AN INTRODUCTION TO ASTAR NETWORK
Naomi Oba outlines the various benefits and possibilities of Astar—Polkadot’s leading multichain smart-contract hub.
For a change, we’re getting a personal start to this blog.
Initially, I started looking into NEAR when attempting to build a project with a friend. Long story short, that broke apart; but I remained in the NEAR ecosystem because it seemed small enough for one single voice to still have a sizeable impact, while having big enough ambitions to “make it” — as we like to say. Plus, NEAR itself is non-EVM, which, after reading a lot about MEV, seemed like a bonus.
Fast forward to today, and I’m working at the Astar Foundation.
How has this all happened, even with quite a few people convinced I was working with the NEAR foundation?
Astar — The First Public Blockchain in Japan
One day, I learned about Astar Network, the first public blockchain in Japan. I got in touch with the team, hosted them on my spaces, and followed what they were doing. Eventually, I got tired of being just a part-timer and freelancer, so I reached out to explore if they’re looking for someone at the cross between marketing, community, and product. That’s how I got into Astar. I reckon it’s fair to say that, in this case, I made my own manifestation come true.
My personal thesis for Web3 has always been Multichain. Plus, I’ve been intrigued by the Polkadot ecosystem for a while. These might have been some of the same reasons that made Paras (a leading NFT marketplace on NEAR) announce that they’d be expanding to Astar. Astar is all about interoperability and collaboration — so we’ll explore ways to bring benefits to both NEAR and Astar, and who knows, maybe this intern can even stir closer ties between the two.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into what Astar actually is.
What is Astar Network?
The best way to understand Astar is by understanding some core concepts of Polkadot first.
First, Some Background on Polkadot
Polkadot is a blockchain ecosystem connecting various custom blockchains (parachains) through a layer 0 chain called relay chain. Parachains can define their own rules, tokens, and even consensus algorithms, all while inheriting the security features of the underlying relay chain. All these custom chains communicate through XCM, a cross-chain messaging standard enabling them to talk to each other and leverage each other’s features.
Projects building on Polkadot leverage Substrate, a coding framework to build custom blockchains. The building blocks of Substrate are so-called pallets which are pieces of code to execute specific functions such as NFTs, governance, or staking. Like pallets irl, Substrate pallets can be stacked and combined to create complicated structures.
Meeting the Demands of Scalability, Interoperability, and Sustainable Developer Incentivisation Head On
Astar is a parachain founded in 2019 by Sota Watanabe. He identified three key challenges in the existing Web3 landscape he sought to address with the creation of Astar:
- Scalability: a blockchain’s lack of scalability often leads to a bad user experience (UX), while making enterprises steer clear from using it.
- Interoperability: moving value from one chain to another is difficult—at the same time, going multichain for a dApp often means developing and maintaining multiple smart contracts.
- Lack of developer incentives: As covered in NEARWEEK’s recent blog post, ‘From Concept to Reality: Exploring Public Goods Funding On NEAR’, developing and maintaining open-source code isn’t necessarily profitable.
After three years in development, the Astar mainnet launched in 2022, and the network has quickly become a leading parachain in the Polkadot ecosystem, recently hitting over 500k wallets. Astar Network now boasts a vibrant ecosystem, including infrastructure providers, NFT marketplaces & projects, DAOs, and more.
Two drivers of its success are its virtual machine and its dApp staking program.
1 — XVM
As a Polkadot parachain, natively, Astar is not an EVM chain. Nevertheless, the exposure and sheer range of projects built on EVM are undeniable, so Astar also supports EVM through its cross-virtual machine (XVM).
The XVM is the solution to making smart contracts work across chains. Instead of developers creating a new contract for new chains they deploy on, with XVM, they can create a contract that can interact with other Substrate and EVM chains. In essence, XVM is a bit like a widget on the NEAR Protocol bOS that can call different functions in various chains, but instead of it being a front-end, it’s the backend.
When building on the XVM projects, gain access to Polkadot and EVM chains, as well as connected layer 0s such as Axelar or Celer. This is especially beneficial for moving assets around.
2 — dApp Staking
When developers create and maintain protocols, they don’t usually capture the value of it unless the value created reflects in a token. dApp staking is a program that provides financial incentives to devs outside of relying on grants or VC funding.
From the outside, dApp staking might feel a lot like normal staking, but instead of staking with a validator securing the chain, tokens are staked to your favorite dApp. This not only reduces the number of tokens in circulation and provides devs with an income through staking rewards. Win-win.
Beyond XVM and dApp staking, Astar hosts various XCM channels to facilitate transfers between other parachains. It’s also well-supported natively on big exchanges like Binance, Kraken, and Huobi and through DeFi cross-chain routers, including Multichain, XY Protocol, Rubic Exchange, and the celer bridge powered by Axelar.
Oh, and there’s one more thing to know about Astar.
Astar Network — Born in the Land of the Rising Sun
The Astar team cherishes its roots and pushes towards web3 adoption in Japan in particular. To this end, Astar has partnered with leading Japanese companies like Hakuhodo (a big marketing agency), the railway company Tokyu, and recently worked with Sony for an incubation program. Beyond that, Astar is also involved in discussions with the government to build sensible frameworks for projects, users, and exchanges to operate in. Or, as LongHash Ventures put it, Astar is dominating Japan.
Personally, I’m excited to see the results that a collaborative and multichain approach—like that of Astar Network and the NEAR Blockchain Operating System (bOS)—will have when it comes to building a more connected Open Web. And what about you?
Note: As a community-oriented publication, NEARWEEK believes in fostering genuine and open discussions about the topics we cover. And as such, we encourage our guest contributors to share their own personal views—even when they do not necessarily reflect that of NEARWEEK. Nothing in this post should be construed as financial advice.
About Astar Network
Astar is Japan’s most popular smart contract platform supporting both EVM and WebAssembly (Wasm) environments, as well as interoperability using a Cross-Virtual Machine. Backed by the shared security of Polkadot, Astar shines brilliantly on its own within a vibrant and flourishing ecosystem, driving international adoption and pioneering consumer interest in Web3.
About NEAR Protocol
NEAR is on a mission to onboard a billion users to the infinite possibilities of Web3 with its Blockchain Operating System (bOS). Leveraging its high-performance, carbon-neutral protocol, which is fast, secure, and scalable, bOS provides a common layer for browsing and discovering the Open Web.