Substrate vs. Cosmos SDK from a Validator Perspective

Polkachu Team | 2022-03-11

It is always interesting to compare Cosmos SDK and Substrate. Both are giants in the land of crypto, each with thriving ecosystems of devs and users. We Polkachu have been validating in both ecosystems and gained many insights by comparing our experiences. One of the most fascinating but non-obvious observations is how big a role validators are playing in the ecosystem beyond the validation service.

Governance: Validators in the Cosmos ecosystem are very active because the token delegation is bundled with vote delegations. Validators debate proposals openly on Twitter and Discord. They take the jobs seriously partly for self-interest reasons, as delegators tend to favor validators who actively engage in governance with a strong community presence. In Substrate, validators are typically more detached from the community. In fact, the biggest validators are typically absent in governance participation. Some small validators are quite active, but they do not gain much delegation from nominators due to the decoupling of the economic/governance delegation. Instead, validators in the Substrate ecosystem mostly just focus on validation alone. For them, the network security is the most important aspect of their job to focus on.

Tool-Making: Validators in the Cosmos ecosystem are often motivated to make wallets, explorers, and other community tools. Because the delegation relationship with delegators is 1 to 1, all of them compete for brand recognition and want to be the touch point between users and the blockchain. In Substrate, validators are typically not motivated to make those tools because their relationship with nominators is dis-intermediated by Phragmén algorithm. In fact, nominators are often are not aware which validators make what tools, charge what commission, and provide them with most staking rewards, as it is difficult to keep track of 16-24 validators for which they nominate. To ensure a healthy developer community, the Substrate ecosystem has developed rather sophisticated grant program, bounty program and tipping system to incentivize developers to make those tools.

Zooming out, two eco-systems have different philosophical views on the role of validators. If you view the validators just as entities providing a validation service, then you would prefer to rent the security from somewhere. The security does not come free, because security is never free. This is in line with Substrate philosophy, thus the system of Crowdloan, parachain auction, ad hoc Parathread renting, etc.

On the other hand, if you view the validators as more than the validation service, you would like to take on the burden of providing security yourself. It is a difficult job. A case in point is the Evmos drama last week, where validators failed an upgrade collectively, and the chain is still halted at the time of this writing. However, in exchange to taking on this tough task, you get an invaluable asset: a group of tech people/entities who compete for delegations with their ecosystem contributions. That's more in line with Cosmos philosophy.

We Polkachu are heavily involved in both ecosystems. We have continued to be impressed by the people and projects coming out of both. However, we definitely have a stronger presence in the Cosmos world due to the nature of the game as a validator. It is interesting to observe that as the multi-chain world evolves, our role as a validator also evolves with the philosophy that each ecosystem chooses to live by.

Follow our official account and intern account on Twitter