2020 is over and in spite of the difficulties which the year presented, we at Nomadic Labs got a lot done. So here’s who we are, and what we accomplished in 2020:
Nomadic Labs in a nutshell
Nomadic Labs is an international technical company dedicated to evolving the Tezos ecosystem. Tezos is a community-driven proof-of-stake self-evolving blockchain platform that adapts and adopts new features and enables borderless global cooperation.
Let’s unpack that:
- Community-driven: The Tezos community is a global community of users, researchers, and adopters (see Tezos Commons and Tezos Agora).
- Proof-of-stake: The Tezos blockchain is based on a proof-of-stake principle, which is low-power, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. Indeed, a Tezos node can run on a Raspberry Pi (and here’s a howto!).
- Self-evolving: The Tezos blockchain protocol is flexible, democratic and adaptable. We mean this in a specific technical sense — thanks to a built-in voting mechanism, the Tezos community of users can vote to update the protocol, and it regularly does.
So Nomadic Labs contributes to a broad ecosystem dedicated to creating a resilient and global blockchain platform with associated tools. We aim to serve science, society — and the dignity and privacy of productive work in a new technological age.
You can find out more about us here:
- Discover Nomadic Labs in 2 min (video)
- This short interview of our CEO by TheCoinTribune
- Twitter: @LabosNomades
- Our gitlab repo
- Our technical blog
Culture and growth
At the start of 2020 we had an office-based culture, based in beautifully-situated offices in the heart of Paris.
Then, like everybody else, we adapted to social distancing and — as necessary — to working from home until the pandemic is over. That this adaptation was handled smoothly, was due to some genuinely hard work by administrative staff, and due to a cohesive and friendly company culture1, and we are thankful that we were able to flourish and grow throughout 2020:
- We started 2020 with 39 full-time employees,
- we ended it with 59 full-time employees, and
- we have plans for further growth in 2021.
It’s also worth mentioning how well the Tezos blockchain itself withstood the 2020 stress-test. There were no hiccoughs and no stalls. Nomadic Labs — and the blockchain which is its raison d’être — have been stable in a time of crisis. The technology worked, and the community continued to grow.
Seminars and events
In spite of the pandemic we were able to hold many meetings. Highlights include:
We started a series of Nomadic Labs research seminars.
Topics so far have included practical proofs using Juvix, verifying smart contracts using Mi-Cho-Coq, efficient data storage on the blockchain using Plebeia, and adding multicore programming to OCaml. More to come in 2021!
We ran a four-day immersive Tezos training course in Feburary 2020.
Topics included the Tezos blockchain architecture; consensus/privacy fundamentals; smart contract languages; indexers; and hands-on dapp (distributed application) building. Speakers were from Nomadic Labs, LIGOlang, Blockwatch Data Inc., ECAD Labs Inc., and Tezos Ukraine, presented to approximately fifty participants with backgrounds ranging from software development to the financial sector. Write to email@example.com to learn how Nomadic Labs could help train you.
Notable projects and achievements
The Mi-Cho-Coq project connects Michelson smart contracts to the Coq proof assistant.2
Writing smart contracts is safety-critical (see a detailed taxonomy of possible errors) and Mi-Cho-Coq is an important step to help bring cutting-edge mathematics and computer science to bear on assuring safe and correct behaviour of Michelson smart contracts.
We contributed to specifying and verifying the Dexter exchange (see also our recent blog post).3
This is a smart contract on the Tezos blockchain, for exchanging cryptocurrency tokens that are compliant with the FA1.2 standard — this is similar to what Uniswap does on Ethereum with the ERC20 standard. A robust on-chain exchange mechanism is an important step towards making Tezos a globally useful cryptocurrency platform.
We now have dedicated adoption and support teams!
These teams are devoted to helping people and organisations to make the step into the Tezos ecosystem. You can watch a short and clear video on stablecoins by our adoption team lead.
We have attracted institutional bakers
A “baker” on Tezos is a stakeholder (a blockchain participant) that validates operations and adds them to the Tezos blockchain (for which it is rewarded). At time of writing, Tezos has a diverse community of more than 400 bakers worldwide.
