Decentralised finance (DeFi) has exploded in popularity over the last few years, offering new cross-chain DeFi potential without the need for traditional intermediaries like banks or brokerages. However, despite rapid growth, DeFi remains limited by issues around blockchain interoperability and fragmented liquidity. The emergence of cross-chain technology in 2024 could change that, radically expanding the possibilities for the DeFi sector.
What is Cross-Chain Interoperability?
Cross-chain interoperability refers to the ability of different blockchains to communicate and transfer data and value between one another. At present, most DeFi platforms and applications are restricted to single blockchains like Ethereum, making it impossible to access liquidity or functionality on other chains. This severely restricts the services they can offer.
Cross-chain bridges aim to resolve this issue by enabling the movement of assets and data between otherwise disconnected networks. Some examples include decentralised oracle networks like Chainlink, which allow off-chain data to be used by smart contracts on multiple chains. There are also token bridges like WORMHOLE, which facilitate asset transfers between chains.
As cross-chain interoperability improves in 2024, we could see increased use cases like:
- Accessing unique DeFi services across different chains based on their strengths – e.g. using stablecoins on Terra while accessing lending protocols on Avalanche.
- Combining liquidity across chains – e.g. putting ETH/USDC liquidity from Uniswap together with LUNA/UST liquidity from Astroport.
- Cross-chain composability between DeFi protocols to offer advanced financial products.
Major Technical Developments on the Horizon
There are high hopes that 2024 could see significant technical breakthroughs, making seamless cross-chain DeFi a reality. The decentralised finance (DeFi) ecosystem has seen immense growth recently but remains siloed across individual blockchains, limiting the financial services that can be offered. Cross-chain interoperability aims to break these barriers down, combining functionality and liquidity across multiple networks.
To make this vision a reality, there are some major technical milestones that need to be achieved. Here are three key developments to watch out for:
More Trusted and Decentralised Bridges
Projects like Multichain, Celer Network and Connext are building decentralised, secure token bridges using innovations like distributed validator sets and cryptographic proofs. For example, Multichain uses a network of random validators to verify transactions, eliminating single points of failure. Celer applies generalised state channel technology to enable secure asset transfers off-chain.
By spreading validation across multiple nodes, these bridges reduce systemic risks considerably compared to bridges with just a handful of validators. Distributed operation also enhances censorship resistance. Users can effortlessly port assets between chains without reliance on any centralised intermediary.
Emerging Standards for Interoperability
For cross-chain communication to work effectively, common standards and protocols for interoperability need to emerge. Projects across multiple ecosystems are coalescing around the Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol for this purpose. Originally developed by the Cosmos network, IBC defines standard packet data structures and handshake mechanisms for chains to talk to one another.
With widespread adoption, IBC could do for interoperability what HTTP did for internet communication. It removes the need for custom integrations between each blockchain, allowing DevOps teams to focus on building applications rather than complex APIs. Mainstream use of IBC in 2024 could eliminate major friction points for cross-chain DeFi.
Faster, Cheaper Cross-Chain Transactions
Leading layer 2 scaling solutions like zkSync, Optimism and Arbitrum are preparing cross-chain functionality for their platforms. By handling transactions off the slower and costlier base layer while resolving transaction finality on-chain, these solutions offer order-of-magnitude improvements in transaction fees and confirmation times.
For example, zkSync’s ZK-Rollups bundle hundreds of transfers off-chain and generate a cryptographic proof to verify the validity of the bundle on Ethereum. This technology can facilitate the frictionless movement of assets across networks almost instantly at a negligible cost.
The Bottom Line
If major technical, standardisation, and DeFi interoperability solutions can be achieved in 2024, we may be poised to enter a new era of composability, liquidity and functionality across decentralised finance. The obstacles are certainly surmountable, and if removed successfully, 2024 could be the year cross-chain DeFi comes into its own in a substantial way.
Of course, risks and uncertainties remain, too. The technology is still being battle-tested, and further innovations around areas like security will likely need to emerge before mainstream comfort exists. Nonetheless, developers and investors increasingly recognise the immense potential in bridging DeFi across chains.
The seeds for an internet of blockchains are already being planted. If they blossom as hoped within the next year, DeFi will branch out rapidly, spreading functionality and use cases far beyond what is currently possible on isolated single chains. The scope for new financial products, services and business models could be profound.
For decentralised finance, cross-chain interoperability may prove to be the biggest game changer yet. All eyes are on 2024 to see if this crucial next step in blockchain infrastructure can fulfil its promise. Done right, the possibilities for the future of DeFi look very bright indeed.