September 21, 2023 - 14 min read
Transactions per second (TPS) is the number of transactions a computer network can process in one second. TPS is a critical metric for comparing the speeds of different blockchains and other computer systems. However, TPS is not the only metric used to measure blockchain speed. Many argue that while TPS is important, finality is actually a more essential metric. Finality is when transactions can never change, provided the network is not subject to a successful attack.
Blockchain TPS is not static and is generally measured within a range. This is because the higher the current transaction volume, the slower the blockchain will process data, leading to fewer transactions per second.
This cryptocurrency transaction speed chart compares a variety of chains, including Ethereum, Polkadot, Avalanche, Polygon, and Solana. The speeds listed are theoretical TPS maximums, not real-world numbers. Source: Solana Daily.
Specifically, TPS can be calculated by taking the number of transactions in a single block and dividing it by the block time (in seconds).
Proof-of-work (PoW) is the original blockchain consensus mechanism, still used by Bitcoin and several Bitcoin forks, like Bitcoin Cash. PoW consensus requires nodes to solve increasingly complex mathematical equations to earn the right to mine the next block and earn mining rewards– and the more nodes competing to validate a block, the more complex the equations become. Bitcoin mining at scale requires massive “farms” of computer processors called ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits.) This has made Bitcoin mining increasingly costly and energy-intensive as the network has continued to grow.
Bitcoin’s proof-of-work is considered a very safe consensus mechanism, as it’s pretty costly to execute a 51% attack on a proof-of-work network because validating blocks on a PoW network of any size requires a high level of computational resources. For instance, executing a 51% attack on the Bitcoin network would likely involve setting up tens of billions (if not more) worth of ASICs.
Bitcoin transactions per second, February to July 2021. Source: Blockchain.com.
In contrast to proof-of-work, proof-of-stake consensus allows for a significantly higher level of scalability because transactions can be validated much faster. Proof-of-stake does not require nodes to solve complex equations; instead, nodes compete to validate transactions based on the amount of the blockchain’s native token they have staked (not their mining/hashing power). However, this does lead to potential security risks, as it’s generally easier to purchase 51% of a blockchain’s native tokens than to set up a massive mining operation.
Evidence shows that all the PoS networks are significantly faster– or, at least, have the potential to be significantly faster than PoW networks, as we’ll discuss in the next section of this article.
In this article, we’ll review both the actual, tested, and theoretical TPS of a few major chains. This is an important distinction to consider when trying to determine which chains are actually faster than others. Actual TPS refers to the real-world, measurable transaction speeds of public blockchains. Tested TPS refers to the highest measurable transaction speed reached on a blockchain testnet; blockchain testnets are typically experimental and often have only a few users, meaning that these numbers will likely be far away from real-world speeds. However, testnet speeds do show realistic
Below, we’ll discuss and compare the TPS of several major blockchains, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Solana, Polygon, BNB Smart Chain, Avalanche, Optimism, Arbitrum, Aptos, Sui, and TRON.
Bitcoin, the original public blockchain and the first widely adopted cryptocurrency is one of the industry’s slowest blockchain networks, with an average TPS of just 7. There are a few main reasons why Bitcoin is so slow, including the fact that transactions need to go through six confirmations before finally being verified and that Bitcoin blocks are relatively small, being only 1-1.5 MB in size on average, meaning that each block can only store an average of between 1,500-2,500 transactions. Bitcoin’s lack of scalability combined with its high level of popularity means that transactions often get stuck in the mempool (which is like a waiting room of transactions) for long periods of time. In addition, many users set low maximum fees for their Bitcoin transactions, and these transactions are not a priority for miners, making low-cost transactions even slower than average.
Ethereum, the most popular blockchain for decentralized applications (dApps), is also considered one of the slowest chains in the industry, with an average TPS of just 15-25. Ethereum, like Bitcoin, has serious scalability issues, which may partially result from the fact that the chain was initially designed with a proof-of-work consensus mechanism like Bitcoin. Though the 2022 “Merge” transitioned Ethereum to a proof-of-stake network, overall speeds did not increase nearly as much as many expected.
Additionally, Ethereum transaction gas fees can spike to incredibly high in times of congestion, with some gas fees topping out above $14,000 during the famed Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) Otherside NFT mint.
These slow transaction times and high gas fees have significantly contributed to the fast growth of Ethereum Layer-2s like Polygon, Arbitrum, and Optimism, among others, which can offer significantly faster speeds due to bundling many Layer-2 transactions into a single transaction on the Ethereum mainnet.
Solana is definitely one of the faster blockchains on the market today, with some sources saying that it boasts an impressive average TPS of 2,825, more than 140x the average speed of an Ethereum transaction. However, these numbers may be much higher, with Solana’s official blockchain explorer indicating that, as of mid-to-late 2023, the network had an average of more than 4,500 TPS. Solana has reached around 65,000 TPS during testing, though testing generally does not imitate the real-world conditions under which blockchains operate.
