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How does Cumulus relate to Polkadot? What is the difference between the two?

Can I launch a chain without Cumulus? Are there any good documentation around the interactions between the two?

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Probably an oversimplification, but you can think of Cumulus as a set of tools which allows you to convert a solo-chain Substrate blockchain into a Polkadot compatible Parachain.

More specifically, it provides libraries for all of the necessary parts of the Polkadot protocol necessary for Parachains to work, for example:

  • Creating new parachain blocks via Collators
  • Listening to the relay chain for updates
  • Synchronizing upgrades between the parachain and relay chain
  • etc...

These are all parts that are specific to being a parachain, so all of those things exist in the separate Cumulus repository, while Substrate focuses on just the general development of blockchains, independent of the Polkadot Protocol.

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    It should be said that unless you're switching out the consensus mechanism, then it's usually not too hard to turn a self-sovereign substrate chain into becoming a parachain.
    – Squirrel
    Feb 8 at 22:14

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