence, albeit in a slightly different way.
In Optimism’s case, this means that Optimism will be fully integrated with the entire existing Ethereum stack, including all toolchains and node implementations. EVM equivalence means that developers can simply copy and paste dApp code between any EVM-equivalent rollups. In contrast, Ethereum dApps being deployed on EVM compatible (not equivalent) chains typically require significant retooling before they are functional, particularly if they are complex dApps such as DEXs like Uniswap.
The main difference, of course, between the Ethereum mainnet and a Layer-2 like Optimism is that blockchain transactions are bundled together, moving much of the computation off-chain. This is what permits Layer-2s (both EVM compatible and EVM equivalent) to scale to significantly higher transactions per second (TPS) and have much lower gas fees.
Below, we will list some of the top blockchains that are EVM compatible.
Binance Smart Chain (now BNB Smart Chain) is one of the largest and most popular non-Ethereum blockchains, which, as of November 2022, had a TVL (total value locked) of more than $5 billion. BNB Smart Chain hosts a variety of popular dApps, including many games and the popular DEX (decentralized exchange) Pancakeswap. BNB Smart Chain’s EVM compatibility makes it easy for developers to deploy their Ethereum dApps on the chain, which is perhaps why it’s estimated that there are more than 3,000 dApps currently running on the chain, making it one of the industry’s most popular chains for dApp deployment and development.
However, it should be noted that BNB Smart Chain has raised some concerns in regards to its centralization. Unlike Ethereum, which has approximately 300,000 nodes distributed throughout the world, BNB Smart Chain is significantly more centralized, as it only has 21 active validators at any one time. The set of validators is decided each day by its parallel blockchain, the BNB Beacon Chain, which only uses 11 validator nodes, several of which are operated by Binance itself. This leaves the fate of the entire chain in the hands of only a few individuals, which could lead to censorship, theft, and security issues.
Avalanche is another one of the most popular blockchains in the industry today, and as of November 2022, had a TVL (total value locked) of just under $ billion. Avalanche can reportedly process more than 4500 transactions per second. Avalanche’s model is somewhat different than most other blockchains, as it functions both as a blockchain and an infrastructure that allows individuals and enterprises to create their own custom public or private blockchains. While Avalanche is EVM compatible, it utilizes a separate consensus mechanism from Ethereum. In addition to supporting the EVM, it also supports the Web Assembly (WASM) virtual machine.
Each chain on Avalanche is its own representation of a virtual machine, and each is deployed on a custom Blockchain network referred to as a subnet, which has its own unique set of validators. Avalanche, like most other alternative Layer-1s, has a blockchain bridge that supports ERC-20 and ERC-721 token transfers between Ethereum and Avalanche.
Cardano is yet another popular blockchain, and, while it has significantly lower TVL and TPS than many other alternative Layer-1s, it has an incredibly strong community and an increasing user base. The main Cardano blockchain is not (or not yet) EVM compatible. However, in June 2022, Cardano launched the alpha version of a new, EVM compatible Cardano sidechain. By using this EVM compatible sidechain, developers will be able to more easily migrate smart contracts to the Ethereum network and utilize EVM-compatible contracts directly on Cardano.
According to Cardano, the sidechain will have superior security to the Ethereum mainnet via the use of a specialized Byzantine Fault Tolerant consensus protocol. This sidechain is intended to be just one of the first of many Cardano sidechains designed to increase Cardano’s interoperability with other major chains, including Solana.
Solana, which is considered one of the biggest competitors to Ethereum, has gained renown for its high TPS and low gas fees, and has even begun to become a popular blockchain for NFTs, with one recent NFT sale exceeding $2 million. Solana was not initially EVM compatible, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to deploy Ethereum dApps on Solana and vice versa due to the differences in programming languages. Wormhole, an Ethereum bridge, was deployed on Solana, but it could only bridge assets across chains, and did not allow for the easy deployment of cross-chain dApps and smart contracts.
However, in July 2021, Neon Labs deployed the EVM on Solana, first on a testnet, but later on the Solana mainnet. The Neon EVM functions as a smart contract on the Solana blockchain, permitting it to access data on Solana accounts. In theory, this has made Solana more competitive with other EVM compatible chains, like BNB Smart Chain and Polygon, as it has significantly improved Ethereum interoperability, and has likely contributed to the increased number of dApps on the Solana blockchain.
