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Here’s Why a Hard Fork Can’t Work

Justin OConnell on 18/12/2016


“It’s not about the economics,” says Alex Petrov of bitcoin cloud miner, Bitfury, in riposte to comments by Bitcoiner Roger Ver on changes to the bitcoin protocol. “You can have a different economical opinion or you can have a different economical theory, but it’s all about the software. This soft-fork and hard-fork. It’s the only way you are trying to offer the new solution for the whole community. In a soft-fork, it’s a restriction on allowed behavior. And then if people agree, they can activate the feature. If you are creating a hard-fork, it’s more complex. You are updating the software in millions of computers.”


The comments took place during a discussion between Bitcoin core developers and Roger Ver, long-time Bitcoin enthusiast who has influenced by the crypto-currency community as much as any personality; especially, its anarcho-capitalist following.


As Mr. Petrov describes further, it gets even more complicated to initiate a bitcoin hard fork. “You should also define the precise time when they switch from the old version to the new software version,” he explicates “If it doesn’t do that, without proper testing, if it doesn’t do it without proper coordination, and this proper coordination also requires a lot of time– so a lot of time, it’s just a couple of months, so I’m thinking, it’s at least like 5 or 6 months because all the businesses should test the new version and update their software and they should update their cold wallets, the hardware wallets and for hardware wallets they should also write new firmware for hardware wallets and also they provide a way how to .. end user can update their wallets.”


In a single moment at an agreed time, Mr. Petrov suggests, “Everyone should switch to the new software. It’s really complicated when you have an economy like bitcoin running 24/7 just to agree on the time and do it simultaneously. If it doesn’t do it simultaneously, and if not all tests are done properly, this can create a lot of problems, like double spending.” The hard fork poses potentially lethal challenges to the Bitcoin system.


“In a hard-fork, you’re switching from old version of software to new one,” the Bitfury employee and longtime computer tech professional says. “it’s creating very dangerous moment or area or time moment when people can use the moment to double spend coins…”


Eric Lombrozo, core developer and CEO and founder of Ciphrex, believes a hard fork is possible, but “that would [it] require a security issue that everyone would have an interest in fixing. If there was a big security issue discovered, I think it would be in everyone’s interest to fix it.”


He thinks a such event could indeed be coordinated. “…[B]ut I think the logistics are difficult just by having to have everyone install it. Right now it might be possible to have a big chunk of the network if everyone was willing to do it; I think as the network grows, it will become even more difficult to coordinate this. If it’s controversial or contentious at all, then some people are going to refuse to do it, and if you get different nodes refusing on this, it breaks the network.”


Mr. Lombrozo assures that much of the past year’s internal discussion at Bitcoin core revolved around the Bitcoin protocol. “We have a mailing list, and most of last year was on that mailing list discussing the issues of how to increase the block size and how to do this safely and whether it was possible.” Many mediums were sought for compromise.


“Pieter Wuille wrote a BIP to increase the block size by 17% every year and other things like that,” Mr. Lombrozo says. “There were a lot of people open to looking for how to do this, there was the 2-4-8 idea that was thrown around– but none of these ideas could achieve sufficient consensus to give us the confidence that these other issues wouldn’t appear.” Segwit, a soft fork solution to Bitcoin’s block size debate, was the culmination of these efforts.


“…it was realized we could double on-chain capacity without a hard-fork and also allow for a lot of off-chain applications,” Mr. Lombrozo says. “We could get all developers behind Segwit.”


If you go to the bitcoincore.org site, you can see the segwit support, and a 25% of the industry’s hashing rate is behind activating the hard fork. “After a lot of work and issues, this is the best we could do,” Mr. Lombrozo says. “It doubles capacity, it allows for additional use cases that we couldn’t do before.”


Proponents of hard fork believe the solutions – such as Bitcoin Unlimited and Bitcoin Classic – should at least be fairly considered by the Community. Core developers maintain this is a risky proposition that could undermine all of Bitcoin’s success heretofore.


“…As we’ve discussed here tonight, a contentious hard-fork without overwhelming support is a really scary proposition, unless we really do the science and the engineering and research about how to do hard-forks safely,” argues Phil Potter, Chief Security Officer for Bitcoin exchange Bitfinex, which this year suffered a hack. “If we’re going to do a hard-fork, let’s think about more than just a block size increase. We can have those discussions.”


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely that of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to CCN.

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