Developers today have a lot of options for where to build, and it’s hard to decide what blockchain is best. In this post, we break down some of the key features in Stacks, Polygon, and Solana to make it easier for you to figure out where you want to build.
Why Solana and Polygon? In our Q1 Developer Survey, Solana and Polygon came up near the top of the list of other blockchains that Web3 developers on Stacks have explored. So, if you are thinking about what blockchain to build on, this should make it easier for you to make the right choice for your application.
Stacks vs. Solana vs. Polygon: An Overview
Stacks, Solana, and Polygon represent a new generation of blockchains taking different paths to solve the blockchain trilemma and enable developers to build decentralized and secure Web3 apps at scale.
Bitcoin demonstrated how blockchains could change the world through digital currency, but it made a design choice not to support smart contracts. Instead, it implemented a limited scripting language to prioritize decentralization and security instead of opening up attack vectors through a fully functional programming language.
Now, Stacks extends Bitcoin’s functionality by enabling fully expressive smart contracts on Bitcoin. Stacks, which launched its mainnet in January 2021, is an independent blockchain with an innovative consensus mechanism called Proof of Transfer (PoX). PoX anchors Stacks to Bitcoin, which means that Stacks inherits Bitcoin’s security. To change the history of Stacks, you’d have to change the history of Bitcoin. To do this, PoX recycles Bitcoin’s existing Proof-of-Work computations to secure a second blockchain, in this case, Stacks, effectively piggybacking security from the most robust decentralized network.
PoX anchors Stacks to Bitcoin, which means that Stacks inherits Bitcoin’s security. To change the history of Stacks, you’d have to change the history of Bitcoin.
The connection between Bitcoin and Stacks is unique in that Bitcoin functions as the decentralized and secure money layer while Stacks functions as a programming layer on top; similar to how neobanks offer digital financial services adjacent to the infrastructural rails of traditional banks to enable more versatility.
That connection also goes deeper than just Stacks existing on top of Bitcoin: Stacks contracts have visibility into the Bitcoin state, meaning that Stacks smart contracts can read changes in Bitcoin’s state and react to Bitcoin transactions. Through Stacks, developers can put Bitcoin’s reliability, latent capital, and network effects into productive use in Web3 applications. If you want a blockchain optimized for security, Stacks incorporates Bitcoin’s security through PoX.
Solana is an open-source blockchain founded in 2017 and designed to demonstrate how transaction throughput on a blockchain can scale as the network grows. Solana introduced the Proof of History consensus mechanism as an improvement over PoS to enable higher throughput by proposing the concept of universal time across the network for easier ordering of events and transactions.
Solana’s Proof of History has elements of PoS, such as validators, and it requires validators to hash the previous output of a hash. It also helps reduce latency and communication costs by serving as a cryptographically secure source of time. With Proof of History, any individual node in the Solana network can validate the entire chain without necessarily being connected to the rest of the network.
Solana is charting another course to blockchain scalability as it offers faster and cheaper transaction times. Solana’s focus on scalability already helps it support the explosion of NFT and DeFi dApp usage in Web3. And now, one of its key selling points is that it can deliver a possible 65,000 transactions per second. If you want blockchain optimized for scalability, Solana does this effortlessly.
Polygon, (previously MATIC Network) was founded in 2017 to enhance Ethereum’s scalability for the benefit of developers and end-users of dApps. Ethereum introduced smart contracts for building apps on blockchains in 2015, but it encountered serious scalability issues early on when its transaction volumes grew exponentially.
Polygon has emerged as a scaling solution that supports the Ethereum blockchain, allowing for speedy transactions and low fees. Polygon helps scale Ethereum by enhancing its Proof of Stake consensus mechanism with Commit chains that operate adjacent to Ethereum. The Commit chains bundle batches of transactions and confirm them en masse before returning data to the main chain.
One of the biggest selling points for Polygon is that it exists on top of Ethereum. Polygon uses the programming language Solidity (the same as Ethereum) and has compatibility with the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). For developers, this means building in a scalable ecosystem that is compatible with not only Ethereum, but every EVM-compatible blockchain. On Polygon, it is relatively straightforward to port existing Ethereum projects into Polygon and leverage better scalability. If you want an Etherem-native blockchain optimized for scalability, Polygon is a popular choice for developers for good reason.
Stacks vs. Solana vs. Polygon: Programming Languages
Blockchains create or adopt programming languages based on the kind of developer experience they want to optimize for. The programming language also impacts the security of smart contracts as well as the quality of tooling available to developers. In some ways this goes without saying, but the programming language has a big influence on the developer experience.
Learn more about how to pick a programming language for Web3 in a panel from the Bitcoin Unleashed conference:
Stacks’ programming language is Clarity, a new language developed by the Stacks foundation, Hiro, and Algorand, among others. Clarity is an interpreted language (not compiled), meaning that the Clarity code is always expressed in human-readable form. The human-readable form of Clarity smart contracts eliminates the possibility of compiler errors.
Separately, by design, the human-readable source code for every smart contract on Stacks is available on the blockchain, effectively making the Stacks blockchain a 'GitHub for smart contracts.' The availability of the source code on the blockchain also better enables composability by giving developers access to the code in other applications.
By design, the human-readable source code for every smart contract on Stacks is available on the blockchain.
Clarity is also decidable, which means it is easier to predict with certainty how the code will behave before you run it. This decidability makes it easier to debug the code before it goes into production. Decidability helps you to analyze Clarity code for runtime cost and data usage, so you can better predict the fees that will be passed on to your users.
