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Testnet Vs Mainnet: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between testnet vs. mainnet? If you have ever wondered how the two are different, read on to find out what they are about!

Introduction

Testnet and mainnet are two fairly important concepts in the world of blockchain technology. A testnet refers to a test version of a blockchain network that is used for testing purposes, while mainnet refers to the actual, live version of a blockchain network that is used for real transactions. 

Understanding this distinction (testnet vs mainnet) is crucial for anyone working in the blockchain industry. A testnet provides a safe environment for experimentation and development, while the mainnet is the backbone of the blockchain ecosystem and is where real value is held and transferred. Knowing the difference between the two allows developers to test their applications and smart contracts with confidence, and ensure the smooth functioning of the network on the mainnet.

In this testnet vs mainnet article, we will explore the key differences between testnet and mainnet, including their importance, functionality, and use cases. We will also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each and explain why understanding the distinction between the two is important. So let’s get started with testnet vs mainnet!

What is a Testnet?

testnet
Source: Phemex / Testnet vs. mainnet: testnet in a blockchain environment

Before we get into the debate of testnet vs. mainnet, let’s see what a testnet is. A testnet (test network) is an experimental network where developers can test, create, or modify functionalities, and monitor the blockchain network’s performance.

A testnet is a simulation of a blockchain, which can be of the same version or a newer version, that allows developers to test their applications and smart contracts without using real assets. This allows them to identify and fix any bugs or errors before the mainnet launch, ensuring the smooth functioning of the network. Testnet further allows developers to experiment with new features, upgrades and updates before they are implemented on the mainnet.

Basically, a testnet (testing environment) is where the features or functionalities of new tokens and coins are tested by the developers and engineers. They fix bugs and other kinds of network failures. This sandbox environment enables the developers to take risks, experiment, and find the best possible model of a new product or application to be implemented in the mainnet. All these happen at scale in a controlled manner. 

Some blockchains such as Ethereum provide common testing tools, methodologies, and certifications to correctly test complex networks at a scale.

Let’s dig deeper to get more understanding of a testnet:

How Does Testnet Work?

Since a testnet is a replica of a mainnet and operates on a separate network with its own unique features and functionalities, transactions on the testnet do not affect the mainnet. The inverse case is true as well – transactions on the mainnet do not affect the testnet. However, testnet is a crucial element of the whole process.

Testnets mimic the main network and provide a safe environment to experiment with new features, bug fixes, and upgrades before deploying them to the main network which enable the developers to experiment without jeopardizing real assets on the main network. This creates a secure setting for trying out and developing, as any faults or mistakes discovered on the test network can be resolved before the main network launch, guaranteeing the network operates seamlessly.

What is the Importance of Testnet?

Testnet serves many important functions, including:

1. Continuous Development
2. Safe for Mainnet
3. Free Trial

1. Continuous Development

Blockchain technology is still in its infancy and requires much testing and development to gradually become mainstream. Testnet’s environment was created to cater to this.

For example, scalability is one of the main issues being solved in the blockchain community at the moment. Ongoing research and development will enhance blockchain’s ability to handle more transactions. To continuously improve blockchain capabilities, many tests on smart contract functionality, transactions, and mining processes must be conducted. Testnet serves as a simulation of how the actual blockchain protocol (mainnet) works in real life.

2. Safe for Mainnet

Testnet allows testers and application developers to test the new features and functionalities of a protocol in a different environment without having to worry about breaking the main blockchain. Doing tests on the mainnet is impossible because the complex interactions between components in the protocol can damage the network or break the main chain. This will cause a major disruption to the blockchain and may weaken the protocol. Therefore, this is a common practice for projects to run prototypes on the testnet first to resolve specifications and ensure everything is in the right order.

3. Free Trial

For a blockchain to enable smart contract functionality, the network’s own cryptocurrency must be used to perform the deliveries. For example, ether (ETH) is a calculation payment request within the Ethereum blockchain network.  

It will be very costly for developers to test application features or run tests on the mainnet, as they will need to purchase large quantities of cryptocurrencies with real value. Testnet provides a testing platform for developers who want to create applications on the blockchain or test certain functions at no charge.

