The newest smart contract programming language, Vyper, has developers wondering, "Is this the end for Solidity?" or "Will I need to learn a whole new language just to maintain my current projects?"
No need to keep you in suspense as this is not the case. Vyper is an additional option, not a forced replacement, in the smart contract developer toolkit.
"Great! Something new to make my smart contracts better," you might be thinking. But what are the differences and how can your smart contracts benefit from using Vyper over Solidity?
Well hold on to your shorts because we'll be covering all that and more to introduce you to Vyper smart contract development
As governments and large companies move closer towards nationalism and centralization, cryptocurrency projects like Ethereum are developing a platform to build new models of open finance and decentralized governance. So far, the DeFi movement and various DAO projects, like MetaCartel, are the results of these efforts.
However, this is only the beginning. Ethereum is a globally decentralized, peer-to-peer, internet infrastructure. As it continues to grow and restore ownership of personal data and money to users of the platform, it reduces the control of centralized entities.
In order to carry out the instructions of these projects over this decentralized network, Ethereum uses smart contracts. These smart contracts have traditionally been written in the Solidity programming language.
“Solidity is an object-oriented, high-level language for implementing smart contracts. Smart contracts are programs which govern the behaviour of accounts within the Ethereum state.”
Smart contracts are like classes found in other object-oriented programming languages. Except instead of acting as a blueprint for creating objects, like traditional classes, smart contracts act as self-enforcing, digital agreements for using a program or app. It's also important to note that anyone on the network can interact and view smart contracts built on Ethereum.
This means smart contracts can store, carry out, and enforce agreements between users. And since they live on the blockchain, anyone can review the terms before using an app built using a smart contract. Despite this big difference, Solidity still shares many features found in other object-oriented programming languages.
Three key features that Solidity has adopted as an object-oriented programming language are:
Encapsulation is the feature that allows smart contracts to be built like classes in other programming languages. Data types and methods within classes are defined by the developer. Similarly, the data types and functions in a smart contract are also defined by the developer. As a result, smart contracts act as self-contained components that can be deployed as separate instances on the blockchain.
Inheritance allows smart contracts to inherit data types and functions from other smart contracts. This mirrors the parent-child inheritance relationship seen in single inheritance structures found in other object-oriented programming languages. Multi-level, multiple, and hierarchical inheritance are also supported in Solidity.
This offers some flexibility and modularity, as one smart contract does not have to contain every data type or function that is called. This also allows for the implementation of upgradable smart contracts.
A core feature of blockchain, including the Ethereum blockchain, is immutability. Once deployed to the blockchain, data cannot be altered or removed by an external authority. As a result, smart contracts cannot be changed after they are deployed. However, developers can “upgrade” their smart contracts through inheritance.
But doesn't this break one of the major reasons for using blockchain? Namely, immutability. Not really, because the original contract holding your data before the "upgrade" is still on the blockchain with all its information intact. That's just not the smart contract you're talking to anymore.
Polymorphism allows users to interact with different child contracts and still derive the expected values held by the same parent contract.
Let's break that down a bit. As seen in the image below, Contract B and Contract C both inherit from Contract A. They are Contract A's children, and as such they do all the things Contract A does because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. However, they can also do things Contract A cannot do. Such a proud parent contract.
This means users can call functions unique to Contract B as well as those it inherited from Contract A. One of those unique functions in Contract B could be called
upgrade(). If Contract B can no longer carry on the family tradition,
upgrade() changes the contract users talk to from Contract B to Contract C. And now Contract C takes Contract B's place and continues the family tradition! (Don't worry, Contract B still calls.)
The Solidity programming language is used most in smart contract development on the Ethereum blockchain. However, a new programming language, Vyper, is being introduced to Ethereum.
Though still in beta, Vyper aims to increase smart contract security and reduce the chance of writing misleading code. As a result, its range of features will be limited compared to those in Solidity.
Vyper focuses on smart contract security, auditability, and simplicity.
“Vyper is a contract-oriented, pythonic programming language that targets the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM).”
Vyper's goal is to make smart contract code easier to read. Because if it's easier to read, it's easier to catch mistakes. It does this by cutting out a lot of features Solidity has that are useful for more complex logic, but not necessary to still get the job done.
