Building on Soroban: Analyzing Soroban vs. Ethereum & Solana [Sponsored]
Life is all about choices. Mountains or ocean. Coffee or tea. Grand Theft Auto or Animal Crossing. Soroban, Ethereum, or Solana. Some make choices based on nothing but a gut feeling, while others put great effort into gathering information and weighing the...
Life is all about choices. Mountains or ocean. Coffee or tea. Grand Theft Auto or Animal Crossing. Soroban, Ethereum, or Solana. Some make choices based on nothing but a gut feeling, while others put great effort into gathering information and weighing the pros and cons of all possible alternatives. In the end, what’s best is probably employing a little of everything.
Although fun, the choice I’m talking about today isn’t whether you should play the video game where you knock grocery bags out of pedestrians’ arms or the one where you converse with your benign Animalia neighbors. Instead, I’d like to discuss why developers should build on Soroban over other smart contract platforms. There are a lot of choices out there, and it could be as easy as “Ethereum is the most popular” or “Solana has an engaging culture”. But those reasons don’t necessarily consider the most important factor: what platform is best for your use case and supports your goals and values.
I’m not saying that Soroban is the answer for every smart contract developer or entrepreneur. But I’d like to break down some of the reasons why it’s a compelling choice to consider when deciding where to build your blockchain-based project.
Let the showdown begin.
Source: The Science of Defence: A Treatise on Sparring and Wrestling, 1867
Soroban versus Ethereum
The biggest name in the room is, of course, Ethereum. It is by far the most popular blockchain for developers. However, popularity does not always equal superiority. Soroban’s inclusive tech choices, greenfield developer environment, and real-world reach set it apart from Ethereum in uniquely beneficial ways.
Let’s start with the obvious tech differences. Ethereum uses the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) runtime environment, and contracts are built using the Solidity programming language (for the most part, you can also use Vyper or Yul), while Soroban uses the WebAssembly (WASM) runtime environment and supports contracts written in a broader range of languages such as Rust, C, C++, Go, AssemblyScript, and more.
SDF's mission since the inception of Stellar has been to bring financial access to everyone, everywhere. And this value of inclusivity extends to Soroban’s chosen technology. While EVM was developed specifically for the Ethereum blockchain (although other chains have decided to use it), WASM is designed for broader interoperability and can be used in various environments such as web browsers, server-side applications, and other blockchain platforms.
The same interoperability distinction can be applied to Solidity versus Rust. Solidity was explicitly designed for writing smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, while Rust is a general-purpose programming language that, while great for smart contract development, can also be used for web development, systems programming, and more.
So what benefits does inclusive technology bring to the table?
For one, adopting already-established systems allows developers to get an entire ecosystem of tooling for free, such as debuggers, formal verification, and more without reinventing the wheel. Ethereum is the most popular smart contracts platform, and it does have many developer resources and tools designed specifically for it. However, WASM and Rust have audiences that extend beyond just blockchain, which means there are more developers working on improving and building these technologies and designing the tooling to go along with them.
Ethereum’s tech exclusivity makes it challenging to integrate with existing systems and engenders a more specialized and isolating developer experience. Alternatively, Stellar and Soroban are focused on interoperability and inclusivity, a driving force behind many of these technological decisions.
I should probably mention that Soroban is a new smart contracts platform. So new, in fact, that it isn’t yet live on Mainnet, and is in its eighth preview release on Futurenet, a shared test network. The ecosystem is virtually untapped, and tools and projects built now have the potential to become a staple of the ecosystem when Mainnet launches later this year. This greenfield environment allows users the freedom to innovate with new techniques and fosters creativity while also having a direct impact on the platform’s success.
Although Soroban’s ecosystem is a greenfield, it pairs with the Stellar blockchain, which has been around since 2014. So you get the best of both worlds — a smart contracts platform where you can innovate and make a difference backed by a mature network optimized for a driving mission.
On the flip side, Ethereum launched with smart contract capabilities in 2015, so it had a lot of time to build up an established ecosystem of dApps and other products. You’re competing with thousands of projects when you start building on Ethereum and risk getting lost in the crowd. Of course, committing to a brand-new platform is not without its risks as well. So it’s important to make sure this new platform aligns with your project’s vision.
Luckily, building Soroban a little later in the game has allowed the platform’s developers to learn from and make decisions based on others’ experiences. For example, choosing Rust as the primary programming language was intentional not only because of its interoperability but also because of its improved security (it protects against memory bugs and is concurrency-safe) and efficiency (it doesn’t have to run garbage collectors). If you’re interested in learning more about Rust’s history and capabilities, this article is a good read.
There’s no denying that Ethereum boasts a large number of assets on the network, including many fiat-backed stablecoins. However, most of the top stablecoins on the network are backed by the US dollar (USD Tether (USDT), Circle’s USDC, Pax Dollar (USDP), etc.) or euro (STASIS EURO (EURS), Euro Tether (EURt), Celo Euro (CEUR), etc.).
Alternatively, Stellar focuses on having a worldwide reach with an expansive range of fiat-backed stablecoins issued by a variety of organizations, including Circle’s USDC and Euro Tempo (EURT) issued by Tempo. But it also supports Nigerian Naira (NGN) issued by Flutterwave, Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) issued by ClickPesa, Argentine Pesos (ARSX) issued by Settle, and more. Supporting currencies on a more global scale gives users more options with their money, whether that’s onboarding onto the network with a local anchor into a local currency-backed stablecoin, or onboarding with cash directly to USDC (with MoneyGram Access, for example).
