Hubble's Brief History of Solana Part 1 (2017-2020)

We're still very early in the history of Solana, and it's inspiring to see the transition from the network being called a "ghost chain" a few months ago to one where it's hard to keep track of how many projects are currently building.

A huge part of the Solana community will gather in South Florida this April 5th until the 10th for Solana Miami. You can bet on Hubble Protocol being there!

With events like Solana Miami and Solana Hacker Houses popping up all over the globe these days, it seems like Hubble’s home network is becoming one of the premier networks running on distributed ledger technology (DLT).  

So, we’d like to take a look at Solana’s history and find out a little bit about how we got here.

We're still very early in the history of Solana, and it's inspiring to see the transition from the network being called a "ghost chain" a few months ago to one where it's hard to keep track of how many projects are currently building.

EthereumJesus called Solana a "ghost chain" in August 2021.

In fact, there's "so much happening" on Solana these days that even builders who are deep in the community have a difficult time keeping up!

This article will broadly cover the history of Solana from 2017 until 2020. By no means will we be able to cover everything that happened in this timeframe, but we'll try and cover as many interesting points as possible.

In the next section of this article, we'll look at 2021 to the present.

Anatoly Yakovenko First Introduced Proof of History to Scale Blockchain Technology

Back in 2017, the world was waking up to the potential for blockchain technology. It seemed like it was ready to disrupt nearly every industry.

Just a snippet of the news about blockchain technology from 2017.

There was a big problem, though. Blockchains at the time were struggling to scale with throughputs maxing out at 15 transactions per second (TPS).

How could a blockchain serve industrial use cases if CryptoKitties, an OG NFT set, were degrading network performance? It was becoming clear that something had to be done to make blockchain technology as mainstream and accessible as broadband internet.

In November 2017, Anatoly Yakovenko published a whitepaper detailing a way for separate nodes in a distributed network to keep time. By implementing this timekeeping system, known as Proof of History (PoH), Anatoly's whitepaper claimed, "Throughput up to 710k transactions per second is possible with today's hardware."

This throughput would make a network running on PoH faster than Visa and Nasdaq combined. It would make it possible to build a "web-scale blockchain."

Some Early Changes in Building a Scalable Blockchain Network

According to Solana's history page, the project that became Solana was originally called Loom. Eventually, Loom was rebranded as Solana to avoid confusion with another project with the same name.

The earliest branding for Solana found using the Wayback Machine.

As you can see, branding changes have come a long way since Solana's early days. The network's name wasn't the only major change early on, as it appears that Solana was originally intended to host smart contracts written in any language.

Screenshot taken from earliest Wayback Machine capture of Solana.com.

Greg Fitzgerald, the "principal architect of Solana," whose early Solana site bio mentions that "If you have time to burn, ask him 'Why Rust?' We dare you," seems to have helped shift the project away from a language-agnostic code base.

According to the Solana history page, "Greg claimed that [Rust]'s safety guarantees would improve software productivity and that its lack of a garbage collector would allow programs to perform as well as those written in C. Anatoly gave it a shot and just two weeks later, had migrated his entire codebase to Rust. Sold."

Solana Developed Seven Core Innovations Besides Proof of History

Solana's team has undoubtedly built a hardcore piece of technology, and it doesn't look like it was an easy process at all.

The roadmap for Solana's mainnet launch seems to have been a shifting date from the earliest days of the project, and it's still in mainnet beta, which says volumes about how complex of a build Solana has been.

Early Solana roadmap ambitiously sets Q4 2018 for mainnet launch.

By July 2019, it seems like the stars had begun to align. After months of publishing individual articles about Solana's major technical achievements, Anatoly posted an article that tied all of them together with 8 Innovations that Make Solana the First Web-Scale Blockchain.

Screenshot from the article "8 Innovations that Make Solana the First Web-Scale Blockchain.

Here are the eight innovations, copied and pasted from the article:

  • Proof of History (POH) — a clock before consensus;
  • Tower BFT — a PoH-optimized version of PBFT;
  • Turbine — a block propagation protocol;
  • Gulf Stream — Mempool-less transaction forwarding protocol;
  • Sealevel — Parallel smart contracts run-time;
  • Pipelining — a Transaction Processing Unit for validation optimization
  • Cloudbreak — Horizontally-Scaled Accounts Database; and
  • Archivers — Distributed ledger storage

Also in July of that year, Solana raised $20 million for further development. According to a CoinDesk article, "Solana says it will push its Series A funding toward engineering and project management as it nears a mainnet launch in the coming months."