Polygon is by far the most popular Ethereum Layer-2 blockchain on the market today, with over $1.1 billion in TVL (as of November 2022). This makes it the fourth-largest blockchain and the fourth-largest EVM compatible chain by TVL (also as of November 2022). Polygon mainly uses ZK-Rollups as a scaling solution, and, like other Ethereum Layer-2s, bundles multiple Layer-2 transactions into one transaction on the Ethereum mainnet. Polygon’s native $MATIC token is also the largest Ethereum Layer-2 token by market cap.
Unlike some Layer-2s, Polygon is an integrated infrastructure that allows for the creation of individual, EVM compatible sidechains via its popular SDK (software development kit). In addition to their ZK-Rollup chains, Polygon also allows for the creation of Plasma chains and Optimistic rollup chains, each of which bundle Layer-2 transactions together in slightly different ways. Much like Ethereum itself, Polygon promotes decentralization by allowing anyone to stake its native $MATIC token to operate a node that validates transactions on the network.
In addition to its current options, Polygon is also in the process of developing several new blockchain options, including Polygon zkEVM, the first Ethereum ZK-Rollup providing full EVM equivalence. Like other EVM equivalent chains, Polygon zkEVM provides full tooling compatibility, making it incredibly easy to deploy Ethereum dApps on the network.
Optimism is perhaps the fastest-growing Ethereum Layer-2 blockchain in the industry today. As mentioned earlier in this article, Optimism is one of the few Layer-2 blockchains that is transitioning to becoming fully EVM equivalent, making it very easy to transition Ethereum dApps to Optimism and vice versa. Optimism also has its own governance token, $OP.
Unlike many Layer-2s, Optimism takes advantage of Optimistic rollups rather than ZK-Rollups.
While ZK-Rollups generate cryptographic proofs utilized to validate transactions, Optimistic rollups assume the validity of all transactions. In lieu of using a proof, Optimistic rollups have a “challenge period” during which the transaction’s legitimacy can be challenged. Since there is no proof requirement, chains using Optimistic rollups often have higher speeds, though they may suffer from extended finality periods related to challenge periods.
Optimism and other Layer-2s utilizing optimistic rollup require validators to stake ETH. If a validator is found to have submitted a fraudulent transaction, their ETH will be “slashed” or taken away, which, ideally, disincentivizes bad behavior.
In addition, it should be noted that Optimism’s governance is relatively decentralized, as it’s governed through a DAO with two “houses,” one which relies on votes via the number of tokens staked, the other which relies on a “one person, one vote” system via the use of soulbound tokens (SBTs), which are tokens permanently tied to one crypto wallet, and are intended to help prevent whales from taking undue control of the network or executing 51% attacks.
Arbitrum is another fast-growing, Optimistic rollup-based Ethereum Layer-2 blockchain. Arbitrum is one of the fastest Optimistic-rollup-based Layer-2s, as it processes a reported 4,500 transactions per second, with some estimates reporting that it may be able to handle up to 40,000 TPS under certain network conditions.
Arbitrum and Optimism are quite similar due to the fact that they both use Optimistic rollups. They are also both governed by DAOs, which allow them to offer a higher degree of decentralization than many other Layer-2s. However, they have a few major differences, the most important being that when Abtrium processes a suspicious transaction off-chain, it solely sends the suspicious element of the transaction back through the EVM, while when Optimism processes a suspicious transaction off-chain, the entire transaction is sent back via the Ethereum Virtual Machine. In general, this leads to more efficiency and currently allows Arbitrum to process a higher number of transactions per second than Optimism. In addition, Abitrum is only EVM compatible, while Optimism is working toward full EVM equivalence.
It should be noted that many prefer Arbitrum to Optimism due to the fact that Arbitrum provides greater support for DeFi and DApps on the Ethereum network when compared to Optimism.
Boba Network is the final Optimistic rollup-based Ethereum Layer-2 on this list. Boba was founded and built by the decentralized infrastructure firm Enya, so it’s somewhat less decentralized than some of the other Layer-2 blockchains mentioned in this article. It also only has a single validator node, which has led to concerns about centralization. However, like Aribtrum and Optimism, Boba does introduce some decentralization, as it’s governed by a DAO, where those who stake the network’s native governance token, $BOBA, have a say in how the network builds and progresses over time. Unlike Arbitrum and Optimism, Boba does not use fraud proofs, which could lead to potential security issues over time.
Despite some concerns with centralization and security, Boba does have some benefits over other Layer-2s, particularly due to the fact that users can withdraw funds from Boba Network in just a few minutes instead of waiting days (in contrast to other Layer-2s, which prevent fast withdrawals as a security feature). Boba also has a highly efficient NFT bridge, though the use of this bridge is currently limited to the popular ERC-721 NFT tokens standard. In addition, Boba has a gas “price smoothing” mechanism, intended to limit the extreme gas price fluctuations that are seen on the core Ethereum blockchain.
