The Polkadot community has approved the upgrade of the Shell parachain to Statemint, Polkadot’s parachain dedicated to asset functionality. The Shell parachain contains almost no logic, except an XCM interface that listens for messages from the Relay Chain, but ensures that the finality guarantees from Polkadot are working properly before adding any parachains with more advanced functionality. After the stakeholders passed referendum 46 unanimously, the network dispatched two messages to its humble Shell with instructions to perform the upgrade to Statemint.
The first message wrote some values into storage to create a “genesis” state for Statemint. For example, these instructions set the network keys of the first Aura collators and declared Statemint’s “safe” XCM version so that it will refuse to interact with other chains using older versions that it considers insecure. The second message authorized an upgrade to the Statemint runtime, including all of its features for fungible and non-fungible asset creation and management.
Although this upgrade itself is just one referendum, it represents months of work and lessons learned from deploying its cousin Statemine on Kusama. Statemine, in its role as the canary network for Statemint, has faced several issues since its launch in April and upgrade to permissionless asset creation in July. But they have all led to significant improvements in the parachain backing and inclusion protocol of the Relay Chain, the Cumulus client used by other parachains, parachain infrastructure and performance monitoring, and XCM, the cross-consensus message format.
Like the launch for its parent Relay Chain, the team developing Statemint also recommends a conservative rollout of features. Of course, as a common good parachain, Statemint’s governance is in the hands of the Relay Chain, and therefore the community of DOT holders.
The initial upgrade from Shell will include the full logic of Statemint, but with significant restrictions on its use. For one, the Polkadot Relay Chain restricts all outgoing teleports and reserve-backed DOT transfers, meaning that for a short time users will not be able to teleport DOT into Statemint. Our recommendation is to keep this restriction in place until the disputes logic — the protocol that enables validators to report invalid parachain blocks and slash their backers — makes it into the Relay Chain runtime and validator clients. The disputes protocol will ensure that DOT on Statemint is just as secure as DOT on the Relay Chain. Disputes are already in Kusama as of its current runtime (v9130), so we expect them to be ready for Polkadot relatively soon.
Other features, like asset creation and XCMP channels will launch after the team finishes addressing action items from the runtime audit and XCM and XCMP have been sufficiently tested on Kusama.
Development will not stop with the initial set of features. Once governance deems assets as sufficient, users will be able to pay transaction fees in those assets, obviating the need to hold DOT for the sole purpose of transacting in other assets. In addition, Statemint could host the Polkadot Treasury, which would not only free up the Relay Chain from Treasury related transactions and storage, but also allow the Treasury to hold other assets, both fungible and non-fungible, and for Treasury proposals to request those assets.
Parachains on their own represent only part of the Web3 tech stack. Polkadot’s success also depends upon a rich ecosystem of block explorers, wallets, APIs, and tooling. Statemine already has support from several infrastructure components, including explorers from Subscan, Statescan, and DotScanner, wallets from Polkadot JS, TxWrapper, and a Ledger app in developer mode, API support from Substrate Sidecar, and RPC node hosting from Parity and On Finality. Several teams, such as RMRK and Web3 Foundation’s gift NFT campaign, have also deployed assets on Statemine or plan to in the near future.
Having assets on Statemint and transferring them to other parachains is only the beginning of application development on Polkadot. In the next year, I hope to see applications harness the parallelized logic of multiple parachains. For example, an NFT marketplace on a smart contract parachain should be able to check claims from an attestation parachain and manage NFT transfers on Statemint.
Although launching the first parachains on Polkadot is a big milestone, it is really a beginning. The main innovations in Polkadot are the foundations for a new breed of application. With the launch of Statemint and five other parachains, the network is ready for the next wave of innovation in Web3 applications.