Long a sort of Cold War, bitcoin’s scaling debate is escalating into what may be best described spil a digital Cuban Missile Keerpunt.
No longer open for diplomacy, users of the $40bn economic network, which klapper an all-time high ter value last weekend, are now ter the midst of evaluating an ever-increasing array of threats from various network stakeholders, each of whom is seeking to steer discourse and development.
Ter yet another turn to the scaling debate, major mining rock hard Bitmain exposed yesterday a strategy outlining how it will react should a controversial bitcoin code upgrade known spil BIP 148 – a switch the stiff opposes – activate zometeen this summer.
Te a blog postbode, the company outlined its “contingency project” if users attempt to force a protocol switch, thereby circumventing the network’s current structure ter which those running its mining machines signal for upgrades.
Most notably, the proposal would dedicate mining resources to hard forking the network to a rule set with a larger block size – an upgrade that would likely result te two bitcoin networks and two tradeable bitcoin assets.
Te response, the stiff, long the center of bitcoin’s long-running debate and often the foil to the open-source network’s developers, invited the broader bitcoin community to join the effort.
Lay of the land
Admittedly, there bot many proposals that could have lead to a network split overheen the last few years of bitcoin’s scaling debate, but none have panned out so far.
Te latest weeks, activity has enlargened, however, with groups kicking off to form around two scaling proposals, SegWit2x and BIP 148. Each hopes to usher ter a code switch known spil Segregated Witness (SegWit) ter a different way. But, each also has a risk of splitting bitcoin into two assets and impacting the value of the network and its users. (Albeit, spil of this morning, it looks like the two proposals might be made compatible.)
Spil such, the proposals have bot very politicized, creating market uncertainty and confusion that has arguably exacerbated a diversification by investors into other digital assets.
For example, some have gone spil far spil to call BIP 148’s activation date bitcoin’s “Independence Day” since it thrusts through a switch without requesting miners to signal support for it very first. Philosophically, the movement takes the argument that bitcoin’s mining wasgoed never meant to be so centralized, and that those that contribute resources to securing its ledger weren’t meant to have outsized control.
But, Bitmain, among others, disagrees that BIP 148’s user-activated soft fork (UASF) is the best way to shove through upgrades to the cryptocurrency. Spil have others, the group is citing public safety ter its comments.
“BIP148 is very dangerous for exchanges and other business,” the hard’s postbode reads.
Elsewhere, the company has described its project to hard fork spil a way to save users from the consequences of a split once BIP 148 activates.
One potential problem with the UASF is what’s known spil a ‘reorganization’, where user transactions could zometeen be erased from the blockchain history. This could toebijten if two chains persist temporarily, but then merge back into one chain, erasing transactions that occurred on the ‘losing’ chain.
The company goes on zometeen to expand on its project to hard fork (or mine on a different version of bitcoin’s blockchain history) te response to the UASF te an effort to make the split more voortdurend.
The statement read:
“Bitmain will use some of its own hash rate and work with the developer community to have a contingency project based on [the user-activated hard fork]. Wij will develop options for miners to voluntarily join us.”
Bitmain said it will kick off the hard fork, which it called a “User-Activated Hard Fork (UAHF)”, about 12 hours after the UASF starts. However, the rigid plans to mine it privately for three days before it opens to other miners.
With each fresh twist, bitcoin’s bitcoin scaling debate is growing more confusing and tighter to go after. Moving quickly from proposals spil diverse spil SegWit, SegWit2x, UASF and now UAHF, the situation so far this year may be too elaborate to describe te total.
Te this light, however, some believe the strength of the UAHF proposal is that it moves the market to a kleuter of certainty.
Cornell University laptop science associate professor Emin Gun Sirer thinks that it’s a good sign, at least ter that parties are being “semi-transparent” about their future plans.
“The fact that they’re being forthright about it is nice to see. From the perspective of someone who’s not on either side [of the debate], this is a welcome development,” he said, adding:
“You can look at this and you can project what to do next. What wij need te this space more than anything is, if not a compromise, at least some predictability. That’s what wij seem to be moving towards.”
Others have argued similarly, noting that the proposal outlines a way to bake te safety features, including resistance to ‘replay attacks’ should the network split. (This wasgoed a problem te the aftermath of ethereum’s split into ethereum and ethereum classic last summer).
Bitcoin Unlimited developer David Jerry Chan argued on social media that the switch protects the main blockchain from a UASF.
Still other observers think that no outcome is likely and that, at the end of the day, neither side will sacrifice the network’s accrued value and market leader position for a petite technical shift.
Spil usual, however, reactions to the project were split, generally inbetween those that support volunteer developer group Bitcoin Core’s technical roadmap and those who don’t.
SatoshiLabs CEO Marek Palatinus, the company behind mining pool Slush Pool, reported that the company has bot “monitoring” the debate, but “the situation is getting truly foggy”.
He argued that he interpreted the blog postbode to mean that Bitmain will mine a private blockchain that would be governed by the company.
