January 31st, 2024
Blockchains are a relatively new technology. The Bitcoin protocol was first described in 2008 and implemented in 2009. After its creation, it took some time for blockchain technology to become more mainstream. As a result, blockchain technology is still evolving to incorporate new ideas, protocols, and implementations. One new concept in the blockchain and Web3 space is that of intent-based blockchains.
Intent-based blockchains differ in how a user interacts with the blockchain and achieves their goals. Understanding how intent-based blockchains differ requires knowledge of how traditional blockchains work.
In a blockchain such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, a user will interact with the blockchain ecosystem via transactions. These transactions describe a series of actions that should be performed on the blockchain using the user’s account.
For example, the Bitcoin blockchain is primarily designed to track transfers of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency between blockchain accounts. A Bitcoin transaction will specify how Bitcoin held in the sender’s account should be disbursed to one or more recipients.
Smart contract platforms like Ethereum use transactions to describe instructions that should be executed within the blockchain’s distributed virtual machine (VM). For example, a transaction may include a call to a smart contract, which will execute one of the functions within that smart contract.
From a theoretical perspective, traditional blockchains use imperative programming. Their code and transactions specify the series of steps that should be taken to achieve a particular result.
From that same theoretical perspective, an intent-based blockchain uses declarative programming. Instead of specifying the exact series of steps that should be taken, a blockchain transaction states the desired result of the transaction.
For example, when building a transaction for an intent-based blockchain, a user might state that they want to execute a particular function within a smart contract. This is accomplished by specifying a set of declarative constraints that clearly define the end goal.
After the user has defined their intent, the process of building the actual transaction is outsourced to a third party. This solver is responsible for creating a traditional blockchain transaction that specifies the series of steps needed to achieve the desired result.
In a nutshell, blockchain intents add a pre-processing layer to the traditional blockchain protocol.
Instead of the user being responsible for defining the series of steps that they want to be executed, they define the end result, and someone else figures out how to get there. This is similar to the difference between using a map for navigation — which requires the user to identify the series of roads to travel — and using a GPS — which allows the user to specify their destination and the GPS selects the route.
Intent-based blockchains have emerged because they provide various benefits both to users and the blockchain systems themselves.
Some of the benefits of intent-centric blockchains include the following:
User-Friendliness: One of the primary goals of intent-based blockchains is to increase the usability of the system. With intents, a user only needs to be able to describe what they want to happen, not the series of steps that are required to achieve that result.
Simplicity: Intent-based blockchains also simplify transactions by focusing solely on the intended end result of the transaction. Behind the scenes, solvers are responsible for taking that intended result and identifying a series of steps required to achieve it.
Increased Efficiency: Intent-based blockchains enable more efficient transactions in a few different ways. Outsourcing the process of transaction creation to a third party helps to ensure that these transactions are implemented as efficiently as possible. Additionally, solvers can generate transactions for multiple overlapping intents in a way that maximizes the efficiency of executing all of them.
Decreased Costs: The enhanced efficiency of intent-based blockchains can also create cost savings. An optimized transaction that uses fewer or less expensive instructions will incur lower gas fees.
Enhanced Security: Intent-based blockchain systems allow professional solvers to define the steps used to achieve the desired end goal. This can help to eliminate potential vulnerabilities in how transactions are implemented.
Flexibility and Adaptability: Intent-based blockchains abstract away the details of how transactions are performed by allowing users to describe their desired end result rather than how to achieve it. This can make blockchains more flexible and adaptable since solvers can be updated to accommodate updates with no impact on the user experience.
Intent-based blockchains have the potential to make blockchains more usable and efficient by outsourcing the task of designing transactions. It’s much easier for a non-technical user — or even a tech-savvy user — to just define their goal and have someone else do the hard work of making it happen.
However, while intent-based blockchains offer various benefits, these also come with potential security risks. Outsourcing transaction creation to a solver means that a user is depending on that solver to build a transaction that accurately reflects and implements their desires.
One potential risk is that the solver may misinterpret the user’s intent. If the user doesn’t precisely specify their end goal, a solver may build a transaction that fails to meet the user’s goals while still meeting the stated requirements.
The centralization of power in third-party solvers also creates the potential for errors or abuse. A malicious solver or one that contains exploitable vulnerabilities could create transactions that hurt a user’s interests.
Intent-based blockchains are designed to make blockchain technology more accessible and can be an important first step toward widespread adoption. By abstracting away the mechanics of interacting with the blockchain, intents can expand the potential base of users and offer the potential to integrate blockchain systems with other, existing technologies.
However, intent-based blockchain solutions must be carefully designed to avoid errors. The solvers responsible for developing blockchain transactions should be carefully designed and implemented to ensure that they do their jobs properly.
A crucial part of this is blockchain security audits that both check for potential vulnerabilities and validate the business logic of these systems. To learn more about auditing and protecting your blockchain projects, get in touch.