Ever since the launch of Ethereum back in 2015, the blockchain has come under pressure from rival platforms seeking to replace it. Known as “Ethereum Killers,” these blockchains proclaim to improve on Ethereum’s technology in several ways, such as a higher amount of transactions per second, increased decentralization, lower fees, and faster block times.
With congestion and high gas fees now becoming a severely limiting factor for Ethereum, there are two blockchains that developers and users are beginning to take considerable interest in, namely Cardano and Polkadot. Both have seen steady growth since their inception and promise to do what Ethereum does, but better, offering fast, cheap, and even more secure transactions.
Here, we’ll ask what is the difference between Cardano and Polka Dot and look at each blockchain’s future potential.
Understanding the philosophy behind Cardano and Polkadot requires taking a look at its founders.
Charles Hoskinson began developing Cardano in 2015, launching the blockchain in 2017 alongside its native token ADA. Hoskinson was one of the original founders of Ethereum but left the project over diverging opinions on what direction to take it. Teaming up with some like-minded others, Hoskinson established Input Output Hong Kong (IOHK), an engineering and technical research company that develops cryptocurrencies and blockchains.
The central project of IOHK was Cardano which has been developed as a proof of stake public blockchain and platform for smart contracts using the ADA cryptocurrency.
Unlike many other cryptocurrency projects, Hoskinson did not seek venture capital to develop Cardano. For Hoskinson, this would have undermined the decentralized philosophy behind the project, claiming “they’re always going to get their pound of flesh before everybody else.”
Another former Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood founded Polkadot in 2017, with the blockchain launching in May 2020.
As Ethereum’s former chief architect, Wood is considered one of the most important developers in history, inventing many of the fundamentals of blockchain technology that are used throughout the industry. He also coined the term “Web 3.0” and sits as the President of the Web3 Foundation. Wood hopes that Polkadot will be instrumental in bringing about this next stage of the internet.
Both Hoskinson and Wood are industry veterans and bring clout to their respective projects. While Hoskinson is particularly active on social media and performing blockchain outreach for IOHK, Wood is more reticent.
|Transactions per second||200-1000+||1000+|
|Consensus||Proof-of-stake (Ouroboros)||Proof-of-stake (nominated)|
|Scaling solution||L2 (Hydra)||Parachains|
|Fees||$0.40 (avg)||$0.50 (avg)|
|Key features||Peer-reviewed, EUTxO well-regarded||Interoperability, modular|
Cardano is the only peer-reviewed blockchain, making its underlying code and technology extremely well researched and tested.
As a proof-of-stake (PoS) blockchain, Cardano avoids the computational cost that proof-of-work (PoW) platforms such as Ethereum and Bitcoin employ. Instead, proof-of-stake involves the delegation of validators based on the proportion of their cryptocurrency holdings. The philosophy behind the PoS consensus model is that those who hold a large stake in a cryptocurrency can be trusted not to undermine it.
Cardano’s has a two-layered design with both a settlement and a computation layer. The settlement layer keeps track of balances and transactions, while the computation layer handles the execution of smart contracts.
Its consensus model is known as Ouroborus and allows the network to handle anywhere between 200 and 1000 transactions per second. However, with the eventual implementation of the Hydra layer-2 scaling solution Cardano will be able to validate roughly 1000 transactions per validator, with a theoretical upper limit of around 1 million TPS.
One of the most technologically promising aspects of Cardano’s platform is its Extended Unspent Transaction Output (EUTxO) model. This extended form of Bitcoin’s highly secure ledger system is more secure, offers better privacy, and makes transactions deterministic. This eliminates the guesswork when it comes to fees and avoids the problem of failed transactions that often occurs on the Ethereum network.
Similar to plans for Ethereum 2.0, Polkadot uses a complex hybrid consensus protocol known as GRANDPA/BABE in combination with “parachains.” These are effectively parallel blockchains that can be customized and fed back into the main Polkadot network, known as the Relay Chain, while still maintaining interoperability.
The Relay Chain is the hub where transactions throughout the ecosystem are finalized.
