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Cardano, 5 years on

Cardano turns five this year, so this is the perfect time to take a look at some of the key achievements and milestones that have defined the blockchain's evolution

27 September 2022 Fernando Sanchez 6 mins read

Cardano, 5 years on

Cardano is still young in relative terms, but so was Mozart when he wrote Minuet and Trio in G. Same age, in fact. Mozart composed an uplifting (some describe it as charming) melody, pursuant to his youth, perhaps. Cardano's mission is just as inspirational: the provision of a balanced ecosystem to meet the needs of its users.

Five candles shine bright today. Five beacons that mark out a path forward on this journey down memory lane. Here are some of the landmark moments in time that helped define what Cardano is today.

September 27, 2017: Cardano – the third generation blockchain

Charles Hoskinson and Jeremy Wood sat down in a hotel in 2015, and talked about blockchain and crypto. That meeting became the first step towards the creation of a third generation blockchain that would drive forward the pioneering principles of Bitcoin and Ethereum, while addressing their technical shortcomings. To create a fully decentralized network, that would empower a broad community, driving evolution and innovation forward within a secure, scalable framework, and ultimately offer a real alternative to the restrictive legacy systems of the past.

Charles Hoskinson said: “More than five years ago, we had a dream of launching a wonderful ecosystem that would transform the world through the hard work of millions of people like yourselves all throughout the world with a common mission to improve the systems that we use every day, whether they be voting systems, whether they be supply chain financial systems.”

The advent of Cardano two years later marked the beginning of that journey towards decentralization and community empowerment.

The Cardano project was conceived around three main contributors, each with separate roles:

  • The Cardano foundation, based in Switzerland, aims to standardize, protect, and promote the Cardano technology and ecosystem;
  • IOHK, a blockchain engineering company responsible for building the Cardano blockchain; and
  • EMURGO, an entity responsible for the fostering of commercial applications being built upon the Cardano ecosystem.

The paper describing Ouroboros, Cardano’s proof-of-stake consensus protocol, was accepted at Crypto 2017. The paper has subsequently been cited over 1,300 times. IOG has since published over 140 research papers, many of which were peer-reviewed.

The stage was set for an incredible journey.

July 2020: Transition to Shelley

Cardano started off as a federated network with just a few nodes, a bold vision, and a small, passionate community. Early 2020 saw the Byron reboot paved the way for decentralization, with a new node implementation rebuilt from the ground up within a modular design to support future upgrades. The most significant that summer was the Shelley upgrade, which introduced stake pools and delegation. Now, every ada holding community member truly had a ‘stake’ in the future. In Q1 2021, the stake pool operator (SPO) community began producing 100% of new blocks. As of September 2022, there are over 3,000 operational stake pools maintaining, developing, and contributing to Cardano's decentralization.

March 1, 2021: NFTs come to Cardano

Creating and trading non-fungible tokens (NFTs) can be both a creative endeavor and a business opportunity. Alongside its opportunity for artists, creators and collectors, tokenization opens up the door for a brand new range of use cases in blockchain: ownership of digital rights, real estate, sports memorabilia, in-game items, and a whole lot more.

Cardano's advantage when it comes to NFTs is that tokens are minted natively on the blockchain, unlike Ethereum, which requires smart contracts to do so. The removal of this layer of complexity means that Cardano NFTs are easier and cheaper to mint.

Cardano has one of the most vibrant communities in the space, with hundreds of projects launched.

September 12, 2021: Smart contracts

Alonzo was a major upgrade for Cardano. Amidst other significant changes, Alonzo enabled the creation of smart contracts thus adding programmability to the blockchain. This, in turn, paved the way for the development of decentralized applications (DApps). As of September 2022, 3,228 smart contracts have been deployed on Cardano.

September 22, 2022: Vasil upgrade

The late Vasil St. Davov was a Bulgarian mathematician, programmer, polymath, and conservationist who planted over 10,000 trees in his lifetime. He was also a great Cardano ambassador and enthusiast. At his express invitation, Cardano hosted its second anniversary celebrations in his home city of Plovdiv in 2019. Sadly, Vasil passed away in 2021, but his legacy lives on through Cardano's latest upgrade, poignantly named after him.

Vasil introduces a range of improvements and enhancements that greatly improve and expand Cardano's capabilities and expressiveness. New Plutus v2 features for example will enable DApp developers to create new and exciting experiences. Another key new feature, diffusion pipelining, facilitates greater throughput and increased network capacity.

Back in the days of Shelley, IOG introduced the d parameter, that is, the parameter that governs the percentage of transactions processed by the genesis nodes. d’s original value was set to 1, meaning every block was produced by IOHK’s network of federated nodes. On March 31, 2021, d was reduced to 0, meaning all blocks were produced by the SPO community. The Vasil upgrade has removed d altogether. This is quite significant, as the complete removal of d cements decentralization and prevents any future return to federation.

IOG recently published a thorough explainer piece about all that Vasil has to offer.

Wrapping all this up: the hard fork combinator (HFC)

In most blockchains, a hard fork is a 'traumatic' event that might involve downtime, a chain restart, compatibility loss, or all three.

Not so on Cardano, thanks to a piece of technology called the hard fork combinator (HFC), which is designed to enable the combination of several protocols, without having to make significant adjustments. First used during the transition from Byron to Shelley, the HFC combines two different protocols onto a single ledger, enabling nodes to run multiple protocol versions for a time, and ensuring smooth transitions.


The journey matters as much as the goal

Five years ago, starting out with just a few federated nodes, Cardano took its first steps as a third generation blockchain designed to address the challenges inherent to previous generations.

Today, five years working across five development themes (Byron, Shelley, Goguen, Basho, and Voltaire), over 3,000 nodes, and several million NFTs later, Cardano stands as one of the largest proof-of-stake blockchains in the world. With the ecosystem continuing to grow and an exciting new era of community governance ahead under Voltaire.

Charles Hoskinson said: “On behalf of the IOG team, thank you all for being part of this community. Thank you all for the contributions you've made. And thank you so much for being part of the Cardano family. This truly is a labor of love, and we love what we do. And we love working with all of you. It's been a long five years. It's been a good five years and I look forward to the next five years. Cheers.”