NKN Mainnet “Narwhal” in Review

This article was originally published on The Daily Chain, 18th November 2019.

A little over a week has passed since the NKN Mainnet launch “Narwhal”, and a lot has happened. This review of the events tells you everything you need to know.


On June 29th, at 13:10 UTC the NKN Mainnet Genesis block was generated, and the NKN team started mining with 10,000 GCP (Google Cloud) VPS nodes. This continued for about 40 hours until the team was satisfied with testing and opened the mainnet to the general public on July 1st 04:00 UTC.

(the answer is they spell NKN, if A=0)

NKN founder and co-CEO Bruce Li explained this decision in a post on NKN’s forum:

The main reason is to ensure a smooth Mainnet launch at 04:00:00 UTC on July 1st, 2019, so we started the bootstrap process a day and a half earlier.

NKN Mainnet introduces a lot of new features to NKN, including:

  • Change signature scheme from ECDSA to Ed25519
  • Implement a secure and verifiable public key infrastructure
  • Use VRF to provide a secure random beacon per block
  • Introduce NanoPay: a simple light-weighted off-chain nano payment channel
  • Signature chain data structure redesigned: reduce 97+% bandwidth overhead
  • Highly optimized block, transaction, sigchain propagation: reduce 80+% overall bandwidth usagepublic.

A complete list of new features can be found here.

Of those listed above NanoPay is perhaps the most exciting; an off-chain payment solution for some of the services NKN plans on hosting, including its nCDN (New Kind of CDN (Content Delivery Network)) mentioned later in this review.

It should be stated that this Mainnet is in beta mode and the releases are named accordingly. The ERC-20 to Mainnet token swap, and exchange support of Mainnet tokens, is set for 1 to 3 months from now.


Miners will produce 300 million NKN over the next 25 years. Dr. Yilun Zhang (NKN CTO) commented “Base mining reward is not changed (same as economic model paper): linear decrease starting from 18M NKN per year”. This means 11.4 NKN/block rewards with a blocktime of 20 seconds


On July 1st NKN co-CEO Bruce Li released an article on the NKN forum, Narwhal: NKN Mainnet Launches with a Big Splash, which contained a big announcement, that NKN “have begun to trial commercial traffic with tier-1 enterprise customers”

Just providing a platform or foundation is not enough, so we built two flagship products: New Kind of CDN (nCDN) and Decentralized Pub/Sub and messaging. We are running these value added micro services on existing NKN mining nodes, and have begun to trial commercial traffic with tier-1 enterprise customers. With these two flagship products, we intent to show developers that building on top of NKN is not only technically superior, but also commercially successful.

According to NKN team member and community mod Lukas:

At the beginning NKN Company will be paid in FIAT by the companies using nCDN and team will be buying NKN off the market to pay back miners who opt-in for nCDN.Note Bruce describes forthcoming nCDN testing as “opt-in”

The article Bruce published also contained an updated NKN roadmap, comprising 2 main phases of development for the next 12 months

Phase 1: Security and stability, 1–3 months

Steadily and gradually ramp up of nodes
Security audit and verification
Cooperate with all official exchanges for native token integration
ERC-20 token will remain the tradeable asset on exchanges
Swap between mainnet and ERC-20 tokens is disabled

Temporary limitations during this phase: transaction rate will be limited, force update will be enabled, default log level will be INFO

Phase 2: General availability and tokenomics boost; after Phase 1

Enable mainnet and ERC-20 token swap: exchanges, wallet, online web tool
Economic model enhancements
Commercialization of flagship products: fiat income and token utility

On July 4th Bruce Li released two more exciting developments, and posted the following in discord:

BlockGroup, a $200M M&A crypto fund, announces strategic investment in @NKN_ORG on the heels of its mainnet launch. A testimony to NKN’s significant strides in technology development, community growth, and global exchanges footprint. @blockvcfund $NKN https://forum.nkn.org/t/blockgroup-a-200m-m-a-crypto-fund-announces-strategic-investment-in-nkn/1249

Yesterday’s Cloudflare downtime reveals a vulnerability at the heart of the crypto economy. As NKN’s co-CEO Bruce Li points out, centralized services have inherent weaknesses such as DDOS attacks, hacking, and poor scalability at peak traffic. But there is hope yet.

“We have some test results showing that decentralized CDNs [Content Delivery Networks] like nCDN is not only more secure, but also performs better or comparable to centralized CDNs like Akamai,” Li said. At present, the network has reached 20,000 consensus nodes.

