TON 101: An Introduction to Telegram’s ambitious blockchain

Mahdi Darabi
Coinmonks
Published in
7 min readMay 23, 2023

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Everything about The Open Network (TON) is sexy! Quick look at their website can prove my point. It makes sense cause it was founded by Telegram. Name one messenger that has more free-to-use features. They are looking for some big changes and who can deny that they don’t have the potential? Here we are looking at how they started, what they got, and what they have in their future.

History

As you may know, Telegram has lots of great features that are free. A year ago Telegram didn’t offer any premium features and everything was accessible to everyone. We owe that to Paul Durov (CEO of Telegram Messenger) because his idea is to make everything free for everyone. But, the company should make some money for their servers at least (Right?) and they came up with the idea of creating a new blockchain. They published the white paper in January 2018. Telegram was not that popular back then so it didn’t get enough credit. The codebase of the blockchain was written by the elder brother of Paul (Nikolai Durov) who later created Telegram’s MTProto protocol either.

One of the biggest problems that they made was postponing their schedule several times. First, they said they launch their testnet in the second quarter of 2018 and mainnet in the fourth one. But not everything went as they planned so they launch the testnet in January 2019. These delays make some hypes go away and people who are looking forward to it got upset.

As the blockchain settles down a bit, here comes SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission). SEC was worried about Gram (TON’s first native token) private sale and they tried to communicate this with Telegram but after several months they didn’t get anything out of this. Finally, they got a temporary restrictive order to prevent the distribution of Grams. As you can expect it didn’t have a happy ending. Once again TON team didn’t lunch the project on time and the saddest of all happened on 12 May 2020 when Durov announced Telegram could not have direct involvement in the TON project.

After all of this, a new chapter began for this ambitious blockchain (Basically they changed their project’s name from Telegram Open Network to The Open Network). The project continued to be free and accessible for everyone and every day this community grows to reach what it came for.

TON’s Ecosystem

TON is not a single blockchain. It has 3 types of blockchains within itself. The heart of the network is Masterchain and the other two are Workchains and Shardchains. We briefly talk about what they are and how they hold up the network.

Masterchain: Blockchain of Blockchains

There are lots of things happening every second in the blockchain and there should be something that controlls them. That’s the Masterchain. It has many responsibilities such as managing validator nodes, other blockchains in the networks (Workchains and Shardchains) and so much more. Basically, every block in the Masterchain set the states of the other blockchains.

Workchain: Blockchain with your own rules

Workchain system is one of the most interesting part of TON. Every workchain has its own unique rules. It supports smart contracts and you can build a workchain on that. One of the examples that TON’s website said is that you can build a workchain that supports EVM to run Solidity smart contracts on it. Even you can use different algorithms for generating addresses. Another thing workchains offer is that these chains can connect to each other and use cross-chain feature. It’s so much like Subtrate framework that Polkadot uses.

TON allows creating up to 2^30 workchains, each subdivided to up to 2^60 shards.

Shardchain: Key to scale your blockchain

You probably heard of sharding. Nowadays every blockchain uses it. The sharding process is basically splitting the blockchain database horizontally to spread the load. When the network becomes more and more accounts and transactions, It is harder for blockchain to process the data so they split the network into shards so that every shard has its unique accounts, transactions, etc. TON scale every Workchain with the sharding system.

Let’s talk about what they offer. There are certain things that their website says are unique features and only TON could offer them to the blockchain world. We are going to see what they are and how much they say is true.

A blockchain for developers

If you have some smart contract experience, you’re probably worked with Solidity language and EVM. But here in TON, not everything is the same. There are some key differences in developing smart contracts in TON. I can simply introduce some but if you are interested in start developing, you should consider reading more about it. (This article in TON’s blog is also very helpful to read)

First key difference as it mentioned in Tal’s article is charging your smart contract. You know how you deploy your contract on Ethereum and you only pay once and for the rest of your life it’s on the blockchain. So the main question that TON’s developers wondered was who is paying for the infrastructure of the contract? The answer is simple. You. No else should pay cost for keeping your code. If you ever wanted to deploy a smart contract in TON, you should pay the blockchain in your own way. There are plenty ways to do that. You can either fund the contract with the native token or you can charge your users.

Another key difference that may shock you is that smart contracts in TON are mutable! Ethereum smart contracts are originally immutable but let’s face it, Over these years many developers have overcome this issue by something like proxy contract. But unlike Ethereum, TON developers said that their smart contracts are mutable.

Everything in TON blockchain is a smart contract. This means that your wallet is also a smart contract too! If you wish to send or receive some token, you should deploy your wallet’s smart contract to the blockchain first. There are several official smart contract codes for the making a wallet. In Ethereum, every private key has a unique public key and wallet’s address is derived from public key. So by knowing the private key, you can access all the balance for that address. But, in TON you should also remember your address as you can create many wallets with one single public key. (You can see wallet’s smart contract in here)

FunC

FunC, similar to Solidity, is the primary programming language utilized for smart contract development within TON’s ecosystem. In TON, a multitude of TVMs are operational and these contracts are securely stored on a blockchain. As previously stated, developers have the ability to deploy their own unique smart contracts, however, a fee is required for this service. Initially, getting along to FunC may seem challenging, especially for those who are experienced with Solidity programming. Nevertheless, over time, one can become familiar with its syntax and additional features.

Here, we mention some of the key advantages of FunC

Off-Chain Execution

FunC has a distinctive capability to execute code off-chain, allowing certain sections of the code to be executed without relying on the TON network. This characteristic can enhance efficiency and decrease transaction times.

Sharding

FunC supports sharding, which enables the TON blockchain to process transactions in parallel across multiple shards. Enhanced scalability and reduced network congestion are crucial for large-scale applications, making this improvement highly valuable.

Built-In Governance

Another interesting features of FunC language is that it has a built-in governance that helps decentralized decision-making and voting on code changes. Overall, this advantage can help the ecosystem be more safe.

What’s next?

Official TON’s blockchain roadmap

There are still lots of things to do. You can’t easily create a liquidity pool for your Jetton (Fungible token), bridge is not fully functional in the network, not all famous CEXs list the token and so much more. But, the main reason I believe the blockchain can be successful is Telegram. Vast amount of users is already there and the blockchain can use this potential.

Despite the current situation, there exist communities and initiatives that are actively working on TON, which leaves room for the possibility of a revival in some shape or form at a later time.

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