What is NEAR? A Beginner’s Guide

Kelly Kigan
January 24, 2022

It may seem as though the competition is stiff in the cryptocurrency space, but in essence, cooperation is critical and very common. This does not mean that competition does not exist, and in fact, can get vicious as every player in the space seeks to harness the advantages of this new technology. Cryptocurrency however is still a relatively new asset class, which only a few investors seem to fully comprehend their advantage. It is therefore advantageous for investors to embrace cooperation in this early stages of cryptocurrency, as they collectively decode its advantages. Several projects in the crypto space offer cooperation, but NEAR has proved time and again as the most ideal project for cooperation.

History of NEAR

Developer Illia Polosukhin and former Microsoft employee Alexander Skidanov are the brilliant minds behind NEAR and NEAR protocol. NEAR started as a machine learning project before it morphed into a blockchain development app. The duo started NEAR.ai in the wake of 2017 while exploring the thesis: the field of automated programs from a human specification. This thesis opened avenues for exploration into crypto payments and programmable smart contract platforms. Their exploration hit a snag when they realized the current technology could not accommodate their needs and therefore sought to build technology that would meet the needs of their creation. Alex and Illia, therefore, assembled a team of engineers who would help them realize the dream of building NEAR protocol. The vision behind NEAR protocol was to build a platform that gives developers an easy path to build decentralized applications which could scale to mass usage¹. A prerequisite to achieving this vision was the adoption of a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) structure which would facilitate transaction verification and block production.

What is NEAR?

NEAR is a decentralized development platform that applies a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus structure and is set to incorporate a sharded architecture to scale transaction throughput. In essence, the NEAR protocol is a cryptocurrency blockchain that incorporates smart contract functionality, with developer friendliness meant to facilitate the creation of decentralized applications².

The sharding structure incorporated by NEAR is called Nightshade³. The block generation used in the blockchain is referred to as Doomslug⁴. Nightshade and Doomslug are critical in NEAR and they help process over 100,000 transactions per second. A major advantage of NEAR is the transaction fees, which are so low, and are quantified in a special unit of measurement called yocto⁵.

NEAR Functionality

NEAR is a PoS blockchain system that harnesses the power of sharding to optimize performance. Shards in other cryptocurrencies are viewed as different parts of the blockchain, but in NEAR, shards are viewed as part of the same blockchain.

It is critical to understand the scalability challenge in layer-1 blockchains such as Ethereum, to understand NEAR functionality. One of the toughest challenges in the blockchain ecosystem is scalability⁶. Scalability in the blockchain ecosystem refers to a blockchain’s capacity to process large numbers of transactions while maintaining seamless speeds and reasonable costs in the transactions.

Established layer-1 blockchain systems grew overburdened following high demands, and the current technology would not put up with most decentralized applications seeking to scale. This led to suggestions by developers, advocating for scaling solutions to be built on the network. When established layer-1 blockchain systems such as Ethereum were about to collaborate with developers to resolve this stalemate in the ecosystem, projects such as NEAR protocol seized the opportunity and created an entirely different blockchain system. The main project, NEAR protocol, proposed a sharding mechanism that would be instrumental in partitioning a blockchain network database.

What is Sharding?

Sharding is deployed in the blockchain space to reduce the computational load within the network and aid in the effortless operations of network nodes⁷. It is important to note that the blockchain system runs on nodes. Nodes are responsible for transaction processing, communication of the processed transactions, and storage of the transaction history.

Sharding involves splitting the network operations into shards, or fragments⁸. This makes each node perform more efficiently within their assigned shards. This means that the nodes will no longer be burdened with the heavy task of performing all the network operations. The nodes will however perform more efficiently in their apportioned shards.

Why NEAR?

The future of NEAR is bright, with a lot going for the blockchain system. There is an established team behind NEAR, a lot of funding from interested investors, and several more interested people, looking to harness the power of NEAR in the blockchain space. Sadly, there has been little hype to put NEAR on the map, and this has made the NEAR team focus on marketing while sacrificing development. However, the marketing team has covered incredible milestones and NEAR is recording impressive stats than many other cryptocurrencies. Right now the big question is whether NEAR can catch up with other open-source smart functionally blockchain systems such as Ethereum. With the help of investors, developers, and a community interested in NEAR, the technology could carve its niche and create something that other blockchain systems have failed to provide, a seamless experience with extremely low transaction costs.

References

[1]. What is NEAR Protocol? (Coin Rivet, 2021).

[2]. What Is NEAR Protocol? (Cryptopedia, September 2021).

[3]. How NEAR’s Simple Nightshade Works. (NEAR Protocol, November 2021).

[4]. Chloethedev Unfiltered — Intro to Doomslug (NEAR Protocol Consensus) — (CyberBump, October 2021).

[5]. Introduction to NEAR Protocol’s Economics. (NEAR, April 2020).

[6]. Blockchain Scalability Problem — Why Is It Difficult To Scale Blockchain (101 Blockchains, September 2021).

[7]. What Is a Blockchain Node and How Is It Used in Cryptocurrency? (Gadgets 360 Newsdesk, August 2021).

[8]. NEAR Launches Nightshade Sharding, Paving the Way for Mass Adoption (NEAR, November 2021).

*Editor’s note

Sankore 2.0 is an Africa-focused community integrating the NEAR blockchain with projects and solutions conceived and built by local developers in Kenya. As noted in the content of this blog, Sankore 2.0 seeks to promote the development of Web3 products in Nairobi — for Kenya and for Africa as a whole

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