What is a Mainnet for a Blockchain?

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What is a Mainnet for a Blockchain?
What is a Mainnet for a Blockchain?

A mainnet is the end product of a blockchain project. It is the main network of a blockchain on which real transactions take place and where cryptocurrencies have real economic value. There are many mainnets in the cryptocurrency industry: Ethereum, Avalanche, Polkadot, Solana, and so many more. But what exactly is a mainnet? Discovery of mainnets through the prism of that of the Ethereum blockchain.

What is a Mainnet?

A mainnet, an abbreviation of “main network” and translatable into “main network” in French, is a term that designates the main and functional blockchain of an ecosystem. It is an environment where real transactions take place and where cryptocurrencies have real economic value.

A mainnet being a functional blockchain, it can be used to execute any transaction: exchange of cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other information transfers. These transactions are verified and recorded in the blockchain.

It is usually a public network accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. It is thus possible to read or create transactions on the public blockchain but also to validate the executed transactions.

The consensus among network participants takes care of the inclusion of transactions in the blockchain and the maintenance of the network, and it differs according to the technical characteristics defined by the development team.

In the case of a  Proof of Work (PoW) blockchain like Bitcoin, it’s about miners competing to solve mathematical calculations using their hardware.

In the case of a  Proof of Stake (PoS) blockchain like Tezos, these are validators who stake a certain amount in the network’s native cryptocurrency in order to validate transactions.

Both of these blockchains, Bitcoin and Tezos, are open source and publicly verifiable. They execute real transactions that have real economic value on their respective mainnets: the Bitcoin mainnet and the Tezos mainnet.

In the vast majority of blockchains, each of these transactions has a cost. Indeed, the individual at the origin of a transaction must pay fees in order to economically encourage minors to validate it and to avoid spam on the network.

Therefore, a mainnet is the end product of a blockchain project, which is accessible for use. This can be updated by the development team if necessary, whether to correct bugs, flaws or to make a change to the protocol.

Thus, a project with a mainnet has greater credibility than a project that does not. Indeed, a mainnet indicates that the project is operational, it allows network participants to make transactions transparently and developers to deploy applications on it.

The mainnet also makes it possible to test the technical capacities of a blockchain in real conditions since any individual can interact with the network. Without mainnet, a project has no functional product: it is, therefore, less credible in the eyes of investors.

Before deploying a mainnet, the team behind a project sometimes launches fundraising in the form of private and/or public sales such as Initial Exchange Offerings (IEO) in order to finance the development of the latter and to constitute a community. These funds thus raised are often used to develop the prototype of the blockchain network.

It is also possible that the mainnet is already deployed before a fundraiser, which also shows a certain seriousness on the part of the company by first proposing a final product before raising funds to improve it.

The Ethereum Blockchain Mainnet

Let’s take a concrete example to illustrate what a mainnet is. When we talk about the Ethereum mainnet, it is the main and public blockchain of Ethereum. In November 2013, Vitalik Buterin imagined the project by developing the Ethereum blockchain whitepaper.

After defining the technical characteristics in 2014 in a yellow paper, the project is financed via an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). Since the Ethereum mainnet was not yet deployed at this time, this ICO took place on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Finally, on July 30, 2015, after more than a year of development funded by this fundraiser, the team deployed the mainnet of the Ethereum network. The miners were thus able to start validating network transactions, and the genesis block was mined.

The public was able to start using this blockchain, whose characteristics are well known: its native cryptocurrency, Ether, is used for transactions, payment of transaction fees and the use of smart contracts.

Since then, the Ethereum mainnet has seen many updates via hard forks, including the DAO (2016), Byzantium (2017), Constantinople (2019), Istanbul (2019) and London (2021) forks.

These upgrades improved the Ethereum mainnet by adjusting mining difficulty, block size, reforming network transaction fees (EIP-1559) and adding functionality to smart contracts.

Blockchain projects with an ERC-20 token, one of the Ethereum blockchain token standards, such as USD Coin (USDC), DAI, Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC) or Uniswap (UNI), all use the mainnet Ethereum and do not have their own blockchain.

The Complement of the Mainnet, the Testnet

Every mainnet has its complement, the testnet. The latter is a test environment in which developers can safely test the proper functioning of the network and detect any problems or bugs before integrating updates on the mainnet.

Ethereum’s Ropsten testnet is a good example. As part of the migration of the Ethereum blockchain from a Proof of Work consensus to a Proof of Stake consensus, which presents a real technical challenge, this update is first deployed on Ropsten.

Thus, this testnet allows developers to observe how the migration takes place in a test environment and without risk since there are no real economic stakes. Therefore, a battery of tests can be carried out to ensure the proper functioning of this migration on Ropsten before deployment on the Ethereum mainnet under the name of The Merge.

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