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I have become quite familiar with Bulletproofs the last few months. Bulletproofs is the name given to a zero-knowledge proof system for arithmetic circuits, by Benedikt Bünz et al. It is a specific protocol with specific properties.

When Bulletproofs are discussed, they are often contrasted with zk-SNARKs and zk-STARKs. See, for instance, this question on the Ethereum StackExchange, where they discuss properties of Bulletproofs and compare them among zk-SNARKS and zk-STARKs.

A zk-SNARK is a zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge. A zk-STARK is a "scalable transparent argument of knowledge", according to Eli Ben-Sasson's "Scalable, transparent, and post-quantum secure computational integrity".


To me, it sounds like the comparison ends there: the papers I consulted until now refer to SNARKs and STARKs as a list of properties that a proof system should have, not as a specific instantiation of a proof system. Considering the aforementioned Ethereum.SE question, it seems like both zk-SNARKs and zk-STARKs are actual instances of proof systems, since they list specific complexities and timings. Papers about specific SNARK and STARK construction, e.g. the Ben-Sasson paper, all seem to refer to "previous S[TN]ARK contructions", making me wonder whether the Eth.SE comparison can be fair.

So my question(s) is/are:

  1. What is a zk-SNARK:
    • a specific proof system, and if so: which one?
    • a class of ZK proof systems, and if so: is this class specific enough to claim that proofs are "always 200 bytes"?
  2. The same for zk-STARK, with most probably the same answer.
  3. I feel that question 1. will come down to a class of proof systems, which makes me wonder why Bulletproofs wouldn't be a "zero-knowledge, succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge"; they are typically considered separate.
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  1. A class. Parameters according to which it is standard to compare them, are: prover time, verifier time, proof size, requirement of trusted setup, cryptographic assumptions. For "succinctness", the standard definition requires that verification time is sub-linear and proofs are "small".

  2. STARK however, is a name of a specific zk-SNARKS protocol, see any Eli Ben Sasson talk on Youtube for the specific attributes.

  3. I reckon it's because verification time is linear.

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  • $\begingroup$ If your definition of succinctness is right, then Bulletproofs are indeed no SNARK: verifier time is $\mathcal O (n)$, proof size is $\mathcal O ( \log n)$. $\endgroup$ – Ruben De Smet Sep 18 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ I confirm that the standard definition of succinctness applies to both size and verification time, which is why Bulletproof is not considered a STARK or a SNARK. $\endgroup$ – Geoffroy Couteau Sep 18 at 11:57

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