And of course, Clarity allows developers to build applications that are secured by Bitcoin because the Stacks blockchain is anchored to Bitcoin, and Clarity smart contacts have visibility into Bitcoin’s global state and can react to native Bitcoin transactions.
If you are an experienced developer with general-purpose programming languages, you may prefer the Solana blockchain. Solana’s programming languages for smart contracts are general programming languages Rust, C, and C++.
Rust is a popular programming language and it has been voted the “Most Loved Language” six years in a row on the Stack Overflow developer survey. One of Rust’s core strengths is that it is optimized for performance and safety by giving developers the freedom to choose between two modes when writing code. For example, Safe Rust imposes restrictions such as object ownership management on the programmer while Unsafe Rust gives you more autonomy to exploit higher-level abstractions in your code.
Solana’s founders said they chose languages already being used by professional programmers in an intentional move to attract experienced developers to the Solana network. So, developers who have experience in Rust, C, or C++ may have a lower learning curve and a faster ramp-up to building Web3 applications on Solana.
Another great thing about programming languages on Solana is the presence of many third-party SDKs built around JSON RPC API, so you can build dApps on Solana using other programming languages such as Java, C#, Python, Go, Swift, Dart-Flutter, and Kotlin.
Beyond Ethereum and Polygon, other EVM-compatible (Ethereum Virtual Machine) chains can also write their smart contracts in Solidity. Learning Solidity provides transferable skills to shorten the learning curve for creating Web3 apps on a number of other blockchains, which may appeal to developers who are unsure which ecosystem they want to build in.
Solidity also enjoys an advantage over other smart contract programming languages. Since it is the oldest smart contract language, you can find tons of learning resources and tutorials on how to use Solidity. Solidity is a compiled language, and so developers must use an ABI (Application Binary Interface) to call specific functions in a smart contract and get data back.
Learn more in our Clarity vs Solidity comparison post.
Stacks vs. Solana vs. Polygon: Developer Support
Stacks, Solana, and Polygon all have vibrant developer communities. In 2021, Electric Capital reported that all three blockchains recorded growth in their developer communities. Polygon has become the largest scaling solution on ETH, with a 136% growth in total monthly active developers. Solana attracted a lot of attention in 2021, with a 385% increase in total monthly developers. And last year, Stacks became the largest and fastest-growing Web3 project on Bitcoin. Let’s take a closer look at what each ecosystem has to offer.
Stacks has a fast-growing developer community building different types of applications for the Bitcoin ecosystem. In 2021, the developer community in Stacks had more than 120 monthly active developers, just one year after mainnet launch. You’ll find Stacks’ developer community hanging out in Discord and on the Stack Forum.
Solana has a vibrant developer community building and launching Web3 apps and other decentralized solutions. In 2021, Solana’s developer community grew to 900 members, a 385% increase year-over-year in its total monthly developers. Solana’s developer community hangs out in Discord and its DEV Forum.
Similarly, Polygon has grown increasingly popular with developers. In 2021, Polygon’s community grew to almost 350 developers, a 136% increase in total monthly developers from 2020. You’ll find the Polygon developer community in Discord, the Polygon Ecosystem DAO, and its DEV Forum.
For developer tooling on Stacks, there’s Hiro, which creates a suite of developer tools and resources to help you build for Bitcoin. We also have the Clarity Lang platform, which offers helpful documentation for learning the Clarity programming language. In addition, the Clarity Universe program hosts courses, key resources, and job opportunities relating to Clarity for developers interested in the Stacks ecosystem.
Solana Labs builds out the developer tools and resources for builders. Available developer resources include Solana Docs and Solana Cookbook, which are great starting points. Solana Bootcamp also provides some video learning materials.
The Polygon ToolKit is a comprehensive resource for developers interested in building on Polygon. Other developer resources and tooling are available in Polygon’s developer portal. Some other companies creating developer tooling for Polygon include Alchemy and Moralis, and Polygon’s Members Assemble could signpost you to tools and resources you need.
The Stacks Foundation supports builders in the Stacks ecosystem through a mix of community grants and residency programs. The Stacks Accelerator Program provides incubation and funding to developers building on Stacks. There’s also the Bitcoin Odyssey program, a new $165M fund dedicated to accelerating the Web3 economy on Bitcoin through Stacks, as well as Trust Machines, which recently raised $150 million to build and fund a variety of applications on Stacks.
One of the key funding sources in the Solana ecosystem is the Solana Foundation Grant, which supports developers on the Solana network. The grants are focused on projects securing, growing, or decentralizing Solana. Other funding sources for developers within the Solana ecosystem include Metaplex, Solana Ventures, and a variety of ecosystem funds.
Polygon also has the Polygon Developer Support Program (DSP), which is designed to help provide developers/teams early BUIDL grants, as well as access to funding, marketing and promotions, introductions to accelerators, and technical guidance. Other funding sources in Polygon include its $100 million fund to bootstrap Web3 development on its Supernets, Wintermute’s $20 million fund for dApp development, and a $200 million fund co-launched with the VC firm 776.
Stacks vs. Solana vs. Polygon: Which Blockchain Should You Choose?
Different blockchains have different strengths and weaknesses. The blockchain that you choose will be dependent on what you want to build and how you want to build it. For example, if you want a secure foundation for your Web3 applications, or if you want to tap into the latent potential in Bitcoin, Stacks is your place. However, if you are looking for incredibly high transaction speed, then maybe you should look at Solana. And if you would like to stay within the Ethereum ecosystem but want to mitigate ETH gas fees, you should look at Polygon.
Have more questions about where you should build? Download our guide to Web3 ecosystems to find the right home for your app.