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Agile Coretime: Polkadot beyond parachains

This article, with additional research from Parity's Natalie Tillack, sheds light on Agile Coretime, a major evolution in Polkadot’s technical framework, and explains what its arrival means for the ecosystem.

Oliver Brett
March 26, 2024
5 Min Read

Agile Coretime is a major evolution of how Polkadot is allocating resources, offering greater scope and flexibility so that every type of Web3 project can enjoy the network's benefits. Once it has completed all necessary testing, it will be added to the mainnet runtime, and is expected to accelerate the rate at which new apps can join the Polkadot Web3 adoption, at the same time amplifying enterprise adoption for the ecosystem.

An understanding of the relevance and importance of "coretime" as a concept begins with an appreciation of blockspace, the underlying resource that chains need to function on a daily basis. Coretime itself can be defined as the unit through which that blockspace is allocated.

Polkadot's story as a blockchain ecosystem for real-world use cases started with the first parachain auctions in late 2021. The vision then was for individual blockchains to be built on top of Polkadot's central Relay Chain, and to compete against each other for slots that would be made available on a sequential basis.

Under that model, each core was assigned to a "parachain", the name given to Polkadot's various appchains. As cores in any computing system are limited, parachain projects had to go through an auction process to win a two-year slot. This limited the number of projects that could run on Polkadot, as each needed to be prepared to make a long-term commitment to the network.

Agile Coretime rips up Polkadot's original blueprint by allocating time on cores more dynamically. This makes the entire network more efficient and lowers the barrier to entry for new teams.

A multicore computer taking shape

In essence, Agile Coretime is an innovation that transforms Polkadot into a computational resource, a true multicore computer. According to the Polkadot Direction page on the wiki, It provides a paradigm shift in which Polkadot becomes "an application-focused ecosystem where we remove the assumption that each application [effectively, parachain] owns a core, and instead that all cores are a resource to be consumed and used as needed by all applications."

In the new model, coretime will be available on a rental basis with the requirement for slot auctions eliminated. Coretime will be sold "on demand" (for immediate use), or purchased on a bulk basis, whereby it is effectively ordered up to 28 days in advance.

There will also be a middle ground in between: secondary markets offering smaller "bulk" offerings, that's to say at a lower scale than a full core for an entire month.

Gavin Explains All

Gavin Explains All

The on-demand model will lower the barrier to entry and thus be useful for early-stage projects and individual developers starting new projects on Polkadot. It will still provide immediate access to Polkadot's shared security and ecosystem, helping projects get a proof of concept on-chain.

By contrast, bulk orders of coretime are likely to be better suited for more established projects with high bandwidth needs, who are then able to predict pricing better. The price of coretime can rise in periods of high demand, but when selecting bulk coretime, heavy spikes, which make other platforms uneconomical to builders, are avoided. Furthermore, renewal prices for bulk are capped within a percentage, making cost predictions even better.

Resources, roadmap and practicalities

Agile core usage and coretime allocation will allow any application to access Polkadot's computational resources based on their precise requirements, without letting valuable blockspace go to waste. Scalability will follow as space is freed up, maximizing the volume of utilized coretime.

As with every new technical upgrade hitting Polkadot, Agile Coretime must go through rigorous testing processes before it is pushed live on the mainnet. One of the most important phases is its arrival on Kusama, its "canary network", which is due imminently.

A detailed roadmap can be viewed on the GitHub parachains team board built by Parity Technologies.

Naturally, developers will want to know how coretime can be acquired. The Coretime Chain, a proposed new system parachain within the Polkadot network, will serve as a kind of shop that sells coretime, with guides available to help developers complete their purchases.

A natural next step is to use Agile Coretime for Elastic Scaling, whereby chains can add on-demand coretime if they reach capacity. This means bandwidth can be added on a temporary basis, and keeps networks functioning smoothly during spikes of high demand, for example during airdrops. Elastic scaling is another feature currently being developed by Parity engineers.

Secondary marketplaces, currently under development by ecosystem teams such as Lastic and Region X, will allow people to re-sell coretime in a similar method, so that those unable to use pre-purchased coretime can save costs by selling to a buyer in need of it.

What about the existing parachains?

It is well known that the Polkadot network, since its inception, has been centered on parachain auction "slots". It's been the de facto method for onboarding the rich, varied array of L1s that comprise the existing ecosystem.

It's important that the experience of these teams is not impacted. Accordingly, current parachain slots will be converted to "legacy" leases automatically in the relevant runtime upgrade which brings Agile Coretime to Polkadot.

The new legacy lease will grant each parachain a core until the natural expiration of the purchased slot. When that time comes, they will have had the chance to buy bulk coretime in advance to enjoy a seamless transition. For more details on this, and most other important aspects about how Agile Coretime works in practice, consult the FAQ page.

Kusama implementation and beyond

The various components of Agile Coretime are being tested as developers embark on a full rollout on Kusama, as part of a major update to Polkadot's technical roadmap. The new runtime upgrades also bring the following:

  • Snowbridge, a trustless bridge to Ethereum, is added to both networks.
  • Async Backing is activated on Kusama and enabled on Polkadot.
  • Asset Conversion is added to Polkadot's Asset Hub.

For all these initiatives, Q2 promises to be an exciting phase, and particularly Agile Coretime. Kusama's purpose is to battle-test any new technology being created for the ecosystem before it's shipped onto Polkadot. Any wriggles in the architecture of Agile Coretime as well as how its various components fit together can be ironed out.

Though it will be hard to replicate the market conditions of the Polkadot mainnet, the mechanisms involved in selling, buying, and using Agile Coretime will be fully explored.

And then... once everyone's happy, developers at Parity Technologies and across the ecosystem will work on the final part of the roadmap - delivery to Polkadot itself. Agile Coretime will thus be ready to open up a world of Web3 building designed for those who understand the inherent advantages of Polkadot, but need a more user-friendly platform to build on.