He told CoinDesk te an email:
“It looks like Bitmain is preparing hard fork to some kleintje of privately mined blockchain which [means] wij cannot suggest mining on such [a] chain for our customers. Wij believe te open development and therefore wij consider [it] very unfortunate that such significant decisions toebijten behind [the] close voort of [a] private company. Wij won’t call such [a] private blockchain ‘the bitcoin’.”
Along thesis lines, Henry Brade, CEO of European cryptocurrency trading toneelpodium Prasos, added that he thinks bitcoin users are resistant to the idea of miners controlling the rules of the network.
While he believes miners play a “crucial” role for bitcoin, he said that Bitmain’s fresh roadmap is a sign that the company is attempting to dictate the rules of what is supposed to be a “decentralized” online currency.
“It’s good that Bitmain released this ‘project’ tho’, because it shows everyone that what they truly want is finish control overheen bitcoin,” Blockstream CSO Samson Mow said, putting the same idea te a different way.
Others, such spil pseudonymous developer Alphonse Rhythm, argued that the hard fork is a “finish bluff”, adding to the idea that this is merely an escalation of claims.
“They make no details about how much hash power to commit to it. It may be so insignificant that it has virtually no blocks, and they won’t even publicly demonstrate what they are mining because it most likely will be embarrassingly petite,” the developer said.
More talk of a UASF
Still, some are taking the event spil a sign that the 1st August UASF is working spil it’s supposed to.
Brade, who favors the UASF, told CoinDesk that he’s “very optimistic” about this turn of events, arguing that Bitmain would disregard the UASF if they thought it would not work.
“It’s a sign that Bitmain actually thinks the UASF community project is legit. They are worried that it’s going to toebijten. Evidently they don’t like it,” he said.
Further, he believes it will further shove users towards a UASF, an upgrading mechanism that he favors.
“The way they’re going about it, I think it’s going to only strengthen the resolve of the UASF movement. I think they will get more support. People te bitcoin don’t like the idea that there’s one miner that has a loterijlot of power.”
Indeed, to some, the appeal of a UASF is that it has more of a psychological effect. Pseudonymous developer Shaolinfry, who popularized the idea of a UASF a duo of months ago, argued that the threat of a UASF is what led mining pools to ultimately support SegWit on litecoin, for example.
Further, despite Bitmain arguing that a reorganization is a reason to split off into another chain, others have claimed that safety is the key reason they will upgrade to BIP 148. That way, a user’s bitcoins are less likely to vanish te the event of a split.
Either way, this uncertainty (to which Sirer alluded) is a reason why some developers argue that bitcoin companies and users should waterput a pause on bitcoin transactions at around this time to stay safe.
For one, while 30 or so firms have pledged support for the UASF, the big players that such an upgrading mechanism is quota on (eg exchanges like Coinbase and Losbreken) have not.
After the hard fork, Bitmain also outlined a farther-looking technical project for the resulting blockchain if its upgrade works spil planned.
The company said that three bitcoin developer groups are working on the UAHF code, which will be ready by 1st July. Long-term plans are to eventually add the scaling optimization SegWit, an RSK sidechain that would port ethereum-style brainy contracts to bitcoin, extension blocks, the scalable protocol Bitcoin-NG and other features.
All that said, the company said that it still supports SegWit2x, a latest scaling ‘agreement’ that boasts the support of most major bitcoin companies and groups that control more than 80% of the mining power. Spil with the hard fork, response to the roadmap wasgoed mixed.
For one, some of the included technologies might be incompatible with what developers are working on right now.
Lightning Labs co-founder Elizabeth Stark noted that the technology Lumino is not compatible with Lightning Network. Developers of several different versions of the transaction-boosting software drew up standards last October so that all of them would work together.
Still, others are hopeful about the company’s long-term roadmap.
Sirer said that he wasn’t astonished to see that Bitcoin-NG, a potentially more scalable version of the protocol that he co-architected with other researchers at Cornell University, wasgoed included.
“It shows that they’re not just kicking the can down the road. Instead they have a medium to long-term vision for how to indeed address the scalability problem,” he said.
Spel of bluffs
Still, there are signs that the debate, despite its diversity of proposals, is getting more and more dictated by emotion.
Te comments, Haipo Yang, CEO of bitcoin mining pool ViaBTC, for example, continued to voice his support for Bitmain and its proposal on the voet that it might eliminate network congestion and fees.
At play, however, is a complexity of underlying ideas and motives.
Yang, for example, believes high fees are forcing away potential users (not showcasing that request is escalating and growing), that developers are seeking too much control (despite largely still backing the same proposal for months), that users should be able to choose from numerous clients (tho’ they technically can and aren’t) and that a split into two networks is better for all involved (however that might affect the value of users’ funds).
On thesis issues (and more), there are arguments to take on either side.
But, ter this jockeying for control, the migration of investor funds into alternative protocols may prove to be adding pressures to what some are calling a ‘power fight’.
Ultimately exasperated by the questioning, Yang concluded:
“I don’t know which side [will] win. [A] split to two bitcoin is better, I think.”
The question now may be whether this market switch will force activity, and if it does, whether users will be caught ter any fallout.
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which helped organize the SegWit2x proposal and has an ownership stake ter Blockstream.
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