Over the weekend the big news on Bitcoin was the impromptu Bitcoin Roundtable Conference that occurred in Hong Kong’s Cyberport between a coalition of miners, mining pools and some developers primarily from the Bitcoin Core team and Blockstream, among them Adam Back and Matt Corallo.
The meeting resulted in a general agreement between these parties on the following points:
We understand that SegWit continues to be developed actively as a soft-fork and is likely to proceed towards release over the next two months, as originally scheduled.
We will continue to work with the entire Bitcoin protocol development community to develop, in public, a safe hard-fork based on the improvements in SegWit. The Bitcoin Core contributors present at the Bitcoin Roundtable will have an implementation of such a hard-fork available as a recommendation to Bitcoin Core within three months after the release of SegWit.
This hard-fork is expected to include features which are currently being discussed within technical communities, including an increase in the non-witness data to be around 2 MB, with the total size no more than 4 MB, and will only be adopted with broad support across the entire Bitcoin community.
We will run a SegWit release in production by the time such a hard-fork is released in a version of Bitcoin Core.
We will only run Bitcoin Core-compatible consensus systems, eventually containing both SegWit and the hard-fork, in production, for the foreseeable future.
We are committed to scaling technologies which use block space more efficiently, such as Schnorr multisig.
Based on the above points, the timeline will likely follow the below dates.
SegWit is expected to be released in April 2016.
The code for the hard-fork will therefore be available by July 2016.
If there is strong community support, the hard-fork activation will likely happen around July 2017.
On the face of it appears a positive move for Bitcoin, with a significant amount of Hashing power and some key developers agreeing on principal to the original Bitcoin Core Roadmap, with a more detailed hard fork date.
However the initial claims of “consensus” were out of line, and merely a PR flourish. It is not credible to claim a meeting between a few parties can establish consensus over the Bitcoin network.
The price of Bitcoin responded initially to this development breaking out from $425 and hitting $451, before settling now in the $435-$440 range of the past day.
The response in the community was mixed. Mark Friedenbach a Blockstream employee was not pleased with the meeting attended by his own CEO and posted the following on reddit under his user account maaku7.
” Still, this seems like a good basis to start building community-wide consensus, and the letter is carefully worded such that its clear that it only represents the people attending the meeting and does not represent a commitment from the wider technical community (which they don’t have the authority to give anyway).”
To be clear I wrote the grandparent comment in response to a pre-release draft that had text along the lines of “representatives of Core have reached agreement on an updated roadmap”. That language has been removed and the document softened in other ways.
But I’ve decided to leave my comment as-is because I really do disagree with the content. The capacity increase roadmap does not have dates attached, and for good reason. I was upset when the attached FAQ added dates (without approval of the 150 signatories), and this “compromise” document does nothing more than further that mistake.
What the meeting shows however is that a hard fork is not happening in 2016 as we predicted just 11 days ago after the Bitcoin Roundtable published their support for Core.
Many believe this recent move to be an end around that undercuts Bitcoin Classic support for their hard fork.
However a Hard Fork is not happening because there is no real support for a hard fork. If there was no amount of lobbying would stop a decentralized network from adopting a change that was beneficial to all participants.
Everyone would love to have a magical 2mb increase but only a small minority actually support the process of requiring a hard fork to do it. Despite polls, unending blog posts, we estimate true network support, participants who are willing to commence a hard fork right now is probably less than 35%. If not an actual hard fork would be in process.
Classic supporters recognize the low support and as such lowered the threshold for their client fork to 75% of hashing power, however this tells participants that support from the network is not there. So conservative participants who do support a 2mb increase will not engage in such a low threshold fork because they cannot accurately gauge the true level of network support. If you raise it to 95% intuition tells you that right now there are plenty of participants who will not support a hard fork period. As such actual participants who are ready to pull the trigger on a hard fork without confirmation of support is quite low.
The reality is attempting to rip and replace a decentralized protocol that is not under threat of breaking is a herculean task which requires a level of coordination that has slipped away in Bitcoin.
Just imagine the hours and hours of lost development time, between Bitcoin CEOs, Developers, and Miners lobbying their positions. The lobbying to raise the block size has been ongoing since the moment Satoshi secretly implemented the limit, and has ramped up in the last 2 years. Not to mention the splitting of Bitcoin developers who are spending time on developing the same code, with a hard fork alteration that will never be adopted.
Many will lament this as a sign that Bitcoin is stagnant, left to wither on the vine as it will be unable to meet the future demands.
However, this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view, Bitcoin has been scaling in very difficult and unimaginable ways over the last 7 years.
And in fact Bitcoin will require new and imaginative ways to scale, which may require even more complex levels of development. This is how decentralized protocols scale, they scale via extension. Developers maintain the network in a forward compatible mode, and when the time comes if it ever does, where the road has clearly run out, then a process of migration is evolved that usually will take place over years. The example is the evolution from IPV4 to IPV6. This process will be self evident as development freezes and new protocol is developed in parallel.
Developers will code where they feel their code is likely to be adopted. We feel Bitcoin is nowhere near this type of roadblock and that alternate client development maybe premature but it is nevertheless a natural process.
Participants in decentralized protocols migrate when they want to not via imposed deadlines. And in Bitcoin’s case the very act of attempting to migrate in an imposed manner will actually backfire.
As we have argued before, approaching Bitcoin as a mere open source development project that can be “upgraded” like the next version of Linux is a flawed approach and doomed to failure. It ignores the very essence of Bitcoin which is a network protocol grounded in anti-political and anti-lobbying. A system where all participants are voluntary and free to pursue their own self interest within the rules.
We are optimistic that developers will continue to work on scaling Bitcoin via extensions, and direct their energy toward this. If the time comes to hard fork, the network will know.
For the full statement read: Bitcoin Roundtable Consensus — Medium