The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is so named not because it only supports Ethereum addresses (ENS can support any cryptocurrency address, as well as non-blockchain data like IPFS hashes and Tor .onion addresses), but because it runs on the Ethereum blockchain and uses ETH for payments.
Other blockchain-based naming projects, both recently and in the past, have chosen to launch their own bespoke blockchains and tokens.
This post explains why we think using Ethereum and ETH is the best path for blockchain-based naming.
The first significant blockchain-based naming project Namecoin launched with its own dedicated blockchain in 2011.
To create a new blockchain-based application at that time, one had to launch a new blockchain dedicated to that purpose (since making applications on Bitcoin is difficult). This involved having to be knowledgeable enough to create and maintain a new blockchain layer 1 protocol, bootstrapping a new mining community for security, and finally getting people to actually start using the new blockchain.
Ethereum changed all of this when it launched in 2015. One could now much more easily launch a new blockchain-based application, piggy-backing on the security, userbase, and infrastructure of the already existing Ethereum blockchain.
ENS launched on Ethereum in May 2017 as an open source and non-profit project, taking advantage of these and other benefits (explained below). ENS has quickly become the leading blockchain-based naming project with over 100 wallet and dapp integrations and over 310k registered names.
Other blockchain-based naming projects have chosen to follow the path of Namecoin. For example, the Handshake blockchain and its accompanying token HNS launched recently, and the FIO blockchain and token is also set to launch soon, among others. (They are also unnecessarily creating many new TLDs that are sure to eventually conflict with the DNS namespace. We think this bad for users and bad for the adoption of blockchain technology for Internet naming —but that’s another topic, more here.)
Benefits of a bespoke naming blockchain and token?
There are a few apparent technical benefits to running a naming service on a bespoke blockchain: less blockchain bloat, the speed and cost of transactions, and a smaller attack surface. I will explain and respond to each in turn.
Less Blockchain Bloat
If you want the full security benefits of ENS (or any Ethereum application), you need to run an Ethereum full node, which means not only storing the ENS data but all of the data of everything else running on Ethereum. With a bespoke naming blockchain, a full node only includes the naming data, so the size of the blockchain should be smaller and easier to run.
But the security of a bespoke naming blockchain will actually be lower if there’s less mining security and fewer full nodes compared to Ethereum. Further, the cost of running an Ethereum node, while still affordable for many people, may be reduced in the future by Ethereum light clients and sharding.
Speed and Cost
The benefits of a bespoke naming blockchain versus Ethereum in this regard are negligible. Updating an ENS record on Ethereum usually costs around $0.01 in ETH if you’re okay waiting a few minutes for confirmation, or around $0.04 if you want it to confirm in the next block.
As ENS grows, we plan to leverage L1 and L2 scaling on Ethereum, but for the foreseeable future it’s not a problem for most users.
This of course depends on the bespoke blockchain. If a bespoke naming blockchain would have all the benefits of programmability available on Ethereum (more on this below), it might be just as complicated; if not, it likely lacks key features.
Further, since Ethereum is far more widely used, it has a large community of devs maintaining, fixing, and improving Ethereum, something a bespoke naming blockchain will have a difficult time reproducing.
Greater benefits to using Ethereum and ETH
There are many clear advantages to running a naming service on Ethereum and using ETH that we think more than compensate for any advantages of having a bespoke naming blockchain and token.
Benefits of Ethereum
Among the most obvious, using Ethereum means ENS gets all of the security, robustness, censorship-resistance, decentralization, and regular protocol improvements of Ethereum.
I’d like to also highlight a few other benefits that might not be as well understood:
- Programmability and interactivity: By being on Ethereum, ENS constitutes another Ethereum “lego.” You can program your names with the Solidity you already know, do cool things like have names owned by Ethereum-based DAOs, or even have your names automatically do things in response to other smart-contracts on Ethereum that have nothing to do with naming. This is a revolutionary feature for naming (one that still needs exploring). Bespoke naming blockchains lack this latter feature entirely.
- Ecosystem and infrastructure: ENS-native .ETH names are ERC721-compliant NFTs, which means that .ETH names can automatically plug in to any NFT market or wallet (e.g. OpeaSea, et al). ENS also benefits from being able to easily plug in to the existing infrastructure of the Ethereum ecosystem, like major Ethereum libraries, MetaMask, TruffleSuite, MyEtherWallet, et al.
Benefits of ETH
Using ETH rather than our own token means that users get all of the convenience, wide distribution, supporting infrastructure, and market liquidity of ETH. A bespoke naming token simply adds unnecessary friction.
We share similar goals of bespoke naming blockchain projects: we want to bring the benefits of decentralization and censorship-resistance of blockchains to Internet naming. We are convinced that building on Ethereum and using ETH is the best way to achieve those goals, in addition to allowing for new capabilities that bespoke naming blockchains by their very nature lack, like interactivity with other Ethereum smart-contracts.
Which is why we’re building ENS on Ethereum and have no plans to change in the foreseeable future.
And in doing so, ENS is taking Ethereum to the rest of the Internet. Each new feature and integration with ENS, particularly with things outside of the Ethereum community (e.g. DNS records and namespace), further entrench ENS and therefore Ethereum as a basic piece of Internet infrastructure.