Miner Bonus Account (MBA)

What happens to the NKN tokens mined by the team? They will be sent to the Miner Bonus Account (MBA), a special deposit-only account on the NKN blockchain which funds mined by the team will be sent to, and reintroduced to the total mining supply one year from now. Bruce Li comments in the article linked above “Initially, the NKN developers and NKN foundation will donate to the Mining Bonus Address. But any individual or organization is welcome to donate to the Mining Bonus Address”. When asked why funds would not be returned to the mining supply sooner, CTO Yilun explained:

The design goal of MBA is like a foundation. Money put into the foundation will be extracted gradually (not immediately!). The most natural model we can think of is exponential decay: each year, half of the current MBA balance will be used to increase mining reward in that year. So if we put 100k NKN (all the token in team wallet) into the MBA, and it becomes immediately effective, i.e. half of the token will be distributed over 1576800 blocks, that means each block only get 0.03 NKN, which is too small. A more reasonable and technically more convenient way is to adjust mining reward less frequent, like once per year (1576800 blocks)

To bootstrap the network the team started mining on day 1 with 10K nodes but have already scaled down to 2.2K (roughly 10 percent of the total network node count). Running the nodes is expensive, and when asked by a community member if GCP (Google Cloud) were offering the team free or discount VPS the answer came back, “Ohhh we tried, but trust me, they never give that for free….”

The NKN MBA address can be viewed on the nknx.org explorer here, and the NKN Team mining address here.

20,000+ nodes

With increased profitability on mainnet NKN nodecount has followed suit with well over 20,000 full consensus nodes (and peaks of over 25,000) mining on NKN, the most consensus nodes of any blockchain network today. The network continues to see remote countries joining the party and improving decentralization, most recently The Republic of Palau, but recent growth appears to be coming from China.


Chinese miners currently account for 50% of all NKN miners. While it is hardly unusual for Chinese to dominates mining in crypto, it wasn’t seen during NKN’s testnet phase.


NKN have been building community in China, and a Chinese community member Allen has made custom router firmware for two popular brands of router in China, and speculates up to 1/3 of the nodes in China are running his firmware. The documentation and links for the firmware can be found on NKN’s forum, but is in Chinese. Good news for English speakers though since on July 7th Allen announced custom firmware for 4 types of Asus router. The firmware allows you to mine NKN on a router. Raspberry Pi’s have been used to mine NKN since launch, and running NKN on low-powered devices has since only improved.

Domain Registration Abuse

A Scottish poet once wrote “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, and so it went for NKN when at blockheight 7442 (just 10 hours after public mining opened) the network came to a halt after an unknown miner took advantage of the NKN name registration service which had no fee set, and using NKN’s SDK automated the registration of almost 7000 NKN domain names before the network came to a halt. NKN CTO Yilun was very forthcoming and explained in response to a question abotu how the newtrok had stopped:

We didn’t (and technically can’t) halt the network, but it was a verification bug in name registration that caused network to reject blocks. TBH we haven’t figured out why and how that happens, but it shouldn’t happen again until we have name service enabled again, so we should have enough time to debug. But what we can do (before removing the network version at the end of phase 1) is to let nodes with old version to quit, but we will soon not able to do it after removing such mechanism soon

The 6870 registered names include all major domains (google, facebook, amazon etc), countries, common names, common nouns and many cryptocurrency sites like etherscan and coinmarketcap. A complete list of names registered can be found here, and the last block (#7422) containing Wallet Name Registraions can be viewed in the nknx.org explorer here.

In response to community concerns regarding the impressive list of registrations, Yilun responded

Haha don’t worry about the existing names. Technically we can just give it a very short expiration time when we add name expiration. The real challenge is, what kind of mechanism should we use to determine the price. We definitely won’t determine the price by our own

The team released version 1.0.1b to workaround the verification bug and 16 hours later block production resumed and a week has now passed without major incident.


NKN is now in Phase 1 of its updated roadmap and the focus is on security and stability. NanoPay and the nCDN trials are the big announcements from the Narwhal Mainnet release: a sensible mechanism for making high frequency off-chain payments, and trials for NKN as a decentralized CDN with a tier 1 Chinese provider that have already started. Plans for on-chain relay rewards and dapps have not been sidelined, as Bruce explains “We develop our own flagship product like nCDN to showcase our technology and platform”. NKN is pressing to develop services and harness the power of its 25K node network as quickly as it can.



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The Immutable Network (DARA), founder. Immutable builds free blockchain products and platforms to fight censorship and stop data loss. Also a journalist/writer.