Nick White, COO Celestia

Getting ‘Modular-Pilled’ with Nick White of Celestia

August 28, 2023

Celestia Labs COO Nick White says he got “modular-pilled” in 2020, before modular blockchains were really even a thing. 

In this special talk for the inaugural Variant Founder Fellowship as part of our series on the web3 infra stack, he laid out why he believes they’re superior to monolithic blockchains.

Check out our key takeaways below the video. 


Start from first principles.

Blockchains are “tools for trust-minimized coordination” that enable “rules without rulers,” says Nick. So if you don’t verify yourself, you introduce the need for trust back into the system and undermine the point of a blockchain. 

Why re-introduce trust into a trustless system? Because verification is what makes scaling a blockchain so difficult—the amount of data to download is beyond the bandwidth of the average user.

Thus far, L1 devs have pursued two paths: 1) preserve verifiability and live with the high fees that can arise, or 2) sacrifice verifiability to lock in low fees. (Check out Nick’s quick comparison of L1 networks at 1:25.)


Modular blockchains create a third path.

Modular blockchains use two basic technologies in tandem to address scaling: rollups and data availability. Rollups, either of the optimistic or zk variety, use proofs to process transactions in large batches. But to trust them, says Nick, the data must be made publicly available somewhere. Rollups and data availability are the “yin and yang” of scalability, as Nick frames it, allowing users to verify by sampling a small sliver of the data. The upshot is bigger blocks that are still cheap to verify. (See how modular blockchains upgrade light clients to “light nodes” at 16:25.)


You don’t have to choose between scalability, sovereignty, and shared security.

Fortunately, scaling doesn’t come at the expense of sovereignty or security, according to Nick. Instead of having to bootstrap their own security, modular blockchains inherit it. (See why Nick says shared security is a boon for interoperability at 8:45.)

As for sovereignty, the choice to Nick is obvious, who compares monolithic blockchains to a laptop that can only run Windows: “That limits the kinds of applications you can run.” Modular blockchains, by contrast, “decouple execution, consensus, and data availability,” allowing developers the flexibility to build customized applications and appchains.



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