The benefit of this approach is a theoretical upper TPS of 1 million and a cohesive validator pool. This is thanks to the modular nature of Polkadot. The network is often compared to a bicycle wheel with the central Relay Chain and validator pool at the center, parachains would be the multitude of spokes coming off this central point. Ultimately based on the same architecture, these parachains are interoperable but operate independently from each other.
Polkadot’s architecture is particularly developer-friendly, thanks to its modular nature. Aspects like governance and staking can be implemented into new blockchains from the Relay Chain, allowing parachains to run independently or dependently on Polkadot.
Allowing easier development for Polkadot is the Kusama network. This testnet is a live ecosystem based on an early version of Polkadot that acts as a “canary network” for testing new ideas before full implementation in the main Relay Chain.
Cardano currently has 2948 validating stake pools while Polkadot has around 1000. This makes Cardano – at least currently – more decentralized than Polkadot, with the development team turning off the in-house stake pool in March 2021.
Over 70% of all circulating ADA is now staked in Cardano’s network, meaning it benefits from enhanced security and assumed trust.
Polkadot’s focus is to instead focus on a smaller number of validators, running better hardware, with an Intel i7-7700K @ 4.20 GHz and 64GB ECC Ram as base requirements. Cardano, on the other hand, has more accessible hardware requirements and a lower minimum staking amount of 500 ADA.
For most who are simply looking to stake in other pools, Cardano has two main solutions. First, the full node wallet called Daedalus that downloads the full Cardano blockchain and allows staking. This is not available on mobiles, which leaves Yoroi as (currently) the only viable option.
Staking on Polkadot can be achieved without downloading a wallet, thanks to the mobile wallet option at polkadot.js.org.
Both Cardano and Polkadot offer different rewards based on which validator pool you choose to join and their corresponding fees.
Cardano has a max supply of 45 billion, with around 33 billion currently in circulation.
Over the course of 2021, Cardano’s price rose dramatically as investors experimented with alternatives to Ethereum. After the upcoming launch of smart contract functionality, Cardano saw an all-time high of $3.10 in September 2021, a 17767.4% increase from its lowest price of $0.017 in October 2017.
While currently, Cardano’s price has trended downwards, most analysts expect the currency to appreciate in value as its ecosystem grows.
Polkadot does not have a max supply as it is an inflationary currency, making staking necessary to avoid losing value. There is currently 1.1 billion DOT in circulation.
Polkadot saw its all-time high in November 2021, reaching a price of $55, with a low on August 20, 2020, at just $2.69. While this is not as marked an increase in price when compared to Cardano, this 1944% increase in value is promising, given it four years later.
Both networks are in the early stages of implementing Dapps and bringing the world of NFTs and DeFi to their platforms.
Polkadot’s Relay Chain itself does not support smart contracts and instead relies on parachains implementing them. Cardano implemented smart contracts directly following the launch of its Alonozo update in September 2021 and uses the Plutus/Haskell coding language.
Both projects are now seeing an increase in the number of Dapps launching on the networks, with Cardano now receiving the support of big players like SundaeSwap, which are priming their own launch of a Cardano decentralized exchange. Hampering Cardano, however, is the coding language Haskell which is considered secure and robust at the expense of a steep learning curve.
Cardano is seeing particular activity in Japan and some developing nations in Africa, where IOHK is implementing blockchain solutions. Polkadot, however, has a more widespread userbase, with a considerable amount of Chinese users prior to the outlawing of cryptocurrency use.
Both Cardano and Polkadot are tackling the problems of scalability and congestion differently. Cardano is opting for a robust layer-1 and layer-2 solution, while Polkadot uses a novel parachain approach akin to Ethereum’s sharding plan.
For developers, both platforms offer a viable alternative to Ethereum. Cardano is laying down the groundwork for an enormous amount of financially empowered users in Africa, but its use of Haskell is proving a sticking point, slowing down development. Polkadot has a more free strategy allowing developers to experiment quickly using its Kusama testnet but lacks the deterministic model that Cardano’s ETUxO enjoys.
For investors, both are worthy additions to a portfolio. While the two are effectively competitors, their differing approaches mean the two can effectively co-exist, with Cardano’s peer-reviewed nature and challenging barrier of entry regarding development, making it perhaps more adopted by institutions and traditional investors.