Since the Optimism Collective launched sixteen months ago, Bankless Publishing has been covering that ecosystem, from tokenization and technology to the Law of Chains and the Optimistic Vision. As part of our work, we’re pleased to curate eight of those articles as part of what we’re calling The hOPe Series. These article are available as free, open edition digital collectibles, helping you to curate writings on one of the most impactful ecosystems in web3.
The Optimism Collective, a leading Ethereum Layer 2 scaling solution, has recently announced the first draft of the auspiciously named Law of Chains. In theory, the Law of Chains will govern the blockchains that are built on the OP Stack; these will eventually constitute the Superchain ecosystem—a unified collective of blockchains dedicated to open, decentralized block space. The Law of Chains represents an open neutrality framework that is meant to define the minimum standard for Superchain participants.
The OP Stack is a series of software modules that power Optimism Mainnet and facilitate open-source development in the ecosystem. The OP Stack currently hosts projects such as BuildOnBase, opBNB, ourZORA, and Magi, and new chains are being deployed with increasing frequency. Optimism introduced the Superchain concept following its recent Bedrock upgrade. The Superchain is meant to facilitate continued scaling of the network of OP-Stack-based chains and allow for some level of interconnectivity.
The OP Stack is the first realization of the modular blockchain theory. We’re finally moving beyond charts that describe how this might work to a concrete codebase where you actually get to fit these components together.
As it’s an MIT-licensed public good, builders can fork the OP Stack however they see fit. In practice, such freedom to iterate generally leads to disparate implementation of standards, confronting users and builders with the challenge of individually assessing each chain’s security, quality, and neutrality. The Law of Chains is meant to diminish or eliminate some of that uncertainty. It is important to note—frontrunning initial developer objections about how perceived conformity requirements might stymie independent projects—that the Law of Chains will only apply to OP chains that voluntarily opt in to become part of the Superchain.
Currently, each OP Stack chain operates independently, with no straightforward way to share standards and improvements. With governance mechanisms designed in the same vein as the Optimism Collective’s experimental and agile approach to governance, the Law of Chains will become the guiding principle for Optimism Governance and facilitate the Superchain’s evolution into a unified collective of chains upholding a shared commitment to open and decentralized blockspace.
More specifically, the Law of Chains is meant to facilitate minimum standards regarding covered participants, platform expectations, security standards, and user and servicer protections on the Superchain. It will also allow for economies of scale across the Superchain with regard to development and upkeep of underlying infrastructure such as block explorers, indexing, sequencing, etc.
Releasing the OP Stack will [be] the first step in an explosion of highly compatible L2s and L3s. We lovingly call these op-chains. By sharing and contributing back to a hardened, standardized, and modular codebase, all of these systems can work together to build the future of Ethereum. With a shared message-passing format, these chains can easily communicate with each other without custom adapters for each and every chain.
The closest current analog to the Superchain would seem to be the Cosmos Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol, which defines a set of low-level primitives for authentication, transport, and ordering, along with a set of application-level standards for asset and data semantics. However, unlike the Superchain, IBC does not contemplate or rely upon the identification of a minimum standard for the characteristics noted above for the network of blockchains in which it is operating.
Once formally introduced, the Law of Chains could make a significant impact on the OP Stack ecosystem by attracting more developers and users to Optimism. Some of the key benefits of the Law of Chains include:
Easier cross-chain development: The Law of Chains will make it easier for developers to build cross-chain applications that can run on any OP chain. This will, in turn, facilitate users moving their assets between OP chains.
Improved security: The Law of Chains will establish minimum security standards for all OP chains that opt into the Superchain, which will help protect users and developers from malicious actors.
Increased transparency: The Law of Chains will increase transparency in the OP Stack ecosystem, building trust and confidence among users and developers.
Of course, there are critics of the Law of Chains’ and OP Stack’s reliance on a single sequencer, along with other criticisms that will likely surface in the Optimism governance forum. However, if nothing else, the Law of Chains strives to facilitate the development and mainstream adoption of blockchain ecosystems.
Much to my chagrin as an attorney, Optimism’s Law of Chains is heavy on important ideals but light on the law. As stated in the Collective’s announcement, “[f]undamentally, the Law of Chains is a social contract (not a legal one) . . . .” This is also reaffirmed in the disclaimer on the Optimism Governance page:
[The Law of Chains] is fundamentally social in nature, intended to guide Optimism Governance and participants in the Optimism Collective. It is not a legal contract, and provides no legally enforceable warranties, representations, indemnities, rights, or obligations. Participants commit to the Law of Chains independently. No party acquires the ability to bind the other by virtue of their shared commitment to these guidelines.
For example, while the Law of Chains includes the concept of Participant Protections, those protections are framed in a manner that reflects the importance of such protections as a matter of principle, but no legal rights or obligations are created. If participant protections are violated, the only recourse is an appeal to Optimism Governance, which is essentially an appeal to the onchain democratic process.
Optimism Governance is not a legal entity or a singular adjudicative body. It is a collection of many unaffiliated, independent, and uncoordinated individual voters. Its outcomes cannot be guaranteed.
Participants in the Superchain will also not have the ability to contractually bind other participants by virtue of their shared commitment to the proposed—and presumably eventually adopted—guidelines. While the Law of Chains expressly disclaims the creation of any partnership, joint venture, employment, franchise, or agency relationships, there is still arguably the second-order effect of providing aspects of collective bargaining in contracting and infrastructure development with external parties.
While the current iteration of the Law of Chains may be perceived as somewhat ‘toothless’ in its ability to enforce its own standards, that does not mean that enforceable legal mechanisms utilizing OP Stack technology and embodying its ideals will not eventually evolve. For now, however, it seems as if the “Law” part of the Law of Chains may be a misnomer, albeit a well-meaning aspiration.
Lawpanda is a U.S. attorney with an active litigation and counseling practice assisting builders, developers, traditional companies, and decentralized communities. He is a member of the Blockchain Lawyers Group, BanklessDAO’s Legal Guild, LexDAO, LeXpunK, and a member/consultant/contributor to a variety of DAOs and protocols. Read his scribblings on Mirror and connect on the app formerly known as Twitter, LinkedIn, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
trewkat is a writer, editor, and designer at BanklessDAO. She’s interested in learning about crypto and NFTs, with a particular focus on how best to communicate this knowledge to others.
Hiro Kennelly is a writer and shipper at Bankless Publishing, building at BanklessDAO, an Associate at Bankless Consulting, and is now and forever a DAOpunk.
Chameleon is a designer and creator in the web3 space.
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