February 02, 2023 - 8 min read
Full nodes validate incoming transactions and store the shared history of a network’s ledger, though light or RPC nodes participate in more limited capacities.
Blockchain nodes are open-source, cross-platform runtimes which participate in the network’s function in some capacity. Nodes often communicate within the network by sharing state information, voting on the governance of their protocols, and validating new blocks of incoming transactions.
Network nodes are responsible for the validity, reliability, and consistency of the data which lives on their respective shared ledgers. Each node stores a complete copy of their blockchain’s ledger, and updates it as new blocks are produced. Thanks to blockchain nodes, users of public chains enjoy transparent access to its data, track its history back through time, or observe its current manifestation unfold in the present moment.
Launching and maintaining nodes contributes to a blockchain’s decentralization. On some networks, running a node provides operators with a small income as the node is paid for validating new transactions and participating in the voting process which produces new blocks.
A diverse and decentralized network of nodes contributes to a more robust consensus mechanism. Having more nodes originating from various geographical locations decreases the likelihood of a network ever collapsing completely or colluding in a way that could overwhelm the Byzantine fault tolerance set by the protocol. If enough nodes maintain their copy of the blockchain’s ledger and continue block production, the network may continue its operations indefinitely.
First of all, to deploy a blockchain node, the new node operator must first possess the minimum hardware and software requirements like a compatible operating system, enough free disk space, RAM memory, and internet speeds. Next, operators download the core software required to participate to their desired level of involvement. Full nodes download the latest copy of the blockchain’s historical record so that they may participate in voting processes.
All blockchains set their own parameters regarding the equipment, memory requirements, and processing power necessary to run nodes on their respective networks. Some networks have much lower barriers to entry, while others seemingly make running nodes difficult and expensive by design. Of course, this could be done to ensure that node operators make significant financial investments into the endeavor, with the logic being that bad actors would be disincentivized from attempting to run malicious nodes.
As hinted at previously, operating a blockchain node is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. For instance, Bitcoin’s network allows users to run either full nodes or lightweight nodes. For a full Bitcoin node, storing the blockchain’s history must be downloaded and kept on file locally. At the time of writing, over 380 GB of hard disk memory would be required.
Similarly, running an Ethereum node can be done in several different fashions according to the desired level of sophistication: full, lightweight, or archive nodes. Full nodes guard against double-spend attacks and other misbehavior.
In addition, full nodes don’t need to rely on other nodes for accessing the blockchain as with lightweight nodes, allowing users more complete sovereignty over their digital assets. Moreover, nodes can be connected either to a blockchain’s main network or run on a testnet or other safe environment for testing and developing novel software.
Light nodes are attractive for users without the powerful hardware or bandwidth capabilities since there’s no need to download Ethereum’s full history, wallet balances, or smart contract codes. Instead, lightweight nodes use block headers as summaries of each block’s content, and do not vote on new blocks.
Though it is not commonly done now, light nodes could be run on mobile phones or other smaller, less powerful devices. Though the light nodes do not participate in consensus, they can nevertheless access the Ethereum blockchain via summaries provided by full nodes.
Ethereum Archive Nodes are perhaps the most difficult nodes to run in terms of drawing on operator resources. For example, they require more substantial hardware to operate, often requiring heavy RAM usage and copious disk space. Synchronization of a new Ethereum archival node with tracing could take several weeks even with advanced equipment.
In the event there is any error in the client’s version of their node, the node would need to be re-synced all over again. Not only is this arduous, but can be an expensive process when opportunity cost is considered. Interestingly, if one attempted synchronization of an Archive Node from a slower HDD hard disk, the node would likely not ever be able to fully sync as the speed of block generation would exceed the computer’s ability to write the ledger’s history to the disk’s memory.
Running an Ethereum node takes place in different console terminals by default. Consoles are established to run in different languages, and are meant to provide built-in environments in which to use subsets of the Web3.js libraries to interact with nodes running a compatible console written in the same language. Nodes run within their relevant console as background processes.
Of course, checking to see if the node is running on a testnet will ensure full functionality. To do this, send a request to a compatible node or request data from the blockchain. To keep a node from going offline, regular monitoring should be done. Otherwise the node could crash and a manual restart would be necessary, meaning that any income that would have been generated from validating or mining new blocks would be lost.
First of all, node operators commonly run into problems related to limited bandwidth or hardware capabilities. It’s important that a node’s connection to the internet is extremely robust, and that there are no traffic restrictions imposed by their ISPs. This is especially important to consider if the network is being used for reasons other than operating the node itself, which would create bottlenecks and sluggish performance.
During the early days of the Bitcoin network, virus signatures were uploaded to the blockchain, causing Windows users to experience problems after their anti-virus software detected them. Nevertheless, users were not at risk of infection. Instead, their ability to successfully operate a node was compromised. Malicious actors could also notice that a new node has been set up for operation and test its security safeguards, looking for weaknesses.
To resolve technical issues, there are many blockchain-as-a-service companies that operate nodes for their clients. The node operator deploys the necessary capital and resources to connect their infrastructure, and maintain its functionality with regards to the desired blockchain.
Based on the needs of each client, blockchain-as-a-service providers facilitate full access to essentially any public blockchain so long as the minimum requirements are met, including a minimum investment to stake on the desired network, depending on its consensus mechanism. The service provider assumes the responsibility for all actions related to the node’s operations, allowing clients to focus on their domain of expertise rather than operating the node.
For enterprises seeking to run blockchain nodes and contribute to a digital network’s ecosystem, the following list contains easy-to-use, secure, and scalable node management platforms. The following is a list of popular node service providers offering institutional access to the top blockchains:
These services take care of the complexities of running nodes by providing API access to the top blockchains and their digital assets. Web3 APIs add efficiency to business models by streamlining and simplifying work for developers, providing increased flexibility and freeing up bandwidth for other endeavors. The service providers simply deliver smooth operation and maintenance so companies can fully focus on their own projects with fewer potential friction points.
Blockchain nodes can sometimes eat up a lot of time and resources, but they are most often profitable for miners or validators. Full nodes are more profitable since they validate blocks and store the entire blockchain’s history, so validator nodes can expect to generate passive income.
Of course, nodes that act maliciously are quickly recognized by the rest of the honest nodes and either have their stake slashed or are disconnected from the network altogether. Clearly, this is not recommended and therefore more time will not be allocated to such strategies.
Despite the fact that running a lightweight node does not provide crypto returns, it still serves to bolster trust, security, and privacy amongst its users and other nodes. The financial rewards that validators and miners earn may not be available to light node operators, but there are other benefits of running your own node, including privacy, security, self-reliance, censorship resistance, and a more decentralized network.
Having your own node means you don’t need to trust third parties about the state of the network or the authenticity of the transactions submitted to the network for validation. To illustrate this final point, imagine being the owner of a physical trading post which only accepted physical gold as payments for services.
Now think of the logistics of such an arrangement, how would you validate that the gold was authentic and was measured in exactly the correct amount? Would you send it off to a network of inspectors, or make arrangements to do all of the validation in-house? In other words, running your own node lives up to the ubiquitous ethos of the crypto world: do not trust; verify.
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