Meatball's Stake Insights #1: What is an Epoch

What is an Epoch?

At the time of writing, Solana is on its 348th epoch. You’ve definitely seen the word thrown around if you’ve been in the Solana space for a bit. Have you not the courage to ask your more experienced friends? Don’t worry, Meatball's got you covered. If you have ever wanted to know about epochs: what they signify, and why they are important, this post is for you.

Epochs in the vernacular are a set period of time, an era, an age. They have a specific start-point, endpoint, and they usually have some weighty significance. You use them to mark the period in which a monarch governed in the distant past. Or you use them to mark a period in which society radically changed.

In crypto, proof-of-stake chains adopt the term "epoch" to keep track of the period in which a set number of blocks occur. Different chains determine epochs with different conditions. Of course, I will be focusing on Solana.

The Belle Epoque: one notable epoch from the past.

SOL: A Blockchain on Time

Solana is a special blockchain. It has a proof-of-history innovation. This means that unlike many other chains, it is not tethered to a system of time-keeping that exists in real time. Solana does not measure epoch in hours, minutes, and seconds. Solana measures epochs in slots and blocks. This means: it measures work allocated, and the periods of work to be completed by validators.

Time is of great importance to a blockchain. That means estimates of the optimal time that an epoch should last do matter. An epoch is 432,000 slots, and each slot should take 400ms to complete. This means that a new epoch should start every 2-3 days. This duration depends on the health of the network.

Why is an epoch important?

1.  Assigning Work: Validators

Epochs are not just a measure of time on the blockchain. Epochs also part of the framework that binds the functionality of the network together.

Solana defines an epoch as:

The time, i.e., number of slots, for which a leader schedule is valid.

Here, ‘leader schedule’ refers to the order-of-priority of validators on the network. By keeping time, you make sure that the correct validator public key is doing its job at any given moment. This is the reason why SOL operates at hyper-fast speeds. Solana co-ordinates validators with appropriate slots. This provides validators time to package data entries into a block.

You could analogise the network to a wall-calendar. Every validator is pencilled in on a schedule measured in, you guessed it, epochs.

  1. Thresholds and the Importance of the Epoch Boundary

Everything important to do with epochs happens at the boundary.

What’s important to you? Well, rewards are distributed to delegators or stakers of SOL! (That's you hopefully). You can also execute functions that enable delegation of new stake. You can also withdraw your staked SOL.

When delegators are checking stake in, or checking it out, they measure progress in epochs.


So, there you have it. Epochs are important to the reward and incentive process of staking on Solana. In summary,

  • Epochs are used to measure progress towards validator rewards.
  • They are the relevant unit for ‘leader schedules’ and for allocating work.
  • For validators and delegators, the epoch is also a used to calculate accrued rewards and yield resulting from SOL’s in-built inflation.

The next time you stake your SOL, celebrate the coming of a next epoch. Remember the validators (and you) that did their part for the network. Enjoy the rewards to make sure you had a seamless experience.

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