Fixing this bug that kills Bitcoin will (eventually) require a hard fork
Most of us will be dead by then
Predicted to happen in the year 2106, Bitcoin will suddenly stop working based on the code running its user network today. Users will not be able to send bitcoins to others; The miners that protect the global Bitcoin network will no longer be of any use. Bitcoin will just stop.
The good news is that the bug is easy to fix. It’s a problem that Bitcoin developers have known about for years, since at least 2012, maybe earlier, according to Bitcoin Core contributor Pieter Wuille. For some developers, the Bitcoin bug sheds light on the limits of Bitcoin decentralization, as the entire community will have to come together to fix it.
“This is a consensus change but very simple, and I hope it is not controversial,” Blockstream co-founder and engineer Pieter Wuille told CoinDesk in an email. “We have about 80 years to solve the error. Who knows what could happen in such a period of time? “
The error is simple. Bitcoin blocks are the containers within which transactions are stored. Each Bitcoin block has a number that tracks how many blocks come before it. But due to a limitation revolving around how block height numbers are stored, Bitcoin will run out of block numbers after block number 5101541.
In other words, at a block height that will happen in the future 86 years from now, it will then be impossible to produce new blocks.
The change requires what is known as a “hard fork”, the most demanding method of making a change to a blockchain. Hard forks are tricky because they are not backward compatible, they require everyone running a Bitcoin node or miner to update their software. Anyone who doesn’t will be left behind in a locked version of Bitcoin that is unable to perform any activity.
While some blockchains, such as Ethereum, run hard forks regularly, a hard fork is not the very happy word in Bitcoin land.
The last time a Bitcoin hard fork was attempted, it attracted vicious debate. Several large companies and Bitcoin miners rallied around a hard fork called Segwit2x in 2017. The problem is that far from everyone in the community agreeing with the change, many saw it as an attempt to force the update on the community, which doesn’t exactly match Bitcoin’s spirit of lack of leadership.
Because of this journal entry in the history of Bitcoin, when many people in Bitcoin hear the phrase “hard fork,” they think of a centralized power trying to impose change.
However, this bug-fixing hard fork stands in contrast to Bitcoin’s more famous hard fork attempt. Rather than attract discussion, the community and developers will likely agree that this is a change that needs to be made.
After all, anyone who chooses not to update their software will eventually run a dead Bitcoin chain.
Protocol of ‘ossification’
The bug fix is unlikely to be a controversial change. But that doesn’t make the topic any less interesting.
In conversation with CoinDesk, Gustavo J. Flores, Head of Product and Research at the Bitcoin technology startup Veriphi, argued that it brings to light a limit to the “” protocol ossification “of bitcoin.
Remembering the soft cartilage that hardens into the bone over time, the ossification protocol is the idea that Bitcoin will become more difficult to change as it matures. In the early years of Bitcoin’s life, the protocol was immature and there were far fewer users and developers playing with the software, so the technology was easier to change. But Bitcoin may be hardening into a bony specimen that will be very difficult to change.
“Protocol ossification means a certain point in time, some say it should be now, where Bitcoin is no longer changing. The rules are set like the constitution of a country, immutable as it would be too decentralized to coordinate any changes, “Flores told CoinDesk.
Just a dream?
The reason why many Bitcoin technologists think that ossification is a good programming strategy, because it is a sign that the system is actually as decentralized as the community wants it to be, ensuring that the system is truly free of it. a person or entity intervenes and promotes a change that is not good.
Flores added that the ossification protocol helps to “prevent future attempts that would resemble Segwit2x, where some actors try to force an update because they are well-known developers or large companies, and this ends up harming Bitcoin because it is unproven code or cryptography, or because the change removes the core value proposition or diminishes decentralization, damaging the core value proposition in the long run.
“However, this error makes it desirable to be able to coordinate a hard fork to fix it, as we all want Bitcoin to be able to survive that deadline,” Flores said.
“Basically, it brings us back to reality, where the dream of protocol ossification (which makes us achieve final decentralization) is further than expected and could just be a dream, which we can get closer to over time, but we will never be able to complete it. since emergencies like this can happen, “Flores told CoinDesk.
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