Solana’s theoretical TPS is even higher, with the Solana whitepaper indicating that it could reach up to 710,000 TPS, though it’s somewhat unclear what conditions would be needed for this to occur.
Solana uses a modified proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, referred to as Proof of History (PoH), which processes transactions as they occur instead of additional blocks, making it faster and significantly less expensive than many competitors. Solana’s speed, particularly when compared to Ethereum, has made it one of the most popular non-Ethereum chains for NFTs, with one Solana NFT selling for an impressive $2.1 million during the height of the crypto boom in November 2021.
Despite its impressive TPS, Solana does have some issues that have impacted its popularity, including a staggering 19 network outages over a 2-year period, as well as some concerns over network centralization (though Solana does elicit far fewer concerns than many other chains).
Cosmos is often considered among the top 3-5 chains in terms of speed, with transaction times topping at an incredible 10,000 transactions per second.
Unlike most other blockchains, the Cosmos ecosystem consists of a series of independent, interrelated blockchains that use a shared consensus mechanism, Tendermint BFT. This enables individual entities to spin up their own chain and recruit their own nodes while maintaining high security and (potential) decentralization, depending on how the chain is constructed. Therefore, the TPS of individual chains may vary.
Polkadot is another relatively fast blockchain, with an average of 1,000 transactions per second. Polkadot is somewhat like Cosmos, as it’s more of an interconnected network of related blockchains rather than a single, monolithic chain like Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Solana. Polkadot’s core chain is called the relay network, and the independent chains that interact with it are called parachains. Each parachain has its own tokens and governance model.
However, the core relay network is responsible for the consensus and security of all parachains, allowing parachains to take advantage of the core chain’s high level of security and interoperability.
Polkadot’s consensus mechanism is called Nominated Proof of Stake (NPoS), a variation of PoS in which validators are selected by nominators– which can be ordinary token holders and do not have to stake a large amount of the network’s native token, DOT, to nominate validators.
While Polkadot is relatively fast today, the network’s developer community has big goals when it comes to increasing the chain’s speed, with some claiming that coming updates will be able to 100x– or even 1000x the chain’s speed, allowing it to reach a staggering 100,000 to 1 million TPS.
The Ripple blockchain, run by Ripple Labs, is designed to facilitate various global financial transfers, including cross-currency transactions, particularly for large institutions. This sets it apart from many other chains, most of which have a consumer rather than enterprise focus. While Ripple may be most famous for its extended lawsuit with the SEC regarding its potential classification as an unlicensed security, its relatively high speed of 1,500 TPS does help it facilitate interbank transfers and other large transactions.
Unlike many other chains, Ripple is relatively centralized, and unlike Bitcoin and Etheruem, it does not use proof-of-work or proof-of-stake as a consensus mechanism. Instead, it uses a method called Unique Node Lists (UNL), lists of nodes that are queried by a server to reach consensus. Each node in the network only considers the votes of nodes in its individual Unique Node List instead of searching the entire Ripple network. Ripple’s UNL consensus mechanism allows the network to query far fewer nodes at once than most other blockchains, helping facilitate its relatively high speed. However, some think that Ripple’s UNL consensus could be one of several significant factors contributing to the network’s high level of centralization.
Cardano is a well-known proof-of-stake blockchain co-founded by Charles Hotchkinson, one of the original co-founders of Ethereum. According to the Blockchain Council, Cardano currently has a TPS of around 1,000, making it another relatively fast chain. However, Cardano’s speeds could be about to increase exponentially. This is because the Cardano team is currently in the process of building Hydra, a Cardano layer-2 chain designed to significantly enhance the scalability of the Cardano ecosystem.
Some claims about Hydra have been rather extreme, with some saying the network may be able to handle up to 1 million transactions per second. However, Hydra developers have mostly poured cold water on these claims, stating that while Hydra will significantly enhance Cardano’s speed, it won’t quite scale to anywhere near 1 million TPS.
TRON is a fast and scalable blockchain that uses a delegated proof-of-stake (DPoS) consensus mechanism. This allows regular users utilize their TRX holdings to vote for different delegates, which then validate and approve on-chain transactions. Despite this, many are concerned that TRON only gives the impression of being decentralized, and, in truth, is perhaps one of the most centralized blockchains in the industry. In fact, in 2019, the project’s ex-CTO pointed out that most TRX, and all of the network’s top 27 nodes, are fully controlled by TRON. However, in 2021, TRON became a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), meaning that it’s likely at least somewhat more decentralized than it used to be.
