Polybase's Disruptive Integration of ZK Proofs



Jun 14, 2023


Exploring Polybase's Disruptive Integration of Zero-Knowledge Proofs


In the realm of web3 and decentralized technologies, one cryptographic innovation has emerged as a game-changer: zero-knowledge (ZK) proofs. These proofs allow for infinite possibilities including privacy-preserving computations and scalable verifiability. In this article, we will break down what ZK proofs are and delve into how Polybase, a decentralized database protocol, harnesses their potential to revolutionize the web3 landscape.

Understanding Zero-Knowledge Proofs

Zero-knowledge proofs have their roots in academic research from the 1980s but have recently made substantial advancements in real-world applications. At a high level, ZK proofs enable one party, the prover, to convince another party, the verifier, that a given statement is true, without revealing any underlying information. They have various names like zk (zero knowledge), zk-SNARKs, and zk-STARKs, which are different implementations of the same principle.

Zk Snarks

An acronym for Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-interactive Argument of Knowledge, zk-SNARKs was unveiled in a 2012 paper and brought the concept of proving a secret without revealing it. Integrated into distributed ledger technology, they can significantly boost privacy and scalability. The first widespread application was in Zcash, using zk-SNARKs to enable shielded transactions that protect details of the sender, recipient, and transaction amount. However, zk-SNARKs have their limitations. They require a trusted setup ceremony, a process that, if compromised, could enable false proof creation. This setup dependence has been considered a potential security flaw. Additionally, zk-SNARKs are not immune to quantum threats, although modifications may be possible to tackle this in the future.

Zk Starks

Introduced in a 2018 paper, zk-STARKs or Zero-Knowledge Scalable Transparent Argument of Knowledge serve as an alternative to zk-SNARKs. They offer an effective balance between personal privacy and institutional integrity. Starkware leverages STARKs to enhance scalability, taking storage and computation off-chain. STARKs enable computations to be moved to a single off-chain prover and checked with an on-chain verifier. This facilitates scalability benefits on layer-2 networks by batching a large number of transactions and confirming their validity on-chain using a single STARK proof. This results in reduced gas costs for each transaction. Notably, STARKs do not require a trusted setup ceremony, enhancing their security profile.

A Tale of Privacy and Provable Computation

To grasp the concept intuitively, let's consider an example. Imagine a scenario where you want to prove that you know the color of a hidden ball without revealing any details about it. ZK proofs enable precisely that. By employing cryptographic techniques, you can convince others that you possess the knowledge without disclosing the actual information. In the realm of decentralized technologies, ZK proofs offer three compelling advantages: privacy, scalability, and provable state.


ZK proofs allow for selective disclosure, enabling individuals to prove certain attributes or qualifications without revealing the underlying sensitive data. For instance, one could demonstrate having sufficient income for a mortgage without exposing the exact earnings or prove possession of a degree without disclosing the institution. In the realm of trading, ZK proofs enable secure transactions without revealing proprietary strategies, preserving competitive advantage.


Provable computation lies at the heart of ZK proofs. By providing a mechanism to verify that a particular computation has been executed correctly, ZK proofs offer a scalable solution for decentralized blockchains and databases. Traditional blockchains, like Ethereum, require each computer to recompute every transaction for confirmation. However, with ZK proofs, this computation only needs to occur once, and the proof can be shared with others, resulting in significant scalability gains and reduced costs.

Provable State

ZK proofs also facilitate provable state transitions, ensuring the correctness and integrity of data in various contexts. In financial systems or exchanges, ZK proofs can verify the legitimacy of transactions, preventing fraudulent activities and guaranteeing accurate balance records. This mechanism ensures the security of user funds, eliminating the possibility of unauthorized access or mismanagement.

Polybase's Integration of ZK Proofs

Polybase, as a decentralized database protocol, has harnessed the power of ZK proofs to provide full-stack decentralization and address critical concerns in the web3 ecosystem. By leveraging separate ZK proofs for different components of the database stack, Polybase achieves an optimal balance between privacy, scalability, and trustlessness.

Achieve Full Stack Decentralization

Polybase achieves full stack decentralization by utilizing ZK proofs across different layers of its database stack, including the state rollup, permissions, and consensus mechanisms. This approach enables the creation of a publicly verifiable system without the need for an extensive validator network, a common requirement in decentralized systems.

Scaling with ZK Proofs

One area where ZK proofs shine in Polybase is the state rollup. By utilizing ZK proofs, Polybase can batch multiple state transitions into a single proof, significantly improving scalability. This approach allows for efficient processing of database updates while maintaining the integrity and security of the overall system.

Powering Privacy with zk-STARKs

Polybase employs zk-STARKs (Zero-Knowledge Scalable Transparent Arguments of Knowledge) to uphold user privacy. zk-STARKs offer high levels of security without requiring a trusted setup and exhibit post-quantum resistance. With zk-STARKs, Polybase ensures that public verification of data and business logic can be performed while keeping the underlying data private. Users can prove attributes of their private data without revealing sensitive information, empowering self-sovereign data ownership.

Verifiable Permissions with Polylang

Polybase introduces Polylang, a unique approach to database permissions. Using a subset of TypeScript, developers can write permission rules that are compiled into ZK circuits. This compilation process enables the production of ZK proofs to verify adherence to the permission code. Polylang ensures cryptographically verifiable access to data, enhancing data security and control in decentralized applications.


Zero-knowledge proofs have emerged as a disruptive technology in the web3 landscape, offering privacy, scalability, and provable computation. Polybase has embraced the power of ZK proofs to create a decentralized database protocol that addresses the core challenges of the web3 ecosystem. By leveraging zk-STARKs and innovative approaches like Polylang, Polybase empowers developers to build robust, secure, and scalable decentralized applications while preserving user privacy. The integration of ZK proofs in Polybase paves the way for a new era of decentralized database infrastructure.