What are the differences between mainnet and testnet?

The mainnet and the testnet are two types of complementary networks that are essential for the proper functioning of blockchains. One refers to the real environment a blockchain operates on while the other is a test environment on which developers experiment with their code. But what really distinguishes a mainnet from a testnet?

Mainnet and testnet, two types of complementary networks

A mainnet, short for “main network”, is the final product of a blockchain project. It is the core network used by a public, stable and operational blockchain.

The testnet, short for “test network”, is a sandbox environment with which developers can test their code without risk before implementation in real economic conditions. This is a secondary network that is not intended for the public.

These two networks are complementary. Any mainnet of a blockchain has its own testnet and vice versa. Let’s say a team of developers of a blockchain project wants to update it with new features for smart contracts. After debugging the code for this update, the direct implementation in the main network is extremely dangerous.

Transactions made on a core network are passed on to everyone network nodes and can be observed on a block explorer. Anyone can then see and study what the developers are doing there.

If a development team inadvertently deploys an update and looks for vulnerabilities directly on the core network, hackers could discover these vulnerabilitiesif present, e exploit them even before the developers fix them.

There are many very skilled hackers who spend their time examining smart contracts for vulnerabilities, so this is definitely not to be taken lightly and the financial damage is potentially immense then.

In fact, the core network of a blockchain is accessible by many users who can negotiate or use smart contracts on decentralized finance protocols (DeFi).

So, there is a real economic challenge inherent in the core network of a blockchain. Therefore, distribute an update directly without having previously carried out test batteries on a dedicated and partitioned environment, in other words a testnet, is very risky. There could be code errors or security holes that could have dramatic consequences.

👉 To go further – What is DeFi? All about decentralized finance

How are a mainnet and a testnet different?

A testnet is used by development teams to test code in a risk-free and cost-free environment. But what actually distinguishes these two networks? Here is a summary table.

Main network Test network
Who is ? Functional blockchain
(main network)
Testing environment
(alternative network)
Cryptocurrencies Real economic value No economic value
The cost of
Variable according to blockchains
and paid in cryptocurrency
native of the project
No cost
have no value)
Transactions True archived transactions
on the blockchain
Fake transactions
Extraction /
Economic incentive
(salary in
No incentives

The differences between these two types of networks simply stem from the difference between a real environment and a test environment.

There’s a real economic interest on the main networkcharacterized by cryptocurrencies that have value, real transactions that have a cost and an economic incentive to keep the blockchain running.

On the contrary, the testnet has no economic participation since the cryptocurrencies used there have no value, the transactions are fake and at no cost while there is no economic incentive to make it work.

The two networks however, they have similarities. In general, a test network is an environment that comes as close as possible to that of the main network so that developers can test their updates, smart contracts, etc. under very similar conditions. They are two blockchain networks and the technical characteristics are the same.

However, as we have seen, a mainnet is there main and operational public network while a testnet is a alternative and secondary network.

Therefore, a core network aims to process the daily operations of a blockchain’s cryptocurrencies. Rather, a testnet is used to analyze updates, features, or changes that will affect mainnet operations before deploying them to the core network.

These two networks therefore operate in parallel and both have an impact on the success of a project as an update that has been thoroughly tested on a test network by experienced developers is much more likely to be vulnerable and perform as expected when implemented at the time.

Finally, it should be emphasized that what happens on a main network is much more important as a vulnerability on a blockchain’s core network can be used by hackers to steal millions of dollars. The credibility of a project it can therefore be questioned by investors who could then flee.

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