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Time Synchronization in Distributed Systems

Time Synchronization in Distributed Systems

Solayer Core

May 31, 2024

Key takeaways

  • In distributed systems, centralized time sources can undermine decentralization, but Solana's Proof of History (PoH) solves this with a built-in, verifiable timestamp mechanism.

  • PoH uses a cryptographic Verifiable Delay Function (VDF) to generate immutable timestamps, ensuring the chronological order of events and enabling Solana to process transactions quickly and efficiently.


The evolution of time synchronization

Historically, people in different cities didn’t care much about synchronizing time. They focused primarily on activities on a local level as commuting between long distances required days. Local time was sufficient because daily routines were confined within the city's boundaries. The need for a standardized time was minimal since the primary concern was local events and schedules.

However, as transportation and communication between cities improved, the need for a standardized time became evident. The advent of trains, which could travel between cities quickly, highlighted this need. Trains had to adhere to strict schedules, making it crucial to have a unified time system to avoid collisions and ensure efficient operations. This led to the establishment of standardized time zones, making it easier to coordinate activities across different regions.

With the rise of technology, the importance of standardized time persisted. Computers and phones, for instance, check back with a centralized clock when connected to the internet to ensure their internal clocks are accurate. This synchronization is vital for the seamless functioning of various applications and services. As communication speeds increased, the need for precise and unified time measurements became even more critical, ensuring that digital systems could interact and operate correctly.

The problem of time in distributed systems

In distributed systems, the challenge of time synchronization becomes more complex. When fast transaction processing is required, the ability to time events in small units becomes crucial. Many programmable blockchains, like Ethereum, rely on external programs to assign a median timestamp, which is then used to validate transactions based on their receipt order. However, referring back to a centralized source defeats the purpose of a decentralized system. However, this is not the case for Solana. This is where Proof of History (PoH) comes into play as one of the crucial innovations that were pioneered by Solana.

Proof of History (PoH): a decentralized time solution

Proof of History (PoH) is a consensus mechanism used by Solana to address the problem of time in distributed systems. Pioneered by Anatoly Yakovenko, PoH acts as a universal clock for all leaders and validators on the Solana network. It creates a verifiable passage of time between events, allowing the network to agree on the sequence and timing of transactions without needing a centralized clock. Furthermore, it enables validators to monitor that leaders are taking turns correctly according to a predefined schedule. While Ethereum’s block producers rely on a centralized source of time, they could still manipulate the timestamp within certain ranges. 

On the other hand, PoH uses a cryptographic Verifiable Delay Function (VDF) to generate a timestamp for each block. It is a cryptographic method that lets someone prove they spent a certain amount of time running a function, and allows others to verify it quickly. The VDF is designed to be delay-hard and memory-hard, making it difficult for attackers to manipulate timestamps. The resulting timestamp is embedded into each block, creating an immutable record of transaction chronology. Leaders use a SHA256 hash function to tell at what point of time an event occurred referring to the past and future global state of the machine. 

PoH Timestamps

This mechanism signals the moment for leaders to produce a block and enables validators to ensure that leaders take turns correctly according to a predefined schedule. While this VDF won't tell you the exact time which is present on Ethereum (e.g. 11:24:05 AM), it will show exactly when a transaction occurred in the global state machine.

Explain PoH in simpler terms 

Proof of History is a special way that Solana keeps track of time and order without needing a central clock.

How It Works:

  • Think of PoH as a universal clock for everyone using Solana. It helps everyone agree on when things happen.

  • Normally, blockchains like Ethereum use a central source of time, but this can be cheated a bit.

  • PoH uses a complex math method called a Verifiable Delay Function (VDF). This function makes sure that the time recorded can’t be easily faked.

  • Each block in Solana gets a timestamp from this VDF, ensuring an exact order of events.

Why It Matters:

  • The timestamps tell everyone exactly when each transaction happens.

  • This makes the system very fast and efficient, allowing Solana to process thousands of transactions every second.

  • The timestamps are secure and can’t be cxhanged, which builds trust and makes the network reliable.

In short, Proof of History helps Solana work quickly and fairly by keeping a tamper-proof record of when every transaction occurs.

Wrap up of PoH

Proof of History (PoH) ensures the chronological order of events in a blockchain by cryptographically timestamping each transaction. This creates a verifiable sequence, allowing Solana to process thousands of transactions per second efficiently. PoH reduces the need for constant communication between nodes, leading to faster transaction processing and lower confirmation times. 

PoH uses a cryptographic Verifiable Delay Function (VDF) to generate complex, tamper-resistant timestamps. These timestamps create an immutable record of transactions, essential for trust and preventing tampering. Once a block is added, it is finalized and irreversible, enhancing network efficiency. 

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solayer

Solayer leverages the economic principles of staking to extend the security of Solana's base layer.

©2024 Solayer · All Rights Reserved