What is Kusama? Polkadot’s Canary Network Explained

    Polkadot has undoubtedly become one of the more popular projects in the cryptocurrency field.  However, one of the most innovative aspects of its ecosystem is Kusama, Polkadot’s canary network.

    While new blockchain projects can seem extremely repetitive and derivative, Kusama stands out as it is genuinely useful.

    This guide aims to answer some of the following questions about Kusama: What it is, what it can do, and what risks are inherent with a canary network.

    Overview of Kusama

    Before we dive in, we need to establish two key items:  Polkadot and a “canary network.” To recap, Polkadot (DOT) is a blockchain network that:

    • Connects blockchains to each other
    • Enables users to easily build a blockchain with their Substrate framework
    • Hosts blockchains, handling their security and transactions
    • Bridges blockchains on Polkadot with other networks such as Ethereum and Bitcoin

    Next, the term “canary network.”  The name stems from the term “canary in a coal mine.”  Miners used to carry canaries with them into the mine because the birds would sing in their cages and stop signing if there was a dangerous gas leak and they died.

    They acted as an early warning to the miners and alerting them of danger. Kusama performs the same function as a virtual copy of Polkadot, allowing the most realistic testing environment possible for blockchain projects.  The good news is, Kusama acts as a “canary network” without actually harming any birds.

    Photo by Jelle Taman on Unsplash

    Features of Kusama

    Kusama has several obvious features but also acts as its ecosystem within the larger Polkadot ecosystem. The biggest one is its nearly identical resemblance to the Polkadot architecture and structure.

    It acts as a testnet, but the term doesn’t quite cover the level of testing projects can conduct before launching their parachains on Polkadot.

    Kusama is continuously battle-testing not just the various projects on it but the ecosystem itself.  It is always one step ahead of Polkadot, trying out new features that the latter would like to eventually deploy once the kinks are worked out, providing the team with a vehicle that allows them to be much more innovative and take big risks, without putting the Polkadot ecosystem in danger.

    Other features on Kusama include:

    • Participate by acquiring KSM, Kusama’s native token. According to Polkadot’s wiki, Those who participated in the Polkadot sale can claim a proportional amount of KSM through the Kusama Claims process.
    • Acquiring a parachain slot (necessary for testing on Kusama making this is a major feature). Chains can be voted in as “common good” parachains, win a parachain auction, or set up as a “parathread,” which is essentially a pay-as-you-go access with an auction for each block.
    • Set up as a validator. This is an excellent way to walk through the process and understand expectations/requirements before moving to Polkadot, as the minimum requirement for staking on Kusama is lower.  Alternately, users can set themselves up as a nominator, a role that requires some staking but allows a “set it and forget it” approach. Nominators appoint their stake to validators and get either a portion of the reward percentage or are slashed if the validator they nominated acts poorly and is slashed.
    • Staking also allows users to propose and vote on referendums, which will help the network evolve and improve over time.


    With any ambitious project, there’s also always a risk.  For Kusama, its existence is largely meant to mitigate risk from Polkadot. To do that, however, it has to take on a greater than average risk acceptance policy, and even if individual projects are risk-averse, they could be affected by a major issue caused by another chain’s test, or even a test from Kusama itself.

    Nothing is guaranteed in a hyper-innovative industry, and blockchain is certainly no exception. Technical glitches, market fluctuations, and government regulation all contribute their own potential issues to running a parachain on Kusama.  To be fair, these latter risks are present for any blockchain as well.


    Kusama is not without a sense of humor, and they have a very good idea of what purpose the platform plays in the larger Polkadot ecosystem.

    A tagline for Kusama is “expect chaos,” and it’s a fair reminder that this is a testnet when all is said and done. The fact that it is one of the most realistic testnets on the market, and almost a clone of Polkadot for that very reason, makes chaos all the more likely. However, it is all for a very positive and purposeful goal:  to make the Polkadot Ecosystem, and every parachain it hosts, the most tested and durable blockchain projects possible.

    For more information about Kusama, please visit the project’s official website.

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