Smart Contract Portability Across Chains

Smart Contract Portability Across Chains

Jossif Elefteriadis
January 29, 2024

Imagine a world where your mobile phone, a device central to daily communication, was tethered to a single network provider, immutably bound without the flexibility to switch networks or roam internationally. This world existed not so long ago. The evolution of telecommunications from rigid, network-specific mobile phones to the current state of seamless global connectivity marked a pivotal transformation. It wasn't just a leap in technology; it was a leap towards universal accessibility and efficiency.

This transition in the telecom industry serves as a fitting analogy for the current evolution in blockchain technology, particularly in the realm of smart contract portability. Just as the ability to switch network providers revolutionized the use of mobile phones, smart contract portability is poised to transform the blockchain ecosystem.

In the blockchain ecosystem, smart contract portability refers to the capability of smart contracts to operate across different blockchain networks seamlessly. This isn't merely a technical enhancement; it's a paradigm shift towards a more interconnected and efficient digital realm. It promises to dissolve the barriers of isolated blockchains, enabling smart contracts to migrate, interact, and execute in diverse blockchain environments.

Prior to this, smart contracts could only function within the same blockchain, which not only hinders scalability but also makes it difficult for asset holders to explore different blockchains since it’s less cost-effective if you can’t reuse your assets (tokens, NFTs, etc) from various blockchains.

This evolution bears profound implications for the efficiency, scalability, and innovation within DeFi applications. It means that a smart contract, once confined to a single blockchain, can now be repurposed across multiple chains, broadening its utility and reach. For developers, it heralds an era of unprecedented flexibility and creativity. For users, it translates into more robust, versatile, and efficient applications, unhindered by the constraints of any single blockchain.

Smart contract portability stands as more than just a buzzword. It's our guidance towards an exciting future. This concept is not just about technicalities; it's about unlocking a new era where blockchain technology stretches far beyond what we thought possible. In this article, we dive into the heart of smart contract portability, unraveling its intricacies, tackling the hurdles it faces, and shedding light on groundbreaking solutions like t3rn that are reshaping the very fabric of blockchain interoperability.

Understanding Smart Contract Portability: Definition and Importance

Why is this crucial for the future of blockchain?

The answer lies in the increasing fragmentation of the blockchain ecosystem. As more blockchains emerge, each with unique features and strengths, the need for interoperability becomes paramount. Smart contract portability is a cornerstone in achieving this interoperability. It ensures that the innovations and solutions developed on one blockchain can be leveraged on others, fostering a more collaborative and dynamic ecosystem.

Real-world examples help illustrate this impact:
  • Financial Services: Consider a decentralized lending platform built on Ethereum. With smart contract portability, the same platform can extend its services to users on Binance Smart Chain or Polkadot, multiplying its user base and capital efficiency. This portability eliminates the need for users to switch between different networks, simplifying the user experience and expanding the platform’s market reach.
  • Gaming and NFTs: In the gaming sector, a game built on one blockchain can offer its in-game assets as NFTs that are portable across chains. This means a unique in-game item, say a special sword, could be used in games across different blockchains, greatly enhancing the item's value and utility for players.
  • Decentralized Identifiers: Imagine a DID system initially developed on the Ethereum blockchain. With smart contract portability, this system could extend its capabilities to other networks like Cardano or Solana, vastly increasing its utility and reach. For instance, a user's verified identity on Ethereum could be seamlessly recognized and utilized on a Solana-based voting application or a Cardano-based finance platform without the need for redundant verifications on each blockchain.