Ethereum Testnet Examples

Use cases of Testnets

  • Development in a safe environment.
  • A testnet sandbox provides a secure environment for testing various development ideas.
  • Minimal disruptions.
  • Blockchain teams are aggressively trying to resolve scalability, security, and decentralization problems, and a testnet provides a safe testing ground.
  • Numerous tests can be performed and prototypes can be run on the cryptocurrency testnet without disrupting the mainnet.
  • Any decentralized applications (DApps) that want to onboard need to undergo testing and fixes. 
  • New patches, features, etc., are first tested in the testnet. Some examples of these tests include security tests, load testing, blockchain migration, integration tests, and disaster recovery.
  • Testnet allows for faster and safer launching of a mainnet.

Example of Testnet Use Cases

Before deploying to the mainnet, we can use the test network to ensure everything is working fine. We can choose the blockchain on which we want to work and the test network. For Ethereum-based applications, if you need a stable testnet with support on multiple clients, go with Goerli. If you need conditions as close as possible to mainnet, but less stability than Goerli, choose Ropsten.

Use cases of Testnets
Use cases of Testnets

What is a Mainnet?

mainnet
Source: LogRocket Blog / Testnet vs. mainnet: mainnet in a blockchain environment

A mainnet (main network) is a blockchain’s final, most stable, and fully functional version. Which means that a mainnet verifies, broadcasts, and records the transactions taking place on a distributed ledger. Mainnet enables DApps to be launched for public use. They see an increased number of validators who are incentivized by tokens with real value. All transactions are live on the mainnet. Projects with a mainnet are considered more mature. It gives users the confidence that the project has put lots of effort and resources into the blockchain. This is because a blockchain project has to undergo rigorous evaluation processes before launching its mainnet. 

Since the mainnet is the live version of the blockchain network and is used for real transactions, it is where actual, ‘real’ users can conduct transactions, transfer assets and execute smart contracts. The mainnet is critical for the functioning of the blockchain ecosystem, as it is essentially the public face of a blockchain network and therefore its brand.

So we can say that:

Trials + Testnet = Mainnet

For a fully functioning blockchain, mainnets can be used to send and receive any transaction in the form of cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens (NFTs), among others, or to exchange information.

How Does a Mainnet Work?

A mainnet is a separate and independent blockchain that operates on its own network using its own protocol and technologies. It is a live platform that uses cryptocurrencies and tokens to perform transactions. The way a mainnet operates is determined by the consensus mechanism used for the particular network.

For example, on blockchain networks that use the Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism, miners validate transactions and earn block rewards for their efforts. On the other hand, in blockchain networks that use Proof-of-Stake, transactions are confirmed by stakers based on their network stake and they receive transaction fees paid by users.

Transactions on the mainnet use the network’s native cryptocurrency and tokens, and the distributed ledger keeps a record of these transactions. This allows for a transparent and secure way to transfer value and conduct transactions on the blockchain.

What is the Importance of Mainnets?

  • The final product of blockchain projects makes it possible to send and receive digital currencies. 
  • In the mainnet, transactions are broadcasted, verified, and recorded on a distributed ledger (which is what a blockchain is).
  • The tokens on a mainnet hold a monetary value.
  • Mainnet increases the value of an asset.

Before the mainnet launch of the blockchain project, the team of that particular project will set up an initial coin offering (ICO), an initial exchange offer, or any other means that can help the project raise funds which are then used to develop the prototypes of the blockchain network, to be tested during the testnet phase. After performing bug fixes and depending on the performance of the testnet, the team will launch the mainnet version of the blockchain, which is ideally fully deployed and functional.

What are the Use Cases of Mainnets?

  • The mainnet acts as proof that the blockchain is functional.
  • It gives an open invitation to the public to participate in the network. 
  • Before launching a mainnet, a blockchain already partners with application creators. Hence some new applications are launched along with the mainnet. This provides use cases for further DApps to onboard the blockchain. 
  • Most blockchains make the underlying codes public after the crypto mainnet launch. Such open-source projects become more credible to users. 
  • The permissionless public network enables discovery.
  • Additional mainnet features like security properties and anti-spam capabilities, can be availed. 
Use Cases of Mainnets

What is the Difference Between a Testnet and a Mainnet?