All of Stellar’s assets are available to use on Soroban. Having these choices gives end users more control over their money, allows developers more options when building their projects, and fosters constructive competition among anchor services.
As the founder of blockchain-based smart contracts, Ethereum has an extensive DeFi ecosystem; however, the network’s general focus is more broad, set on providing the foundation for a new era of the internet. Whereas Stellar and Soroban are intent on improving the current global financial system, which is supported by the effort to onboard a wider range of assets and establish global on and off-ramps.
Let’s move onto our second showdown.
Soroban versus Solana
Solana and Stellar are both known for their fast transaction speeds and low fees, two metrics that are imperative to using blockchain in the real world.
Let’s say you’re running a blockchain-based point of sale (POS) system at a coffee shop. A customer comes in and orders a medium soy vanilla latte with extra whipped cream. If the system is running on the Ethereum network, the customer may have to sit and wait for three minutes (looking at Coinbase, for example, which requires 14 confirmations to finalize a transaction) before their transaction is confirmed, saddling them with ample time for their elaborate coffee order to get cold and for them to stew over the high transaction fee (Ethereum’s YTD average fee is, at the time of writing, $1.48 per transaction).
If you’re running a Stellar or Solana-based application, transactions are confirmed within seconds, and fees are typically not more than a fraction of a cent, making these networks much more viable. However, fast TPS and low fees aren’t the only metrics that matter in the real world. Network reliability and developer onboarding also play a part in bridging the gap between blockchain and practical applications.
Let’s take it back to our little coffee shop. It’s a busy morning, and there’s a line out the door, filled with anxious customers looking for their morning fix. You’re getting through patrons as quickly as possible when, suddenly, an error image displays on your POS system saying that the network is down and unable to process any transactions. There’s no information as to what happened or when it will be back online, and now you have to break the news to a line of disgruntled people.
The Solana network has experienced ten major outages since it launched on Mainnet in 2020, with the most recent happening in February of 2023 for a total of 20 hours. And the cause is still unknown. This type of unreliability is not conducive to products functioning in the real world, especially when you’re dealing with people’s money. And because we still don’t know what caused the incident, it’s hard to say whether the issue was fixed or if it will happen again.
Conversely, Stellar has only had one network halt since its launch in 2014, happening in 2019 for 67 minutes. The interruption was due to some errors in validator configurations, resulting in the network being unable to reach consensus. Stellar is designed to halt when faced with consensus uncertainty because financial institutions prefer downtime over inconsistent or false data. After the halt, ecosystem validators, including SDF, took deliberate steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again, including technical changes to improve validator configurations, improved monitoring and alerts, and the codification of clear standards and best practices for validator operators.
Although you can never completely guarantee reliability, just observing the history showcases Solana’s instability compared to other networks. Solana is cheap, fast, and great for experimentation, but when you’re thinking about blockchain-based financial applications actually being useful in the real world, you want something that’s dependable and builds trust with your end users.
Batteries included versus chewing glass
As you can probably imagine, the phrase “chewing glass” is generally used to describe a painful or difficult experience. And this phrase has been used in reference to the developer experience on Solana since it launched in 2020. Whether referring to how difficult it is to run a validator, challenges with the tech stack, or the impact of incidents such as the fall of FTX and SBF, chewing glass has always been in Solana’s DNA. It’s even the name of a podcast run by the Solana Foundation, with “chewing glass is what Solana developers do” as the catchphrase for each episode.
While you’d think that eating glass would have a negative connotation, it seems to bring the community together in solidarity despite their various struggles. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of Solana pride in the ecosystem, which you can show by rocking Solana shoes or even a Solana phone.
Soroban, on the other hand, doesn’t have branded kicks but does claim an accessible “batteries-included” experience that prioritizes getting developers up and running on the platform quickly. The goal is to provide the basic tooling necessary to make it easier for devs to focus on building their use case. Features such as the Soroban CLI (the Swiss army knife for building smart contracts), token contract (a cheap and easy way to transfer tokens), WASM runtime environment (run smart contracts anywhere you can run WASM), and powerful authentication framework all contribute to a more seamless and user-friendly developer experience.
Culture and community are important. And while Solana presents a frontline message of complexity and pain, Soroban aims for the opposite: creating an uncomplicated developer experience to help get applications built, tested, running, and contributing to the mission of equitable global financial access.
Ethereum, Solana, and Stellar have all transformed the blockchain landscape in their own unique way. Ethereum introduced smart contracts, Solana made them faster and cheaper, and, with Soroban, Stellar is bringing their utility to the real world. Each network has its particular benefits and is paving the way for the future of decentralized applications.
Soroban’s inclusive and thoughtful technology choices, real-world reach and access, simplified developer experience, network reliability, and more make it a platform worthy of consideration for your blockchain-based project. As mentioned, Soroban is new and currently live on a testnet called Futurenet. Working toward a successful launch includes building the tooling and resources needed to support future dApp developers. There are already some great projects laying the groundwork, and now is the perfect time to add to the growing ecosystem! If you’re ready to dive into Soroban, consider submitting your project to the Stellar Community Fund or launching your Soroban education with Soroban Quest.
Keep your eyes open for more ways to earn rewards as we continue to launch other Soroban Adoption Fund programs and keep up to date on Soroban happenings in our Stellar Developer Discord.