Challenges in Achieving Smart Contract Portability

While the concept of smart contract portability offers immense benefits, its implementation is not without significant challenges. These hurdles primarily stem from the diverse nature of blockchain networks, each with its own protocols, consensus mechanisms, and security measures. Below are key challenges and examples from the industry, particularly focusing on the Ethereum network:

Compatibility Issues:
  • Challenge: Different blockchain networks often have incompatible smart contract languages and execution environments. For instance, Ethereum's smart contracts are written in Solidity, on Aptos it’s Move, while other chains may use different languages or have different virtual machines (e.g., WASM for Polkadot).
  • Ethereum Example: A smart contract designed for Ethereum's EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine) may not be directly deployable on a chain with a different virtual machine - a runtime environment for smart contracts, like Binance Smart Chain's BSCVM, despite their similarities. This incompatibility requires additional layers of translation or adaptation, complicating portability.
Security Concerns:
  • Challenge: Ensuring security in a portable smart contract or maintaining a consistent state across chains is complex, as each blockchain varying levels of security protocols and potential vulnerabilities or records transactions independently.
  • Ethereum Example: A smart contract securely operating on Ethereum might encounter unexpected security risks when deployed on another blockchain. Another example is a cross-chain lending platform might use smart contracts on Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain. Ensuring that loan data and user balances are synchronized and consistent across both chains requires intricate data management and synchronization mechanisms, often involving complex cross-chain communication protocols.
Network Variability:
  • Challenge: Blockchain networks differ in transaction speeds, costs, and consensus mechanisms, affecting the performance of smart contracts across chains.
  • Ethereum Example: After its transition to a Proof of Stake (PoS) model with Ethereum 2.0, Ethereum's block confirmation times and transaction throughputs have changed. A smart contract optimized for Ethereum's PoS mechanism might face performance issues on a blockchain that still operates under PoW or a different PoS system. This variability can affect the contract's efficiency, transaction costs, and overall user experience when ported to other chains.
Data and State Consistency:
  • Challenge: Maintaining consistent data and state across multiple blockchains is a significant challenge, as each network independently records transactions and states.
  • Ethereum Example: A decentralized application using a smart contract on Ethereum and another blockchain must ensure that both instances of the contract maintain consistent states, a task complicated by the asynchronous nature of blockchains.
Governance and Regulatory Compliance:
  • Challenge: Different blockchains may have varied governance models and regulatory requirements, impacting the deployment and operation of portable smart contracts.
  • Ethereum Example: A smart contract compliant with Ethereum's governance and regulatory framework might not automatically comply with the regulatory standards of another blockchain, necessitating additional legal and technical considerations.
Siloed Liquidity Issues:
  • Challenge: In its current state, DEXes like Uniswap exist on multiple EVM-based chains and Layer 2 Solutions, and have separate liquidity pools on each of them instead of one unified.Different blockchains may have varied governance models and regulatory requirements, impacting the deployment and operation of portable smart contracts.
  • Ethereum Example: Consider Uniswap operating on both Ethereum's mainnet and a Layer 2 solution like Optimism. Each of these platforms has its own separate liquidity pool for the same token pair, resulting in dispersed liquidity. A trader might find sufficient liquidity for a large ETH for DAI swap on the mainnet, but not on Optimism, leading to inefficiencies like higher slippage

Addressing these challenges requires a combination of technical ingenuity, security expertise, and a deep understanding of the varying operational paradigms of different blockchains. Overcoming them is essential for realizing the full potential of smart contract portability and fostering a truly interconnected blockchain ecosystem.

Solutions for Smart Contract Migration: An Overview of t3rn, Axelar, and LayerZero's Approaches

Achieving smart contract portability is a complex task that requires innovative solutions. t3rn, Axelar, and LayerZero have developed unique approaches to address this challenge. Here, we'll provide a step-by-step walkthrough of how each platform tackles a specific portability challenge, focusing on technical aspects and data where available.

t3rn's Approach to Addressing Execution Environment Incompatibility:

How: By acting as a modular smart contract protocol, and allowing actors to execute transactions in return for yields.


