What to Expect When Ethereum Classic Diffuses Its ‘Difficulty Bomb’

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Ethereum classic (ETC) is set to fork in the coming days as part of a bid to diffuse a so-called ‘bomb’ in its code.

Set for block 5,900,000, the change, in which all users of the original ethereum blockchain will need to update their software, is meant to disable a feature that is designed to increase the difficulty of mining the protocol’s rewards ahead of a shift to a new consensus algorithm.

Such changes, originally envisioned as part of the roadmap now continued by the ethereum blockchain, would render ETC mining unprofitable if allowed to persist.

Advocates in the ethereum community argue that proof-of-stake systems are more energy efficient than their proof-of-work counterparts. However, Anthony Lusardi, developer and director of ETC Cooperative, a community development and marketing body for the protocol, argues this is yet another point on which the ethereum and ethereum classic communities disagree.

As such, he sought to frame the impending removal of the code as another way the ethereum classic project is attempting to differentiate since the 2017 split.

“Proof-of-work seems to be the most decentralized approach currently to achieving consensus from what the majority of the community feels,” Lusardi said in an interview.

Lusardi said : 

“There’s a lot of new algorithms being proposed like proof-of-stake, delegated proof-of-stake and byzantine fault tolerance, and within our community we’re not convinced that these newer versions of consensus are any more decentralized and we’re somewhat afraid that they may be more centralized than say proof-of-work.”

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Ethereum classic’s decision to uphold its proof-of-work system was not made in haste. In fact, discussions started in 2016 after the collapse of the smart contract-based funding project The DAO, which triggered the original splintering of the ethereum and ethereum classic blockchains.

In January 2017, the ETC community moved to fork their blockchain to delay the bomb to allow for more deliberation time.

“We didn’t know if we were going to move to proof-of-stake or stay with proof-of-work and there were a lot of discussions. We realized we didn’t have enough time,” Igor Artamonov, CTO of the ethereum classic development team, said :

“By now, however, proof-of-stake systems have been better explored”, Lusardi said.
He contends that proof-of-work systems better resist centralization because mining requires continuous infrastructural investment in hardware. Conversely, once a participant achieves an “economic majority” in a proof-of-stake system, he said, “there doesn’t seem to be much to ever stop them from having it.”

Ethereum classic developer Cody Burns agrees. “The entire premise is that you would put normal money into the system to buy a stake in it, and banks and large institutions have unfair amounts of capital compared to normal participants,” he said.

“We would have spent the last four or five years just reinventing the modern financial system that we have now. Same actors, same players,” he added.

Mass destruction? Unlikely

Hard forks have proven contentious in the past due to the potential for networks to split if miners fail to update their software or if some users decide to keep the network going with old code. But, Lusardi, Artamonov and Burns all said they don’t anticipate the upcoming fork to spark any controversy or technical difficulties.

The majority of nodes and miners have already updated their software, which was released three months ago, they said.

Major ethereum classic developer and tech company IOHK has also followed suit. It released its node client Mantis V1.1 three weeks ago with hard fork integration so its users had sufficient time to update, IOHK’s ethereum classic community manager, Kevin Lord, told CoinDesk.

“There have been extensive announcements, discussions and careful review of the proposal,” he said, adding that the company will “be keeping a watchful eye on the network.”

However, the developers noted that exchanges could be potentially unaware of the fork, but suggested the risk was small. Nonetheless, Lord said he recommends that users maintain control of their private keys and do not store their tokens on exchanges.

The developers anticipate that the fork will benefit the community, and not only by eliminating the mining difficulties caused by the bomb. The fork is also expected to reduce the amount of time it takes to create a block.

“Right now we’re on 26 minute block times on average, so this will take us back down to 14,” Burns predicted.

Some users may be disappointed with the fork, however, because the network upgrade will not result in an airdrop or the creation of a new coin unlike other types of hard forks.

All in all, the disabling of the bomb will likely pass without much notice, the developers said.

“We tend to not have very contentious forks,” Lusardi said.