Screen capture from Solana.com's early days.

Solana Kept Building and Stress Testing the Network in 2020

The technology was coming together, and an incentivized public testent event called Tour de SOL was launched in 2019 to stress test Solana. Around 156,000 SOL were set aside as rewards for participating in the event.

In May 2020, these were the statistics you would have found on Solana's main site:

Capture taken from Solana.com in May 2020.

By the sixth stage of Tour de SOL, in July of 2020, these were the stats that existed on Solana's blog:

Capture taken from Solana blog in July 2020.

Notice how the network established 5x more validator nodes over the course of several months. At that same time, Solana also drew the attention of one of crypto's biggest big-brains, Sam Bankman-Fried, also known as SBF.

Sam Bankman-Fried Makes Solana Difficult to Ignore

SBF was quoted saying, in July 2020, "Solana is awesome." He also announced his company, FTX, would build a decentralized exchange (DEX) called Serum based on Solana.

An article from that time pointed out, "Most DEXs are launched on Ethereum, and Serum distinguishes itself by being based on another blockchain."

This was a major move from a major player in crypto, and SBF's decision to build on Solana came at a time when around 95% of decentralized finance (DeFi) was transacting on Ethereum.

There seemed to be a lot of explaining to do, and Anatoly and SBF could be found on a couple of podcasts together towards the end of 2020 spreading the word about Solana.

Image advertising The Money Movement podcast with Anatoly and SBF as guests.

In October, the pair were featured on The Money Movement, the podcast hosted by Circle's CEO Jeremey Allaire. In November, Anatoly and SBF appeared together on The Defiant podcast.

During these podcasts, SBF talked about why he chose to build on Solana as well as his thoughts on the current state of DeFi. Anatoly shed light on how Solana could process transactions thousands of times faster than other networks, and the word about Solana was definitely getting out.

Setting the Stage for Stablecoin Liquidity and Welcoming New Project Growth

The end of 2020 saw a lot of important pieces come together for Solana. The ball began rolling for infrastructure that would bring liquidity to the network and make DeFi seriously possible.

In September, the largest stablecoin issuer in crypto, Tether, launched Solana-native USDT on the network. With this launch, USDT became the first stablecoin available on Solana.

A month later, in October, Circle and Solana formed a partnership to make USDC a native stablecoin as well. Also in October, the Wormhole launched to allow users to bridge assets from Ethereum to Solana and vice-versa.

Key takeaways from Crypto Briefing article about Wormhole launch.

By the end of 2020, Solana had procured two key elements for building DeFi on its network: native stablecoins and a token bridge. To celebrate the Wormhole launch and help increase the number of projects building on Solana, the first Solana hackathon was held from October 28 to November 14.

Judges and guest speakers during the Wormhole hackathon.

According to the hackathon winner's page, "Over 1,000 builders registered for the Solana Wormhole hackathon, with 60+ final project submissions spanning DeFi, Web3, NFT gaming, and core infrastructure."

The winners shared a prize pool of 200,000 USDC, and at least one of the winning projects continues to operate on Solana to this day, although under a different name.

Solana Goes Down for Six Hours and Gets Right Back Up Again

Good news was piling up for Solana at the end of 2020, and then disaster struck. In early December, Solana went down for six hours, and Crypto Twitter had a field day.

Solana was (and still is) in beta, and at least some voices from other blockchain communities recognized that everything isn't expected to work 100% at this stage of development.

The network was restarted, and no funds were lost. However, this event became a major talking point surrounding Solana's viability as a competitive Layer 1 blockchain.

Solana Ended 2020 Focusing On Censorship Resistance

In an end-of-year article titled "Blockchain Developers Are Focused on the Wrong Problem," Anatoly Yakovenko and Raj Gokal describe how important censorship resistance will be for the future of blockchain technology.  

Screenshot of Anatoly Yakovenko and Raj Gokal snipped from Yahoo Finance.

Solana's founders point out the recent attention gained by crypto markets and blockchain technology, and they warned, "Our chains’ censorship resistance will be tested to levels not yet experienced. In order to allow DeFi products to attract billions of users and devices, we need to scale censorship resistance."

In Part 2 of Hubble's "Brief History of Solana," we'll see how the growing network addresses censorship resistance, and we'll also look at how Hubble fits into helping achieve this goal.

There's a lot to cover in the history of Solana from 2021 until now, so stay tuned for the next installment as Solana Miami gets underway.

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