We are proud to announce that in 2020, our adoption and support teams provided support which helped three large institutions become bakers4 on the Tezos blockchain:
EDF (Éléctricité de France; a multinational utility company with 340 billion USD in assets) has become an institutional baker, via a subsidiary Exaion which it founded in January 2020.
See the press release, and see Exaion’s official baking record.
Sword France (a technological and digital transformation group founded in 2000) has become an institutional baker. As Alain Broustail (Sword Blockchain Director) said: “we have been working with [Tezos] for over a year. [It] provides security guarantees, transparency and strong adaptability, which makes it very attractive”.
See the press release. Sword is also participating in the Tezos Digisign project.
Smart Node (a staking company) has become an institutional baker. If you hold Tez then you can delegate your stake to Smart Node, who will bake using the stake you delegated and return rewards proportional to it. See the announcement, and see Smart Node’s official baking record.
We helped industrial partners to launch Tezos-based projects
Société Générale (a bank with 1.7 trillion USD in assets) selected a pool of technology providers, including Nomadic Labs, to experiment with the use of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)11 for interbank settlements.
Specifically, this project will explore the feasibility of financial securities being digitally settled and delivered in CBDC.
See the press release.
Sword group introduced Tezos Digisign, a free and open source tool to sign, certify and verify the authenticity of digital documents.
This tool is already in production with a client and is currently being integrated with several market ECM (Electronic Content Management) packages. The source code of Tezos Digisign is on Gitlab.
See the press release.
Logical Pictures is launching 21 Content Ventures, an investment vehicle with a 100 million Euro maximal capacity (minimum investment 100 thousand Euro) to invest in coproducing films and TV series, with an emphasis on international content (e.g. from the Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance festivals).5 A particularity of this investment vehicle is that it will be tokenized on the Tezos blockchain. This means that
- each title will be represented on the Tezos blockchain by a security token, and
- fundraising will take the form of a Security Token Offering (STO).
See the press release in English and in French.
We contributed to not one but two Tezos protocol upgrades during 2020 (Carthage and Delphi) and we proposed a third (Edo):
The Tezos blockchain contains a mechanism to upgrade the protocol and thus change how the blockchain works by community vote, so each successful protocol upgrade is making history in the world of blockchain evolution.6
Tezos protocols are traditionally named after ancient cities. Thanks to Metastate for a nice timeline of protocol upgrades:
- 5 March 2020.
Carthage (block height 851,969; cycle 208; changelog; significance of the upgrade).
- 12 November 2020
Delphi (block height 1,212,417; cycle 296; changelog; significance of the upgrade).
Associated to the Edo protocol upgrade is also a new release candidate of the protocol environment, numbered “Version 1”. The protocol environment is the set of functions that a protocol can use — a dedicated library which includes cryptographic primitives and other useful functions (packaged as an OCaml module). This is a backendish7 but significant piece of work: until now all protocols have used “Version 0” of the protocol environment.
Research and development
We started a research partnership with IMDEA. The emphases are on program analysis and verification, distributed consensus, resource consumption and performance, and security and privacy.
See the press release.
We started a research partnership with INRIA. This cooperation takes the form of a grants framework to support blockchain research, the results of which will be made publicly available.
So far, four research initiatives have been funded, employing ten researchers and two engineers. The initiatives relate to changes to OCaml and its compiler, and to the semantics of the F* verification system. See the press release.
A Journée Scientifique with INRIA was held on 21 September 2020, for which a full programme with slides is available.
We advertised ten internships, which are open at the time of writing this summary. Feel free to send in an application!
We spawned several test networks in 2020. A test network (testnet, for short) is a ‘mock’ blockchain where the rules are tweaked to allow experimentation e.g. before pushing a protocol upgrade. The test networks were:
This was spawned during summer 2020 and is now closed. It was used to test Sapling integration and baking accounts.
This was used to test the Delphi protocol upgrade (which was voted for and accepted on 12 November 2020). See also a full account of the significance of this upgrade.
This is a current test network being used to test the Edo protocol.
