zk-SNARKs: A Brief History and Their Implementation in Cryptocurrencies

zk-SNARKs: A Brief History and Their Implementation in Cryptocurrencies

A Brief History of zk-SNARKs

zk-SNARKs, an acronym for Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge, are a form of cryptographic proof that allows one party to prove to another that they know the value of a specific piece of information, without revealing the information itself or requiring any interaction between the prover and the verifier.

The roots of zk-SNARKs can be traced back to the early 1980s when the concept of zero-knowledge proofs was first introduced by Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, and Charles Rackoff. This revolutionary concept proposed the idea of proving knowledge of a secret without revealing the secret itself.

In the ensuing years, researchers worked to improve the efficiency and practicality of zero-knowledge proofs, leading to the development of non-interactive zero-knowledge (NIZK) proofs in the 1990s, a variant which did not require back-and-forth communication between the prover and the verifier.

The term “zk-SNARKs” itself was introduced in a 2012 paper by Nir Bitansky, Ran Canetti, Alessandro Chiesa, and Eran Tromer. This marked a major milestone in the development of practical zero-knowledge proofs, making them significantly more efficient and thus more suitable for use in real-world applications.

zk-SNARKs and Cryptocurrencies

The introduction of zk-SNARKs has had a profound impact on the world of cryptocurrencies. The most notable implementation of zk-SNARKs in cryptocurrency is in Zcash, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency that was launched in 2016.

Zcash uses zk-SNARKs to provide enhanced privacy to its users. With zk-SNARKs, Zcash transactions can remain fully encrypted while still being verified as valid under the network’s consensus rules. This is a significant departure from Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies, where transaction details are transparent and visible to all network participants.

In addition to Zcash, several other cryptocurrencies have integrated zk-SNARKs into their protocol to improve privacy, efficiency, and scalability. Ethereum, for instance, has incorporated zk-SNARKs into its protocol to enhance transaction privacy and improve scalability. zk-SNARKs are used in Ethereum’s Layer 2 scaling solutions, like zk-Rollups, which bundle multiple transactions into a single proof that can be verified quickly.

Furthermore, the privacy-focused cryptocurrency Horizen (formerly known as ZenCash) also uses zk-SNARKs to enable private transactions. Similarly, Coda Protocol (now Mina Protocol), uses zk-SNARKs to keep the blockchain size constant, ensuring high scalability.

While it’s difficult to give an exact number of cryptocurrencies using zk-SNARKs, as of 2023, it’s estimated that dozens of projects use some form of zero-knowledge proofs, with many specifically choosing zk-SNARKs due to their efficiency and non-interactivity.


zk-SNARKs represent a powerful tool in the realm of digital privacy and have already seen significant adoption within the cryptocurrency sector. As privacy and scalability continue to be pressing issues in the blockchain space, it’s likely that zk-SNARKs and related technologies will only grow in importance. Despite the technical complexity, the promise of efficient, non-interactive proofs of knowledge that maintain user privacy is a compelling proposition for many in the digital world.

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