differences between testnet and mainnet
Source: Medium / Testnet vs. mainnet: differences between testnet and mainnet
  • Purpose: The testnet is the testing “sandbox,” whereas the mainnet is the released functional blockchain.
  • Cost of Operations: In the testnet, the tokens do not hold any value. The cost of operations on the mainnet is higher. Every operation performed on the blockchain requires a fee in the form of tokens that hold a certain value. Examples of these operations include transfers of value, staking rewards, or deployments of smart contracts.
  • Network ID: The network ID helps developers identify the network. Mainnets and testnets have different network IDs. For example, the Ethereum mainnet network ID is 1, while the other most commonly used testnets have network IDs of 3, 4, and 42 for Ropsten, Rinkeby, and Kovan, respectively.
  • Genesis Block: A genesis block is the first block of every blockchain. Both testnets and mainnets have their own independent genesis blocks.
  • Nodes: A testnet has fewer nodes than a mainnet.
  • Transaction Frequency: Transaction frequency is low for a testnet.
FeaturesTestnetMainnet
PurposeFunctional BlockchainTesting Environment
Cost of OperationsCost Value is lowCost Value is high
Network IDDifferent Network ID
For example – Ethereum mainnet network ID is 1
Different Network ID
For example – testnets network IDs of 3 is Ropsten,
4 is Rinkeby etc.
Genesis Block Own Independent genesis blocksOwn Independent genesis block
NodesFewer nodesMore nodes
Transaction FrequencyLow for TestnetMore for Mainnet

Illustration on the Testnet Vs Mainnet Matic Network

A testnet and a mainnet run independently. The testnet paves the way for the mainnet launch. Sometimes, many projects leverage other blockchains to create their tokens. At the same time, they develop their mainnet. The Matic Network, now Polygon, is a good recent example. Once the mainnet is launched, the old ERC-20 tokens are discarded, while the new ones are issued on the Matic mainnet. We will take this example to see how this journey works.

Matic Testnet

In November 2019, Matic launched its public incentivized staking testnet event, “Counter Stake.” Validators earned mainnet MATIC tokens by showcasing technical skills and practicing and competing with other validators

Counter Stake had 3 stages:

Stage 0

– Setup. Date: November 2019

Action: All validators run the validator and block producer nodes, keep them synced with the testnet, and understand the network. They also try deploying their testnet and experimenting with the code.

Stage 1

– Stake on the Beach Date: February 2020

Reward Pool: $40,000 worth of MATIC tokens

Action: Stage 1 started with ~30 nodes. The Matic Foundation controlled a majority stake in the testnet in week 1 of the program. In the subsequent weeks, there was an increase in the validator slots. Stage 1 also provided a mechanism to replace poorly performing validators with those on the waitlist.

The main testing features included are staking, unlocking rewards, penalties, and replacement strategies.

Stage 2

– The Grand Staking League

This is the final stage before the mainnet launch. Matic encouraged an all-out attack on the network at this stage.

Matic Mainnet

The Matic mainnet went live on 31 May 2020.

Step 1

DApp partner onboarding, Genesis Ceremony & mainnet Go-Live with initial validator set (only Matic Foundation nodes and nodes run by select validators invited by the Matic team will be active).

Step 2

Incremental nodes (Onboarding 5-10 at a time). This is also with Matic Foundation nodes.

Step 3

Full, decentralized release with community Governance, there were over 100 nodes.

Conclusion

So what we can conclude from the testnet vs. mainnet debate is that mainnet comes after testnets, and all core blockchain projects need to be evaluated based on the performance of the mainnet. Even then cryptocurrency mainnets are not the final products. There are repeated updates or revisions to a particular functionality. It is, therefore, very important to understand a project’s development roadmap and compare that with what has been achieved. Also, listen to comments from the project partners to evaluate how they are using the chain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is Testnet and Mainnet in Blockchain? 

Testnet and mainnet are two concepts in the world of blockchain technology that are related to each other but are both essential. Testnet is a test version of a blockchain network that is used for testing purposes, while mainnet is the actual, live version of a blockchain network that is used for real transactions. Testnet allows developers to test their applications and smart contracts without using real assets, while mainnet is where real value is held and transferred. Understanding the difference between testnet and mainnet is crucial for anyone working in the blockchain industry as it’d allow them to work test their projects in a much better way.

2. What can you do with Testnet Coins? 

Testnet coins are used on a testnet blockchain network, which is a simulation of the mainnet. These coins are not real and have no intrinsic value, they are used for testing purposes only to make sure that the real assets on the mainnet work smoothly and as intended. They can be used to test and experiment with new features and updates, to test smart contracts and applications, and to test transactions without the risk of losing real assets and causing a lot of damage to the blockchain and its users. Testnet coins can also be used by developers to test and debug their application without the need of real assets.


Disclaimers : Opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily purport to reflect the opinions or views of Shardeum foundation.

About the Author : Aniketh Paul is a passionate writer and he often writes about Web3, crypto, and software development. You can follow him on LinkedIn

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