A clear and simple explanation of why Ethereum needs transactions validation and gas fees

Turing proved that you cannot predict whether a program will terminate by simulating it on a computer. In simple terms, we cannot predict the path of a program without running it.

Turing-complete systems can run in “infinite loops,” a term used (in oversimplification) to describe a program that does not terminate.

It is trivial to create a program that runs a loop that never ends. But unintended never-ending loops can arise without warning, due to complex interactions between the starting conditions and the code.

In Ethereum, this poses a challenge: every participating node (client) must validate every transaction, running any smart contracts it calls. But as Turing proved, Ethereum can’t predict if a smart contract will terminate, or how long it will run, without actually running it (possibly running forever).

Whether by accident or on purpose, a smart contract can be created such that it runs forever when a node attempts to validate it. This is effectively a DoS attack.

And of course, between a program that takes a millisecond to validate and one that runs forever are an infinite range of nasty, resource-hogging, memory-bloating, CPU-overheating programs that simply waste resources.
In a world computer, a program that abuses resources gets to abuse the world’s resources.

How does Ethereum constrain the resources used by a smart contract if it cannot predict resource use in advance?

To answer this challenge, Ethereum introduces a metering mechanism called gas.

As the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) executes a smart contract, it carefully accounts for every instruction (computation, data access, etc.). Each instruction has a predetermined cost in units of gas.

When a transaction triggers the execution of a smart contract, it must include an amount of gas that sets the upper limit of what can be consumed running the smart contract.
The EVM will terminate execution if the amount of gas consumed by computation exceeds the gas available in the transaction.

Gas is the mechanism Ethereum uses to allow Turing-complete computation while limiting the resources that any program can consume.


This is one of the many passages and charts I find in books and articles on a daily basis. They span many disciplines, including:

I occasionally add a personal note to them.

The whole collection is available here.