Polkadot Behind the Code, Episode 1: The Idea, featuring Gavin Wood, Polkadot

What is Polkadot?

Polkadot enables scalability by allowing specialized blockchains to communicate with each other in a secure, trust-free environment.

Polkadot is built to connect and secure unique blockchains, whether they be public, permission-less networks, private consortium chains, or oracles and other Web3 technologies. It enables an internet where independent blockchains can exchange information under common security guarantees.

Polkadot is a living network with the core pillars of governance and upgradability. The network has an advanced suite of governance tools and, using the WebAssembly standard as a “meta-protocol”, can autonomously deploy network upgrades. Polkadot adapts to your growing needs without the risks of network forks.

By connecting these dots, Polkadot serves as a foundational part of a decentralized web, where users control their data and are not limited by trust bounds within the network.

Why Polkadot?

Back in the early 2000’s, when the internet was gaining popularity for the first time, the internet featured read-only, static, basic webpages. The online connected world at the time was only the beginning of virtual data, identities, and more. The internet during this time was also called the Web 1.0.

As social media platforms and online businesses began to emerge, the internet transformed into the Web 2.0. This upgraded internet, which we still use today, features dynamic, interactive webpages, where users can read and write information plus publish their own for others to see. However, this version of the web comes with downsides, dealing with data control, privacy issues, and trust. This is where the Web 3.0 comes into the picture.

The Web 3.0 is taking centralized applications and turning them into decentralized, trust-free protocols. The goal is to transform the internet into a decentralized web, where users control their own data and identity in a trust-free environment. The Web 3.0 movement aims to remove intermediaries and build a trustless infrastructure.


The PoA Launch

The Genesis block of the Polkadot network was launched on May 26, 2020, as a Proof of Authority (PoA) network. Governance was restricted to the single Sudo (super-user) key, which was held by Web3 Foundation to issue the commands and upgrades necessary to complete the launch process. During this time, validators started joining the network and signaling their intention to participate in consensus.

Nominated Proof of Stake

Once Web3 Foundation was confident in the stability of the network and there was a sufficient number of validator intentions, Web3 Foundation used Sudo — a superuser account with access to governance functions — to initiate the first validator election. Following this election, the network transitioned from PoA into its second phase, Nominated Proof of Stake (NPoS), on June 18, 2020.


After the chain had been running well with the validator set, the Sudo key issued a runtime upgrade that enabled the suite of governance modules in Polkadot; namely, the modules to enable a Council, a Technical Committee, and public referenda.

Removal of Sudo

The Sudo module was removed by a runtime upgrade on July 20, 2020, transitioning the governance of the chain into the hands of the token (DOT) holders.

From this point, the network has been entirely in the hands of the token holders and is no longer under control of any centralized authority.

Balance Transfers

To enable balance transfers, the community made a public proposal for a runtime upgrade that lifted the restriction on balance transfers. Transfer functionality was subsequently enabled on Polkadot at block number 1_205_128 on August 18, 2020, at 16:39 UTC.


On August 21, 2020, redenomination of DOT, the native token on Polkadot, occurred. From this date, one DOT (old) equals 100 new DOT.

Core Functionality

Polkadot is now moving to the next stage of opening up its core functionality, like parachain slot auctions, parathreads, and cross-chain message passing. Polkadot is now on track to launch several parachains in 2021. These upgrades will require runtime upgrades that will pass through Polkadot’s normal governance processes. The core functionality does not have to be unlocked sequentially — several features can be unlocked with a single proposal.

Parachains will first roll out on Kusama with a common good parachain, followed by the first slot auction and winner’s onboarding.

Polkadot 2.0

With the release of Polkadot 1.0, researchers have begun research for the next version of the Polkadot network. With many questions yet to be answered, as of now, some big areas of research will be in:

  • Economics and Networking (Zero-Knowledge): How will scalability work in Polkadot 2.0?
  • Horizontal vs. Vertical scalability: What is the breaking point of the maximum number of parachains built with horizontal scalability?
  • Nested Relay Chain: How can multiple Relay Chains exist connected through parachains? How many tiers of Relay Chains can be nested? How will validators work together to validate blocks on various Relay Chains? How is XCMP working in the nested setup? How is AnV going to work there?
  • Source: https://polkadot.network/launch-roadmap/ Last updated on 7/1/2021 by Nam Hoang Le
  • Polkadot’s original white paper is a technical summary around one possible direction of implementing the Polkadot network. This paper uses rationale and technical details to support why this direction is beneficial. This original white paper also explains how Polkadot’s core components work together to build this decentralized network.
  • Polkadot’s overview paper is an updated version of the white paper that describes the protocol in more technical terms. We would recommend reading this overview paper if you are interested in digging more into the protocol itself.
  • Polkadot’s light paper is a visual, easy to read, and less technical introduction into its blockchain technology. This paper dives into the components of Polkadot but is understandable for both a non-technical and technical reader.
  • Polkadot’s specification is a Github repository that holds the latest Polkadot Host protocol specification, Polkadot’s specification tests of the many components of the network, and the Polkadot Runtime specification. This repo holds algorithms and explores how various processes function in the Polkadot network. The Polkadot specification takes Polkadot’s ideas and concepts from the light and the white paper but focuses on the technical specs of the technology.


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