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Author Annaliese Milano
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Bitcoin Cash Fork Leaves Users Behind, But Does It Matter?

Bitcoin cash now has 32 MB blocks and smart contracts

The controversial hard fork of bitcoin hard forked again several days ago in an effort to add new functionality to the cryptocurrency protocol and further differentiate it from its predecessor. But in the process – executing at block 530350 – a portion of the bitcoin cash community was left behind.

At the time of writing, between 16 percent and 17 percent of bitcoin cash nodes are running old software and because of the way upgrading by hard fork works (whereby changes are not backwards compatible), those nodes are now running on a completely separate network. As such, if any user running one of those nodes were to make a transaction, the new, larger bitcoin cash network would not recognize it.

Critics of bitcoin cash argue it’s a bad sign that so many nodes haven’t upgraded, since those users are now completely cut off from the rest of the network.

Some have even gone as far as to argue the quietness around the hard fork as a sign that relatively few people care about bitcoin cash. If more people cared, they contend, the changes would see more debate, because people would be worried about the implications, Bitcoin Core contributor Kalle Alm argued on social media.

“You can tell bitcoin cash is not bitcoin by looking at how not everyone is losing their shit all over the place,” he said, adding:

“Imagine if 20 percent of bitcoin nodes failed consensus? Everyone would explode.”

But proponents of the network disagree.

“That’s a rather meaningless statistic. Likely the reason those nodes haven’t upgraded is because they aren’t in use and the owners haven’t bothered yet,” said Chris Pacia, lead developer at OB1’s Open Bazaar.

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A popular fork

Pacia pushed back on the idea the calm surrounding the hard fork means anything but that users were happy with the upgrade.

Despite a portion of users not yet upgrading their systems to go along with it, Pacia said, all miners have upgraded. And sure enough, leading up to the fork, social media comments among bitcoin cash advocates were overwhelmingly in favour of the changes.

“The network update has the full support of the community, with bitcoin cash aiming to compete with the [lightning] network of bitcoin,” said Matthew Newton, an analyst at crypto investment platform eToro, in a statement.

The statement continued:

“Increasing the block size and allowing smart contracts to be built is seen as an important step in its quest to become the dominant cryptocurrency.”

The new features look like they’re working properly so far.

Pacia was one of the first to use OP_CAT, one of the so-called smart contracts added to the protocol through the hard fork.

And other projects got a boost from the new features too. For instance, because of the bigger block size, users can now write longer messages on the bitcoin cash social media site Memo.cash.

“If this was a contentious change and those nodes didn’t upgrade because they legitimately wanted to stick with the world rules than that could be a problem. But I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case here,” Pacia added.

Reckless competition?

That said, the hard fork continues to draw mixed reception from the broader cryptocurrency community.

The hard fork that led to bitcoin cash was a controversial one and even though the two groups have went their separate ways, there is still arguments over the groups use of language and marketing.

Alm told CoinDesk he thinks it’s “insane” that bitcoin cash developers don’t care about the node statistic more and “that goes to show how little [they] care about individual sovereignty.”

“In bitcoin, the nodes are everything. They are the users of the system. To dismiss cutting off a fifth of your users in a hard fork, controversial or not, is reckless, to say the least,”

And further, many critics argue the upgrades in the latest bitcoin cash hard fork don’t have good trade-offs for the system as a whole.

For example, increasing the block size too much can decrease the likelihood that anyone can run full nodes in the future, since the storage requirements will be more than most household computers generally allow for. This is a particularly contentious point, since many cryptocurrency enthusiasts believe running a full node is the safest and most decentralized way to use the technology.

Still, bitcoin cash advocates see the effort to continue improving the cryptocurrency as a sign of necessary competition within the space.

“What events like these are also making clear, however, is the underlying sense of competition between the bitcoin cash and bitcoin communities,” Newton said. “Both are fiercely passionate about these assets and confident that one will emerge as the victor.”

He added:

“Ultimately, it remains to be seen how that will play out over the long-term, as both cryptocurrencies continue to develop.”

Author Alyssa Hertig
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