Unlike many other Layer-2s, Boba network is still somewhat in the development stages, as it, as of June 2022, only had 39 dApps deployed on the network, the most popular being OolongSwap, the chain’s native DEX (decentralized exchange). It should also be noted that Boba is also transitioning away from Optimistic rollups, and is in the process of adopting an entirely new Etheruem scaling solution, referred to as a “Zipup,” which is intended to further increase security and reduce network transaction costs.
TRON is one of the most popular alternative Layer-1 blockchains on the market today. TRON was founded in 2017 by Justin Sun, and operates on a delegated proof-of-stake consensus protocol. Its native governance token is $TRX. Tron is intended to be highly decentralized, but currently operates only on 27 nodes, referred to as “Super Representatives,” which has led to some concerns over centralization. However, these nodes do rotate, which does somewhat increase the decentralization of the network.
TRON is surprisingly popular among developers, and currently has an estimated 1,000+ dApps deployed on the network, about one-third of the 3,000+ dApps currently deployed on the Ethereum mainnet. Many of TRON’s dApps are focused on gaming, and it has several mildly popular DEXs, as well as a fair amount of stablecoins. Like the other blockchains on this list, TRON is fully EVM compatible, and even shares a large portion of its source code from Ethereum itself. Interestingly, the TRON Foundation, which governs TRON’s operations, acquired the famous file-sharing service BitTorrent in 2018, which was launched on TRON in 2019, along with the launch of a BitTorrent cryptocurrency.
Fantom is another popular alternative Layer-1 blockchain. Founded in early 2018 by computer scientist Dr. Ahn Byung Ik, Fantom uses a unique and novel consensus mechanism, which it refers to as the “Lachesis Protocol.” Lachesis utilizes a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) based algorithm, which achieves asynchronous Byzantine fault tolerance (aBFT), providing the network a variety of potential security and speed advantages compared to other Layer-1 and Layer-2 blockchains.
Directed Acyclic Graph technology is an alternative to blockchain-based cryptography, which allows for simultaneous transaction validation, leading to higher transaction speeds and faster finality, with most transactions being finalized in 1-2 seconds. While DAG tech is not blockchain technology, it has been incorporated into multiple blockchains, including the well-known Hedera Hashgraph blockchain.
Unlike most other blockchains, Fantom consists of multiple layers, the most prominent of which is Opera, a fully EVM-compatible and smart contract-enabled blockchain. Opera can also be fully integrated with the Cosmos SDK, a popular software development kit launched by the blockchain infrastructure platform Cosmos, which allows individuals and institutions to create their own unique blockchains for specific purposes.
In addition to its novel consensus mechanism and use of multiple layered blockchains, Fantom has focused on specific partnerships with other blockchains in an effort to greatly increase interoperability. For instance, in 2019, Fantom partnered with Binance to improve cross-chain functionality and to create wrapped BEP2 and BEP20 tokens on the Fantom blockchain.
TomoChain is a hard fork of Ethereum deployed in 2018. The blockchain is designed specifically for real-world use cases, with an emphasis on enterprise applications. It provides a wide array of SDKs (software developer kits) for developers looking to build applications using the TomoChain infrastructure. TomoChain aims to institute decentralization via a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism enacted by 150 elected nodes, referred to as “masternodes,” which rotate after each election period, which is referred to as an “epoch.” TomoChain’s native token, $TOMO, serves as a governance token and is used to pay all gas fees on the network.
Like the other chains on this list, TomoChain is fully EVM compatible. The blockchain reportedly has a speed of 2,000 transactions per second and two-second block confirmation times. TomoChain also boasts above-average privacy, as it permits anonymous transactions via randomization, double validation security enhancements, randomization, and other methods of concealing transaction data such as transaction values and wallet addresses. TomoChain has a variety of useful infrastructure-focused dApps, such as TomoX, which facilitates the building of decentralized exchanges (DEXs) on TomoChain.
Like many other blockchains, TomoChain has a native wallet, a bridging protocol, a blockchain scanner, and a staking application. However, unlike some blockchains, these are all built by the TomoChain team themselves, rather than being independently developed.
Gnosis is an EVM compatible Layer-1 proof-of-stake blockchain directly modeled after Ethereum. Similar to most Layer-2s, Gnosis is focused on helping Ethereum users gain faster transaction times and lower fees, while also providing some of its own, unique functionality. Gnosis is governed by the Gnosis DAO, which itself is governed by individuals or groups that stake the blockchain’s native token, $GNO.