  1. Smart contracts are deployed as standard EVM contracts. Incentivizing original authors, they receive 80% of the gas fees incurred during the execution of their contracts.
  2. The Portal Precompile Interface grants access to the verified states of various connected chains, including Polkadot and Kusama Parachains, Celestia, Ethereum chains and Layer 2 solutions like Optimism, Base, and Arbitrum. This interface allows the contract to interact with Light Clients, offering specific methods for accessing diverse blockchain data.
  3. t3rn verifies the transaction's completion and integrity, ensuring that the actions taken are valid and successful. This process includes checks for security and consistency across the involved networks.

Data: t3rn aims to be transparent and secure on every step of an execution, this mechanism ensures high reliability in cross-chain interactions.

Goal: To have a secure, fast, and reversible protocol for cross-chain transactions.

Axelar's Solution for Security Protocol Variance:

How: By acting as a communications gateway that connects multiple blockchain ecosystems.


  1. When a smart contract on Ethereum communicates with another chain via Axelar’s General Message Passing, the network validates and relays the message securely.
  2. Cryptographic proofs are used to ensure that the message is unaltered and comes from a legitimate source.

Data: Axelar’s network reportedly maintains high security standards, though specific security metrics are proprietary.

Goal: To have secure cross-chain communications.

LayerZero's Strategy for State and Data Management Complexity:

How: By facilitating communication and asset transfers using Oracles, Ultra Light Nodes, and Relayers.


  1. A smart contract on Ethereum requests data from another blockchain.
  2. LayerZero’s ultra-light node interface retrieves and verifies the data with minimal resource usage.

Data: Blockchain chooses Oracles and Relayers they trust. Oracles provide the necessary external data, while Relayers are responsible for transmitting messages.

Goal: To allow efficient and consistent data management.

Each platform employs distinct technical strategies to overcome the challenges of smart contract portability. t3rn focuses on interoperability and fallback mechanisms, Axelar on secure cross-chain communications, and LayerZero on efficient and consistent data management. These approaches illustrate the diverse technical innovations being developed to realize the vision of a seamlessly interconnected blockchain ecosystem.

The Impact of Portability on Decentralized Applications

The advent of smart contract portability has significantly altered the landscape for decentralized applications (dApps). By comparing the functionality of a dApp with and without portability, we can vividly see the transformative impact. Let’s take real dApps like Uniswap, PancakeSwap, and Lido Staking as examples to illustrate this before-and-after scenario.

Uniswap: Enhanced Liquidity and User Base
  • Without Portability: Originally, Uniswap, an Ethereum-based decentralized exchange (DEX), could only facilitate swaps between tokens on the Ethereum network. Users holding assets on other blockchains like Binance Smart Chain or Polkadot were unable to directly participate, limiting Uniswap’s liquidity and user base.
  • With Portability: With smart contract portability, Uniswap can allow its pools on different chains to interact or even merge, effectively consolidating liquidity. This consolidation would enable traders to execute large trades more efficiently, regardless of the specific chain they are using, reducing slippage, enhances price discovery, and improving overall market health.
PancakeSwap: Cross-Chain Expansion
  • Without Portability: PancakeSwap, initially a Binance Smart Chain-exclusive DEX, faced similar limitations. Its reach and liquidity were constrained to the assets and users within the Binance Smart Chain ecosystem.
  • With Portability: With the ability to port smart contracts across chains, PancakeSwap can offer its swapping services to Ethereum or Polkadot users. This expansion not only boosts liquidity but also offers users a wider variety of assets to trade, enhancing the overall utility and appeal of PancakeSwap.
Lido Staking: Broader Staking Options
  • Without Portability: Lido, a liquid staking solution, was limited to offering staking services for the specific blockchain it operated on. Users with assets on other blockchains couldn’t participate in Lido’s staking pools, restricting its market reach.
  • With Portability: With smart contract portability, Lido can offer its staking services across multiple chains. Users from different blockchains can stake their assets in Lido’s pools, diversifying the staking options available to them and increasing the assets under Lido’s management. Although they would probably need various validators or nodes for each specific chain, smart contract is a big part of become portable.
Scenario from Cosmos or Polkadot Ecosystem:
  • Cosmos’ IBC and Polkadot’s Parachains: These ecosystems inherently support inter-blockchain communication. dApps like DeFi platforms on Cosmos or Polkadot can inherently access assets and interact with smart contracts across various interconnected chains. This interoperability boosts their efficiency, scalability, and appeal to a broader user base.
  • In each of these scenarios, the impact of smart contract portability on dApps is profound. It not only enhances the functionality and reach of these applications but also significantly improves the user experience, liquidity, and overall ecosystem growth. This before-and-after comparison clearly highlights the transformative benefits of smart contract portability in the blockchain domain.

