Blockchains still aren’t great at communication

The current state of blockchain interoperability poses an existential threat to the mainstream adoption of blockchain technology as a whole


Midjourney modified by Blockworks


One of the prerequisites for the mass adoption of blockchain technology is interoperability — the ability to pass data between distinct blockchain and blockchain-like systems. Numerous interoperability projects have established themselves today, and many are growing at an incredible rate. Indeed, it’s only a matter of time before the number of cross-chain messages is measured in trillions. 

Blockchain interoperability has never been more ubiquitous. In January 2024, more than $23 billion worth of assets were locked in cross-chain bridges on Ethereum alone. Clearly, our industry’s early adopters — affectionately called Web3 enthusiasts — are keen to explore new ecosystems as they routinely bridge assets from one blockchain to another. This process, though clunky, has become so commonplace that many believe that blockchain interoperability is a solved issue. 

The truth is far more bleak. 

The state of blockchain interoperability today is one of fractured incompatibility. Competing interoperability projects build ad hoc solutions that gerrymander the blockchain landscape, making it impractical for enterprises and regulators to vet the security of each. As it stands, the current state of blockchain interoperability poses an existential threat to the mainstream adoption of blockchain technology as a whole. 

Modern interoperability projects are far too focused on building and growing their own proprietary products. The fight to become the one-and-only has introduced growing system complexity and, therefore, unbounded risk. As different projects make different tradeoffs to solve different problems, blockchain interoperability protocols continue to increase in complexity. Not only does this complexity make protocols progressively more incompatible with one another, each new system component or trust assumption introduces new attack vectors. As an industry, we must curb this troubling trend.

A shared framework for interoperability is desperately needed. 

As a trustless system, decentralized blockchains are incapable of communicating with other blockchain networks out-of-the-box. Trust assumptions dictate the risk profile of a particular cross-chain design by shaping its vulnerabilities and delineating how a system can be exploited. Generally speaking, the greater the complexity of a system, the higher its susceptibility to attack. It is therefore preferable to simplify the design of cross-chain solutions in order to limit the number of exploitable components. So, while it is true that trust assumptions are inherent to blockchain interoperability solutions, there is security in simplicity. 

Read more from our opinion section: There’s no reason to fear open platforms

A shared framework for interoperability between blockchain and blockchain-like systems — one that includes architectural guidelines and vetted interface definitions — makes it possible to reduce system complexity. This has the knock-on effect of preventing fragmentation across different project implementations. Even something as simple as common interfaces and functions to decode and verify the validity of messages would go a long way towards enhancing interoperability, while reducing the need for custom implementations. 

A shared framework for interoperability also has the potential to foster collaboration between different interoperability projects. Broadly speaking, interoperability projects simply don’t trust each others’ work. This isn’t entirely surprising considering that, between 2021 and 2023, more than $2.9 billion was stolen from exploited cross-chain bridges. Nevertheless, this distrust has directly contributed to the fractured state of blockchain interoperability today. A shared framework, built openly and vetted by all, will result in a more secure system. 

Blockchain interoperability must be core infrastructure first, product second. If we as an industry are to have any hope of achieving the mainstream adoption of blockchain technology (without sacrificing the industry’s core ethos of decentralization), we must establish a shared framework for interoperability. Time is running out.

Start your day with top crypto insights from David Canellis and Katherine Ross. Subscribe to the Empire newsletter.

The Lightspeed newsletter is all things Solana, in your inbox, every day. Subscribe to daily Solana news from Jack Kubinec and Jeff Albus.


Upcoming Events

Salt Lake City, UT

WED - FRI, OCTOBER 9 - 11, 2024

Pack your bags, anon — we’re heading west! Join us in the beautiful Salt Lake City for the third installment of Permissionless. Come for the alpha, stay for the fresh air. Permissionless III promises unforgettable panels, killer networking opportunities, and mountains […]

recent research

Screenshot 2024-05-23 091855.png


Bitcoin L2s aim to boost scalability while preserving decentralization and security, unlocking a better user experience, and new avenues for Bitcoin-powered innovations. However, no existing Bitcoin L2 leverages the full security of Bitcoin.



As part of the #Breakout2024 plans, Radix has introduced Token Trek


House members ask Gensler to keep a “consistent and equitable approach” with ether ETF proposals after the agency approved spot bitcoin ETFs in January


Using old-world instruments to address crypto user experience challenges goes against what this industry set out to do


And, weeks of a potential crypto ETF decision are no stranger to chaos


The FIT21 Act marks the second crypto-focused piece of legislation to advance in Congress this month


More than half of Solana transactions fail