While transactions per second is an essential measure of a blockchain’s speed, it might not be the most important metric. In fact, many consider that blockchain finality is actually a better measure of a blockchain’s speed. While TPS measures how many transactions the blockchain can process per second, time to finality measures the time it takes for a transaction to become irreversible once it is confirmed and added to the blockchain. This means that until a transaction has reached complete finality, it can theoretically be reversed, though this rarely happens.
When comparing TPS vs. time to finality (sometimes referred to as TTF), time to finality is always significantly slower than TPS. For example, Ethereum’s TPS typically ranges from 15-25, however, can take around 15 minutes for a transaction to actually be finalized on the network. Bitcoin transactions can take even longer, taking about 60 minutes to reach finality.
This chart compares the TPS and time to finality of several major blockchains, including Solana, Aptos, Ethereum, Bitcoin, Avalanche, Fanton ,Terra, and Internet Computer. Source: Pontem Network.
However, some blockchains reach finality considerably faster. For example, BNB Smart Chain can reach finality in as little as one second, while EOS can reach finality in 2-3 seconds.
It should also be noted that blockchain finality isn’t necessarily a black-or-white concept. In fact, however, the majority of blockchain networks only show a “probabilistic transaction finality.” This means that transactions are not immediately finalized but become gradually more final (and more immutable) as additional blocks are confirmed.
It can be challenging to determine which blockchain is the fastest in absolute terms, and much of this comes down to how speed is really measured. If blockchains are ranked by real transactions per second, Cosmos could be considered the fastest chain, with their mainnet having reached around 10,000 TPS in real-world conditions. Hedera also has a similar real-world maximum TPS, also hovering around 10,000. If we consider theoretical TPS however, many chains could be considered faster, including Aptos, which has reached as high as 160,000 TPS during testing, and Solana, which has reached around 710,000 TPS in testing.
However, if instead we consider finality as the most important factor when measuring blockchain speed, Avalanche may be the fastest chain, having reached a record low time to finality of around 0.15 seconds. Therefore, deciding which blockchain is the fastest all depends upon which metrics one uses to measure speed. Until a single blockchain can reach the highest TPS, theoretical TPS, and the lowest time to finality, the crypto community will likely still continue to debate which chains are the fastest for years to come.
Many comparisons have been made between blockchain transaction speeds and the transaction speeds of traditional financial networks, notably Visa, which has one of the world’s fastest and most robust financial transaction systems. Many have claimed that Visa can process up to 24,000 transactions per second, with some analysts claiming that the network could, at least in theory, scale up to a massive 65,000 TPS. However, other analysts have suggested that its true speed is closer to 1,700 TPS, a far cry from 24,000.
However, Visa is not the only credit card company that’s often compared to blockchains when it comes to transaction speeds. Mastercard’s transactions per second is currently estimated to be around 5,000, which puts it far below Visa’s theoretical maximum but much higher than more conservative estimates of Visa’s TPS. This also puts it far above chains like Bitcoin and Ethereum (and chains with middling speed levels, like Ripple) but lower than high-speed chains like Cosmos.
In addition to comparing blockchain speeds to credit card networks, many have also compared blockchain TPS levels to that of SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), the leading messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to execute global financial transactions. The exact TPS of the SWIFT network can be challenging to measure. However, we can make some informed estimations with the available data. In December 2022, SWIFT recorded an impressive 44.8 million daily transactions (totaling more than $6 trillion), meaning that the network likely executes slightly more than 500 transactions per second.
However, it should be noted that the SWIFT network has begun to rapidly integrate blockchain technology over the last few years. Most prominently, the Ripple blockchain is one of the few chains currently ISO 20022-compliant (ISO 20022 being the latest messaging format for the SWIFT network). This means that SWIFT transactions can be executed using the Ripple blockchain to achieve significantly faster transaction times, especially considering Ripple’s average TPS of 1,500 is around three times faster than the traditional SWIFT network. Some highly speculative analysts have even estimated that if only 10% of all SWIFT transactions were conducted using the Ripple blockchain, XRP’s price could explode to $10,000, making it the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market cap.
As blockchain technology continues to evolve, blockchains are getting faster and faster– and transactions per second (TPS) is currently the most popular measure of blockchain speed.
While earlier chains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, offer relatively low transactions per second, chains like Cosmos have reached up to 10,000 TPS in real-world conditions. Blockchain TPS, however, is not the only measure of blockchain transaction speed and transaction throughput, and, as we’ve discussed, many consider blockchain finality (the time until a transaction generally cannot be changed) a more important measure of blockchain transaction speed.
As blockchains continue to improve in terms of both TPS and time to finality, blockchain scalability will also continue to increase, allowing blockchains to compete with legacy digital networks like Visa and Mastercard, giving blockchains a greater ability to handle a variety of real-world applications.
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