Future Outlook: The Horizon of Smart Contract Portability

As we look towards the future, smart contract portability is set to play a transformative role in the blockchain landscape. This evolution will likely be characterized by several emerging trends and developments, each influencing the trajectory of blockchain technology in unique ways.

Cross-Chain DeFi Ecosystems:

  • Trend: The DeFi sector will increasingly embrace cross-chain functionalities. Smart contract portability will allow for the creation of truly decentralized finance ecosystems that operate seamlessly across different blockchains.
  • Impact: This will lead to more innovative financial products and services, improved liquidity, and enhanced user experiences. Users will have the flexibility to interact with multiple DeFi platforms without the constraints of a single blockchain.

Advancements in Smart Contract Languages and Tooling:

  • Trend: There will be significant advancements in smart contract languages and development tools, focusing on cross-chain compatibility and security.
  • Impact: These advancements will make it easier for developers to write smart contracts that are inherently portable and secure. This will lower the entry barrier for developing cross-chain applications and foster a new wave of innovation in the blockchain space.

Growth in Cross-Chain Governance Models:

  • Trend: We will see the evolution of governance models that span multiple blockchains, enabling collaborative decision-making processes across different networks.
  • Impact: This will lead to more democratic and inclusive governance structures in the blockchain community, with decisions reflecting the diverse interests and needs of users across different chains.

Emergence of Cross-Chain Data Services and Oracles:

  • Trend: The demand for reliable cross-chain data and oracle services will grow as smart contracts become increasingly interconnected.
  • Impact: This will enhance the functionality and reliability of dApps that rely on external data sources, paving the way for more complex and sophisticated decentralized applications.

Conclusion: Navigating Towards a Boundless Blockchain Future

As we stand at the cusp of a new era in blockchain technology, the potential of smart contract portability looms large on the horizon, heralding a future marked by unprecedented interconnectivity and innovation. The journey towards a seamlessly integrated blockchain ecosystem, empowered by the fluid movement of smart contracts across diverse networks, is not just a technical aspiration but a transformative vision for the entire digital landscape.

Smart contract portability represents more than a technological breakthrough; it embodies the very essence of what blockchain technology strives to achieve – a decentralized, efficient, and barrier-free world where information, value, and innovation flow unhindered. By enabling smart contracts to transcend the confines of individual blockchains, we are paving the way for a more inclusive and collaborative digital ecosystem, where diverse platforms coalesce into a unified and powerful force.

Looking ahead, the role of smart contract portability in shaping the future of blockchain is both pivotal and profound. It promises to catalyze a new wave of decentralized applications, broaden the horizons of DeFi, and unlock the latent potential of blockchain interoperability. This journey towards a multichain future is not without its challenges, but the rewards – in terms of innovation, efficiency, and inclusivity – are immense.

As developers, innovators, and visionaries continue to explore and expand the boundaries of what's possible with blockchain technology, smart contract portability stands as a beacon of progress, guiding us towards a more connected and dynamic digital world. The promise of a blockchain ecosystem where ideas, assets, and possibilities can move freely across chains is not just a distant dream, but an imminent reality, shaping the future of blockchain technology for years to come.

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