We commonly open-source the tools we use to develop our software. For example, we released
mockup mode, a tool in the tezos client for experimenting with (parts of) the essential API of a Tezos node without having to run a local blockchain or maintain a consensus algorithm. This has been especially useful to our developers working on smart contracts. We extensively documented this new tool’s usage.
We considerably extended our analysis of Emmy+.
Emmy+ is the current Tezos consensus algorithm, so it is important that we understand its behaviour both in theory and empirically. We extended the initial analysis from 2019 and presented the results as follows:
We proposed Tenderbake: an adaptation of the Tendermint algorithm for Tezos, in collaboration with CEA-List.
We have a Tenderbake prototype and are integrating it in the economic protocol as a next-gen upgrade from Emmy+.8 We expect to release a Tenderbake testnet in 2021.
We’re developers, and developers test their programs. But how do you know your coverage is good — that your tests cover the important cases? Well, here are two posts on our use of testing tools:an open internship if you’re interested, and you can get a feel for how this work gets done in practice by looking at this merge request for applying the TZT framework to test Michelson expressions.
We formalized most of the Tezos economic protocol in Coq, using the coq-of-ocaml tool, itself developed at Nomadic Labs. This is part of a larger project aiming to formally verify — meaning, to formally represent, and then verify using a computer correct behaviour of — the Tezos implementation itself.
We presented Albert, an intermediate smart contract programming language compiled to Michelson.10 Albert is an imperative language with variables and records — abstracting away from Michelson’s stack-based paradigm — intended as a compilation target for higher-level smart contract programming languages. See the paper in WTSC 2020. Albert’s compiler is written in Coq, which means that we can certify it: currently, the backend optimizer is certified.9
Further reading / listening / viewing
- Tezos year in review: a review of the year 2020 from the point of view of the Tezos foundation.
- Nomadic Labs blog: an archive of all the wonderful things we thought to blog about, going all the way back to our first wonderful blog post.
- Meanwhile at Nomadic Labs: a (roughly) monthly update on our activities.
- The TQuorum podcast (also available on audible): a weekly podcast about all things Tezos.
- TQTezos is full of videos on anything and everything related to Tezos.
- Tezos Agora: a place to discuss and learn about the long-term direction of the Tezos project.
- Nomadic Labs research seminars and more information on research.
- Nomadic Labs YouTube channel.
Nomadic Labs moves into 2021 from a position of consolidation, growth, and strength. We look forward to the new year’s technical challenges and wish our readers, users, and community all the best. Happy new year!
Not a platitude. Company culture is real, as are the returns in productivity when management gets this right. ↩
… making them fresh bakers (one bun baguettes another). ↩
See the 2014 Tezos whitepaper. The technical term for this is governance. Tezos’ governance features are a USP of the Tezos blockchain and they are almost unique in the blockchain space: see also Polkadot governance, initiated circa 2017. Decred, also from 2017, also has a governance system but it is part on-chain and part off-chain: voting itself is on-chain; but after the vote any upgrades have to be done manually. ↩
The key USP of Tenderbake vs Emmy+ is that Tenderbake has deterministic finality whereas Emmy+ has probabilistic finality. To simplify: deterministic finality means you will reach consensus, whereas probabilistic finality means you will probably reach consensus, eventually. The problem here is not with “probably”. The problem is with “eventually”: if the network is subject to delays then as the maths works out, “eventually” could become a very long time (though, what attacker would be so impolite as to DoS a system’s communications network?). ↩
The backend optimizer of the Albert compiler is a Coq function that transforms Michelson expressions into Michelson expressions. Certifying the backend optimizer means we proved mathematically in Coq that it preserves typing and semantics; that is, that the transformation’s output program is semantically equivalent to its input program. For a concrete example of what Nomadic Labs produces, you can find that last sentence written up as code and proved in Coq by one of our engineers, here. ↩
Albert is called “Albert” after Albert Michelson, a Nobel prizewinning physicist born in 1851 who is the “Michelson” in the Michelson-Morley experiment. With extraordinary foresight, his family named themselves after the foundational smart contracts language of the Tezos blockchain. ↩
A Central Bank Digital Currency uses digital tokens on a blockchain to represent a country’s fiat currency. This allows a blockchain and smart contracts system to serve as a platform for transactions in fiat currency. ↩