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zkEVM Explained. What It Is and Why It Matters
Author: Catherine
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If you follow crypto news at all, you have probably come across a mention of “zkEVM”. What hides behind this abbreviation? Why is it suddenly such a big deal? Let us give you a simple-to-understand explanation and digest the relevant news.

What Even is zkEVM?

First things first. Let’s unpack the phenomenon that is rocking the crypto world right now.

zkEVM comes from two abbreviations: the “ZK” prefix stands for “zero-knowledge”, a cryptographic technique that provides the validity proof for computation without revealing the inputs or the result.

EVM stands for “Ethereum virtual machine”, a program on the Ethereum network that executes smart contracts. However, if we view the zkEVM abbreviation as is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The actual meaning of “zkEVM” is an additional layer to Ethereum (Layer 2) that generates zero-knowledge proofs of validity and is compatible with EVM to some degree. So, coming back to the name, both “ZK” and “EVM” are crucial elements of the technology but it is greater than the sum of the two.

How Does zkEVM Work?

In concept and practice, zkEVM works very similarly to zero-knowledge rollups, since the two overlap significantly. It would even be possible to build a rollup solution with a zkEVM one.

Both of these Layer 2s batch a lot of transactions and produce a cryptographic proof of their validity. This proof is later recorded on Layer 1 (Ethereum) without the need to check every batched transaction individually. It significantly improves throughput and decreases fees.

The main difference between the two is Ethereum and EVM compatibility. A zkEVM solution has to balance between full compatibility with Ethereum and performance. The more precisely Ethereum’s architecture and cryptography are reproduced on Layer 2, the longer its prover time. And vice versa, the more changes are made to Layer 2’s pipeline in comparison to Ethereum, the less information has to be wrapped with zero-knowledge proofs.

types of zk-evms
Source: The different types of ZK-EVMs by Vitalik Buterin

The middle ground is to have the zkEVM be EVM-compatible without coding full Ethereum compatibility into the protocol. As a result, it has decent prover times and can support most of Ethereum dApps. Another way to solve the dilemma is to have zkEVM be compatible with smart contract languages like Solidity. At the cost of sacrificing more compatibility with dApps, this type of zkEVMs has the best prover time.

EVM-compatible solutions are built by Polygon and Scroll, and a zk-rollup with smart contract support is developed by Matter Labs (zkSync Era). Vitalik Buterin theorized that these protocols will increase their Ethereum compatibility over time.

What’s The Fuss Around zkEVMs About?

Essentially, this technology finally brings smart contract compatibility to smart contracts that use zero-knowledge proofs. Of course, you can already use optimistic rollups to the same effect but its security proved to be less reliable and withdrawal times come up to seven days.

zkEVM is all over the news because Polygon Labs announced the date of the beta launch of their solution. It is going to hit the Ethereum mainnet on March 27. Two days later, their competitor Matter Labs opened Fair Onboarding Alpha of zkSync Era to pre-registered participants and made it open source.

Both of these projects are hailed as the next generation of scaling on Ethereum, and for a reason. Polygon zkEVM core developer Eduardo Antuña shared a benchmark for what their product can do:

To reiterate: a high-end node can process 10 thousand transactions for $1. A batch of 500 ETH transactions or 250 ERC-20 token transactions takes only 2.5 minutes to verify.

polygon zk-evm roadmap
Polygon (MATIC) will enjoy the first-mover advantage with their release of zkEVM on the Ethereum mainnet in March. Source: Polygon.

Crypto analysts also expect the news and releases to heat up the narrative around zk-rollups and zero-knowledge proofs. Tokens that can benefit from it are, of course, Polygon (MATIC) but also Loopring (LRC), Dusk Network (DUSK), ImmutableX (IMX), and Mina Protocol (MINA).


Will ZK-EVM solutions revolutionize Ethereum scaling like they’re expected to? We will finally know for a fact in March.

Don’t want to wait to make a bet on the tech? Visit ChangeHero to get a bag of a ZK token of your choice ahead of the rally. And join our Telegram channel for more crypto updates!