The other token on the Gnosis chain is xDAI, which is used for payments on the network. xDAI is a bridged version of MakerDAO’s popular, overcollateralized DAI stablecoin. Because of this, to use xDAI, users must purchase DAI independently and then bridge it to Gnosis to create xDAI. It should be noted that xDAI used to be its own sidechain, until it merged with Gnosis for greater scalability. Several major dApps have been deployed on Gnosis, including the popular SushiSwap DEX.
RSK, or Rootstock Platform, is an EVM compatible blockchain which is a programmable sidechain of Bitcoin. RSK was initially developed in 2014. Unlike other Bitcoin-related chains, however, RSK offers full support for smart contracts and dApps, and, as it’s EVM compatible, developers can write dApps in Solidity and other Ethereum-compatible programming languages.
RSK was designed to combine the benefits and widespread adoption of Bitcoin with the smart contract functionality of Ethereum and similar Layer-1s and Layer-2s. Block confirmation on the RSK network generally occurs in just over 30 seconds, making it significantly faster than Bitcoin, but still slower than many other chains.
The native token of the RSK platform is the RSK smart bitcoin ($RBTC). $RBTC has a 1: 1 ratio with Bitcoin and is used to pay transaction fees and to enable smart contract functionality. In addition to its EVM compatibility, RSK has its own virtual machine, the RSK Virtual Machine. Because it’s a sidechain of Bitcoin, RSK inherits most of the security guarantees of the Bitcoin blockchain, as its security is guaranteed by Bitcoin miners mining on the Bitcoin mainchain.
RSK is a federated blockchain, which means that it does offer some degree of decentralization, but is controlled by pre-selected, trusted validators, which must approve of all funds entering or leaving the RSK blockchain ecosystem. RSK validators are rewarded 1% of all transaction fees. The federation itself holds the keys which protect users’ funds, which could pose potential security risks to users. Despite this, federation members can reject the composition of the federation if they believe one or more members pose a security risk. This opens up a one-week window during which RSK users can transfer their funds back to the Bitcoin mainnet network if they feel the network has been compromised. This provides an additional level of security and defense against malfeasance by validators.
zkSync is another Ethereum Layer-2 blockchain that was designed specifically with an emphasis on high transaction speeds while maintaining security. According to zkSync, the network can reach speeds as high as 2,000 TPS. Other than Polygon, zkSync is the only sole ZK-Rollup blockchain with EVM compatibility.
Unlike some other ZK-Rollup-based Layer-2s, zkSync uses ZK-SNARKs (Succinct Non-Interactive ARgument of Knowledge), which, unlike ZK-STARKs (Scalable Transparent ARguments of Knowledge), do require a one-time trusted setup by developers, which could be seen as a downside when compared to other Layer-2 solutions.
Some of the most prominent projects deployed on zkSync include Gitcoin, Argent, Tally, Yearn Finance, 1inch Network, Snapshot, and Gnosis Safe.
Cosmos is an infrastructure that powers a network of independent blockchains, each of which is tethered to the core Cosmos blockchain, referred to as the Cosmos Hub. The Cosmos Hub is a proof-of-stake blockchain and has a popular native cryptocurrency, $ATOM. Cosmos enables developers to create new blockchains using its Tendermint BFT engine, a consensus algorithm which secures the overall network via an interconnected blockchain API protocol referred to as the Application Blockchain Interface. Many major blockchain projects have launched using Cosmos, including the Binance Chain (now BNB Beacon Chain), the Terra blockchain, and the Crypto.com blockchain.
Cosmos provides an easy-to-use SDK (software development kit) to help enable developers to create new blockchains quickly, and there are a variety of plugins available that further increase the speed and efficiency of the blockchain development process. Each blockchain can independently validate its own transactions and create and issue its own tokens, however, Cosmos-generated blockchains can easily exchange data between themselves via the Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol.
Like other proof-of-stake chains, Cosmos’s consensus mechanism involves a network of independent validator nodes, with voting power determined by the number of tokens staked. Only the top 100 nodes at any one time participate in the consensus process, which means that Cosmos, while essentially decentralized, does carry a fair degree of centralization risk.
Cosmos chains were initially not EVM compatible, however, in March 2022, Cosmos’s first EVM compatible chain, Evmos, launched with its own token. While the blockchain initially had to be shut down due to security issues and bugs, the Evmos chain was successfully relaunched in April 2022. While only one chain, the Evmos blockchain may be just the first of many EVM compatible Cosmos-generated chains deployed in the coming months and years.
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