Specifically, Vyper removes:
Most of these features create security risks due to their added complexity. In other words, it's harder to get a lay of the land when your view is being blocked by trees, hills, and other features of the landscape.
By removing them, it's still possible to create a fully-fledged smart contract. However, what you can do is severely limited. The idea being that you're less likely to create a bug because the code is easier to audit, since it's more readable, and you have less opportunity to mess up - not that you would of course - because you're so limited in what you can do. You're basically trading flexibility with security.
As stated in its documentation, Vyper is most heavily influenced by Python. This is visible in its syntax.
But it's logic is still similar to Solidity.
Vyper State Variable:
Solidity State Variable:
Fun fact: Vyper’s syntax is also valid Python 3 syntax. However, the features found in Vyper are very limited compared to Python. The limitations of Vyper should not be seen as a drawback though. It's a feature of the language that makes it very useful when writing code that prioritizes security over everything else.
Of course, security is always important when writing code that handles other people's money. But it's even more so when handling non-recoverable, sensitive information. For example, it could be disastrous if a security bug compromised consumer credit card information, confidential patient records, undercover security personnel files, or atomic launch codes!
Vyper gives extra assurance that these bad things don't happen by limiting what smart contracts can do to reduce human error when reading and writing code. See, totally a feature.
Vyper's goal of increased simplicity for maximum readability make its features as a language unique compared to both Python and Solidity. It's easy to see Vyper as a restrictive language if you're trying to do something new and untested with your smart contract. But if you're just trying to help a business take advantage of the Ethereum blockchain in the most secure way possible, it's a great option. It's kind of like bowling with the side bumpers up so you don't immediately throw a gutter ball at the start of the game.
With that in mind, the features listed below are implemented in Vyper to achieve the goals of security, auditability, and simplicity.
Features Vyper supports:
Most of these features will restrict developers if Vyper determines that it risks security. But these limits give the opportunity to create tighter and more straightforward code. Understanding what a smart contract written in Vyper can do won't take the same amount of time as one written in Solidity because it's goals are specific and lean.
Vyper gives you more secure and human-readable smart contracts, handling the extremely sensitive aspects of your project. While Solidity gives developers the opportunity to push the limits of what their smart contracts can do on the blockchain. By combining them, you can better secure sensitive information while still doing some interesting things in a different part of your application.
So is Ethereum trading Solidity out for Vyper? As the documentation suggests:
“Vyper does not strive to be a 100% replacement for everything that can be done in Solidity; it will deliberately forbid things or make things harder if it deems fit to do so for the goal of increasing security.”
Ethereum has grown exponentially since its start in 2015. Its use case has also evolved since then. From the ICO boom of 2017 to the current growth of DeFi, Ethereum continues to expand.
However, this soaring expansion also comes with increased threats to security. The biggest threat to security is the potential for human error. As the DAO hack of 2016 showed us, there is a lot at stake when mistakes are made.
Writing code has always required mistakes in order to learn what works and doesn't work. That model doesn't work well with millions of dollars on the line though. It's impossible to stop people from making mistakes, but it is possible to limit those mistakes by reducing the number of ways they can be made. By identifying the roles of each language and the importance of security in your project, you can better secure your users from these risks.
It's also important to realize these are still the early days for smart contract development. There will be more "growing pains" as new projects give users new ways to deploy and allocate their programmable money. Vyper is an early example to improve the current state of smart contract development, but there will surely be more as we continue to buidl the future of decentralized finance.
My name is Luis and I made a pledge to be one of the one million devs when I first heard about the announcement in the fall of 2018. I’ve been actively following the crypto industry since I first heard about Bitcoin during the 2017 bull run. But it wasn’t until 2019 that I decided to go all in and help buidl the potential future crypto promises.
I’ve been recording my coding journey on the OpenZeppelin forum and on my Twitter. I’ve also been building this site to display some of my projects and past articles. As well as practice more front-end programming. I’m currently adding more projects and articles I have saved locally but haven’t deployed or published yet.
I’m rather obsessed with crypto. The potential of this technology and the current opportunities in the industry literally keep me up at night. But weirdly, I’m not tired the next day because being a part of this industry energizes me more than any other work or community ever has before. I’m so grateful that I happened across that first fb post that started me down this rabbit hole in 2017. I only wish I had learned about this industry sooner so I could’ve started this journey earlier.
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