History of Starkware
Overview of STARKs

STARK stands for Scalable Transparent Arguments of Knowledge. STARKs have several advantages over SNARKs, namely:

  • Trusted setup is not required
  • Faster computation times compared to SNARKs
    • Hash functions (STARKs) are faster than elliptic curves (SNARKs)

However, STARKs cost more gas to settle on L1 Ethereum.


source: StarkWare

The StarkWare stack consists of several key features:

Shared Prover (SHARP)
  • Generates the proofs and hands off to the Verifier
  • saves costs by bundling computations of multiple dApps into a single proof
Verifier (existing on L1)
  • Verifies SHARP proofs as valid. If so, the hash is stored in a fact registry.

Applications either interface with StarkEx (in the case of enterprise and permissioned applications) or the SHARP directly (in the case of StarkNet applications).

Simple Explanation of Starknet
  • StarkNet is a permissionless decentralized ZK-Rollup.
  • It operates as an L2 network over Ethereum, enabling any dApp to achieve unlimited scale for its computation – without compromising Ethereum's composability and security.
StarkNet: StarkWare’s permissionless rollup
  • StarkNet is StarkWare’s permissionless rollup.
  • Any developer is free to build on top of it and reap the benefits of STARKs.
  • StarkNet Alpha launched in November 2021. As the alpha released relatively recently, there have not been many protocols, dApps, or wallet providers (with the exception of Argent X) deployed, but developer interest has been increasing.

source: StarkWare

  • Once StarkNet is fully live and battle-tested, StarkEx protocols can migrate to StarkNet to reap the benefits of composability if desired.
What is Starknet
  • StarkNet is a permissionless decentralized Validity-Rollup (also known as a “ZK-Rollup”). It operates as an L2 network over Ethereum, enabling any dApp to achieve unlimited scale for its computation –  without compromising Ethereum’s composability and security, thanks to StarkNet’s reliance on the safest and most scalable cryptographic proof system – STARK.
  • StarkNet Contracts and the StarkNet OS are written in Cairo – supporting the deployment and scaling of any use case, whatever the business logic.
  • Your use of the StarkNet Alpha is under these terms of use.
Roadmap of Starknet

The StarkNet roadmap has four steps:

  • Step 0 – Foundations ✅
  • Step 1 – Planets: Single-app rollups ✅
  • Step 2 – Constellations: Multi-app rollups
  • Step 3 – Universe: A decentralized rollup
  • The initial step provided the foundations upon which StarkNet was built. This included the Cairo programming language and SHARP,  allowing developers to build smart contracts in a language that is optimized for a zkRollup while sharing costs.
  • Step 2 is the current phase of the roadmap StarkWare is building towards, which will be completed with the release of mainnet in November - marking the release of StarkNet as a fully composable zkRollup that supports general smart contracts.
  • The final step is when StarkNet transitions into a fully decentralized, permissionless rollup. This won't be completed at the same time as the initial mainnet release because the system will still be in alpha testing to ensure that any bugs can be mitigated without causing damage to the system. StarkNet is cutting-edge technology and will need time to be battle-tested for security. With the initial mainnet release, StarkNet will operate the only sequencer and have permissioned smart contract deployment. Once StarkWare anticipates StarkNet’s security is sufficient, it will decentralize so that any parts run solely by StarkWare will be made available for permissionless entry.
StarkEx: StarkWare’s enterprise STARK solution
  • StarkEx is StarkWare’s enterprise STARK solution, and has been operational since June 2020.
  • Currently, it serves as the backbone for
    • dYdX Exchange (a perpetuals platform) 
    • Sorare (a NFT collectible football management game)
    • Immutable X (a NFT-focused platform, recently partnered with GameStop)
    • DeversiFi (a decentralized exchange).
    • image

      source: StarkWare

What is StarkEx
  • StarkEx is a scaling engine built with Cairo and SHARP.
  • StarkEx leverages STARK technology to power scalable self-custodial transactions (trading and payments) for applications such as DeFi and gaming. StarkEx enables an application to scale significantly and improve transaction speed while also reducing transaction costs.
    • Implementation requires minimal change to existing setups. StarkEx currently supports ETH, ERC-20, ERC-721 tokens, and synthetic assets.
    • Also, it can readily support tokens on other EVM-compatible blockchains.
  • StarkEx is a mature platform that has been deployed on Ethereum Mainnet since June 2020. Before its Mainnet deployment, over 50M StarkEx transactions were settled on both public and private Ethereum testnets.
Difference between StarkNet and StarkEx
  • StarkNet is a permissionless decentralized ZK-Rollup that supports independent deployment of smart contracts. Any developer can write and deploy their smart contract permissionlessly. StarkNet also supports composability.
  • StarkEx is a permissioned tailor-made scaling engine, designed by StarkWare to fit the specific needs of apps.
  • Both StarkNet and StarkEx provide scalability and L1 security by using STARK-based validity proofs, and both are designed to support general computation, allowing any use case to be scaled.
  • StarkEx is a scaling engine built with Cairo and SHARP. While StarkNet is a general purpose, permissionless, and decentralized ZK-Rollup. As StarkNet development progresses, StarkEx deployments will be able to port to StarkNet. This will offer them the benefit of a fully-decentralized network, as well as composability with other applications. Read More
Cairo and Warp
  • With new technology comes new requirements.
  • Cairo is a custom Turing-complete language developed specifically for STARKs.
  • The benefits are outlined in this thread:
  • While Cairo is better for performance and scalability, it is still incredibly new.
    • Developers have not have had enough time to get familiar with it, and existing L1 applications cannot easily be ported to StarkNet/StarkEx.
  • Warp, developed by Nethermind, is a EVM to Cairo transpiler. Warp allows Solidity contracts to be converted to Cairo seamlessly, allowing developers to deploy on StarkNet.

StarkWare, much like Matter Labs, is building the foundations for an infinitely scalable execution layer via ZK rollups. While Matter Labs is taking a crypto-native approach, StarkWare is building an enterprise SaaS model to capture a large amount of the existing enterprise market. STARKs are newer than SNARKs, but they are already being shown as an effective solution for provable offchain computation.