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The combination of pipelining with the Gulf Stream and SeaLevel solutions complements Solana’s overall network performance. Gulf Stream assists greatly in the memepool management of the network by pushing transaction caching directly to the network edge, ensuring upcoming block leaders already have the data necessary to complete the transaction.
A mempool consists of transactions that have been sent out but not yet confirmed. In Solana, unconfirmed transactions do not sit in a traditional memepool, rather, validators on Solana forward transactions directly to the expected leader. This is possible because, as previously discussed, the order of leaders is known ahead of time.
One unique aspect of the Solana network is that its memepool is solely internal as opposed to public mempools like Bitcoin and Ethereum. This means Maximum Extractable Value (MEV) opportunities are limited to those that run their own validator and only for the transactions that come across their radar (due to the leaderless aspect of block production). Because fees on Solana are so low, MEV (can) actually present a higher profit opportunity, incentivizing validators to auction off their block space to searchers. MEV is a complex topic that exists on (nearly) every blockchain, and as of 2023, MEV profits on Solana have exceeded $25 million.
This helps validators to:
- Process transactions ahead of time
- Switch block leaders faster
- Reduce memory pressures from unconfirmed transactions
- Overall increase network performance
In addition to Gulf Stream, SeaLevel is a parallel smart contract-processing runtime solution. The implementation of SeaLevel creates a runtime that effectively processes tens of thousands of contracts in parallel. Parallel processing means the task is divided into smaller computable tasks, using as many avenues as each validator has available. This concept allows for non-overlapping transactions and multiple smart contracts to run simultaneously without impacting each other's performance.
The process of pipelining allows the Solana network to validate large blocks of transactions at high speeds. Pipelining is a common process within computing in which “multiple instructions are overlapped during execution.” Different stages are created and connected together to form a pipeline which then carries instructions from one end to another, increasing the overall throughput.
Solana uses this technique to maximize its processing efficiency. For Solana, the pipeline is referred to as the Transaction Process Unit (TPU), which greatly speeds up the network by preemptively fetching packets, verifying their signatures, and crediting tokens before the blocks are ever even sent to the corresponding validators.
Putting all this together, a Solana transaction comprises three key components:
- Instructions: These dictate the on-chain code that the transaction will execute. For instance, "Transfer 5 SOL from Account A to Account B".
- Account Array: This includes the state elements needed by the transaction, along with read and write flags. For example, "Account A [writable], Account B [writable]".
- Signatures: One or more signatures are required for the transaction, such as "Signature from Account A owner".
After a user signs the transaction using their wallet, it is forwarded to a Solana RPC server. These servers can be operated by any validator. Upon receiving the transaction, the RPC server refers to the leader schedule (determined once per epoch, approximately two days in duration) and forwards the transaction to the current leader and the subsequent two leaders. The leader is responsible for producing a block for the current slot and is assigned four consecutive slots, which typically last around 400 milliseconds each.
Following the leader's execution of the transaction, it is instantly recorded on the validator's ledger copy and disseminated across the network. When a block accumulates the necessary votes from the consensus, the transaction is deemed "confirmed." A block achieves "finalized" status when 31 or more confirmed blocks have been built upon it. The RPC server communicates these stages back to the front end, enabling users to monitor their transaction status. Further exploration of Solana's block propagation and consensus mechanisms will be provided in upcoming posts.