Polkadot (DOT) and Kusama (KSM) are two massive blockchain projects primed to compete with Ethereum. However, not everyone knows the Polkadot and Kusama networks are actually cousins.
The story begins with Gavin Wood, the Ethereum co-founder who also invented Solidity, the programming language responsible for smart contracts. Gavin is clearly a brilliant developer, but he has even larger ideas about the importance of decentralization.
That's why he founded Polkadot, an interoperable blockchain network meant to be more decentralized, comprehensive, secure, and faster than Ethereum. Since Polkadot is meant for highly robust blockchains and applications, Kusama was founded as a proving ground for Polkadot-bound projects.
Here are the key differences between Polkadot and Kusama.
Kusama is a proving ground for Polkadot
Despite having extreme performance capabilities, Polkadot as a network and ecosystem is focused on being home to quality projects rather than a quantity of them. If you were around for the 2017 ICO boom, you know how sorely crypto needs such a philosophy.
That's where the Kusama network comes in. Called a "risk-taking, fast-moving, 'canary in a coal mine' for its cousin Polkadot," Kusama is where projects rapidly deploytest in production versions to work out kinks before launching on Polkadot.
The logic followed here has to do with startup costs as well as security. Becoming a Polkadot parachain is highly competitive, expensive, and requires an airtight product. So if a project is new and yet to run at scale to the public, going straight to Polkadot isn't resource-friendly.
Besides, an unproven decentralized app or service might need tweaks only a dry run or encounter with a white hat hacker can provide. There again, burning valuable resources to jump aboard Polkadot with a testnet-version product wouldn't be wise.
The last point about governance is especially pertinent. Polkadot has prolonged governance procedures with tons of formalities. Why? Because it's meant to be a trillion-dollar network running the decentralized web.
With such high stakes, Polkadot can't afford to move quickly — but Kusama can. Communities can quickly push votes through for easily deployed network changes. These on-the-go changes make Kusama-based projects evolve in real-time, stepping ever closer to perfection.
The end goal of every Kusama project is, in theory at least, to deploy on Polkadot. For example, noteworthy projects heading to Polkadot, like Acala and Moonbeam, have already launched Kusama parachains called Karura and MoonRiver.
Again, the point is to let people use Karura on Kusama so the team can improve Acala for Polkadot. Earlier we said the end goal is for Kusama projects to land on Polkadot, but it might not always be accurate. Some parachains might prefer life on Kusama, or perhaps Karura will outperform Acala after both are live.
A final point to note is that Kusama is not a testnet. Yes, projects test on Kusama, but not in the traditional sense. They’re all live, their economic value is real, and so are the stakes.
Polkadot is formal, Kusama is wild
Kusama is often called a canary network for Polkadot. If you're not familiar with the saying, a canary in a coal mine is refers to canaries used to warn miners about dangers ahead.
In this sense, Kusama wanders ahead into the mine while Polkadot waits by the entrance for a signal. This strategy works for building security on Polkadot because Kusama is its clone.
Both blockchains share a nearly identical codebase save for some tweaks to governance. Both Kusama and Polkadot are multichain interoperable networks using a forkless design revolving around a proof of stake governed relay chain.
Where they diverge is that Kusama has wilder governance parameters. The elapsed time between proposing a vote, holding the vote, and implementing the vote is significantly shorter on Kusama. This added speed makes the network faster from an evolutionary, not performance, standpoint.
Kusama communities are likely to be more engaged, dynamic, and chaotic due to the faster governance process. In contrast, Polkadot wears a tie at the dinner table, i.e., governance requires more checks and balances.
If you like a smooth and somewhat predictable community experience following clear timetables, Polkadot is your network. But remember, the smoothness of your Polkadot experience owes everything to the wild by-the-minute evolutions on Kusama.
Kusama lowers the barrier to entry for parachains
Kusama hosts real economic value in a testnet-like environment that's lacking some of Polkadot's security guarantees. Accordingly, launching and maintaining a Kusama parachain is cheaper than on Polkadot.
To launch a parachain on Polkadot, the DOT bonding requirements are really steep. Remember, Polkadot is about quality-proven projects, which translates to well-funded projects.
Kusama uses the bonding model as well, albeit using KSM instead of DOT. The bond requirements for Kusama are lower, but if Kusama takes off and KSM goes to the moon, KSM prices might nullify the difference in bonding requirements.
Polkadot offers bank-like security
Polkadot is for projects needing high-grade bank-like security for valuable applications. Imagine a decentralized finance protocol holding billions, or even trillions, worth of tokenized value. When astronomical sums are on the table, only the strictest security guarantees will do.
Since Polkadot has higher bonding requirements for parachains, more DOT tokens are staked to the network, which, in turn, increases network security. As more parachains switch on (Polkadot is thought to have a 100 parachain limit), the network becomes increasingly secure.
On the other hand, Kusama has a lower barrier to entry (less KSM required to bond). That should make it less secure overall, though not insecure. It just won't offer the same security robustness as its more serious cousin Polkadot.
DOT vs. KSM token
DOT and KSM are both utility tokens used for crowdloans, bonding, and governance. Additionally, both DOT and KSM stakers receive staking rewards.
The only significant difference between DOT and KSM tokens is token supply. KSM has a maximum supply of 10,000,000 KSM, whereas DOT’s maximum supply is uncapped.
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