Ethereum  •  Technology

Hopes Are High Tomorrow's Ethereum Fork Won't Be Like the Last

(@pete_rizzo_) | Published on October 18, 2016 at 03:46 GMT
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Nothing to see here...

That's the message from developers, entrepreneurs and analysts ahead of an upgrade to the ethereum network that aims to solve "urgent network health issues".

The new code, expected to be released tomorrow morning, follows a series of attacks that developers say exposed issues with the pricing model the network uses to discourage transaction spam. As a result, the ethereum community is set to adopt a patch for the issue at block 2,463,000 on its main blockchain, a move developers believe will reprice network functions to better incentivize intended use.

A second hard fork is then expected to remove the spam that resulted from the attacks, though details on this update are still forthcoming. (A full FAQ has been posted by the Ethereum Foundation here).

But while expected in light of recent issues, the changes are the subject of heightened interest given the fallout surrounding a problematic hard fork this summer. Prompted by an attack on a prominent application, the community elected to restore investor funds through a protocol change that invalidated the alleged theft.

What followed, however, was a prolonged – and still active – disagreement that saw that a group of developers continue to write code for and process transactions on the abandoned blockchain. Dubbed ethereum classic, the alternative network is continuing to attract developers and trader interest.

But despite this backdrop, analysts don't see tomorrow's hard fork as one that will yield similar results given that it will improve the experience for users.

Developer Demian Brenner, an entrepreneur building a smart contract platform called Zeppelin on ethereum, said there was broad agreement among his users that this fork would be a non-event.

Brenner told CoinDesk:

"'Forking' is presented as a super scary concept, but in any other field it would just be called 'upgrading'. Contentious hard forks ... are legitimately troubling, but non-contentious forks are a good thing, they're how the platform is built and improved."

So far, analysts said that key portions of the ethereum ecosystem have already signaled support.

As for the upgrading process, Jonathan Toomim, who runs a hosted mining operation that serves ethereum miners, said he had already upgraded his machines to clients that are ready to switch over to the new code when it is deployed.

Customers of the major ethereum exchange Poloniex were similarly advised that the startup would quickly adopt the new blockchain to ensure its services aren’t interrupted.

Attacker risk

At issue, the non-profit leading ethereum's development said, is an economic imbalance that tomorrow's fork will resolve.

"The attacker performed a DoS attack by repeatedly calling certain operation codes (opcodes) in their smart contracts that are computationally difficult for clients to process, but very cheap to add to the network," a blog post on the fork reads.

But while the fork will solve for one proven method of attack, analysts are unsure of whether this fix will solve for another problem – the resolve of the attacker or attackers seeking to disrupt the network.

As detailed previously in CoinDesk, the attacks coincided with the start of a major ethereum developer conference and were seen by many as a willful attempt to express disdain over the July hard fork.

To this point, observers aren't exactly sure the fix will stop the attacker.

"The bigger risk is that the mysterious attacker has something more damaging up his or her sleeve, like actually robbing contracts rather than just this childish [spam attack]," digital currency hedge fund operator Jacob Eliosoff told CoinDesk.

Still, not everyone saw this as an issue.

Other market participants were quick to caution that the ethereum platform remains in its early stages, and that, despite expectations, it is still months and years away from being "production ready".

According to Toomim, it's better for the attacks to continue on the basis that any new issues could be identified and resolved.

"I would rather it be production ready than seem production ready," he said. "If there are bugs or flaws, I would prefer that they be revealed before a lot of dapps are deployed."

Changing costs

In other areas, analysts indicated that they found little potential risk in the fork.

For example, even though the change will increase the costs of some network functions, Brener said Zeppelin's community doesn't expect smart contract development to be impacted.

“The hard fork mainly changes gas costs of certain operations, so developers will need to be careful when using those. We haven't seen any big changes in development style yet but time will tell," he said.

Dominik Zynis, a marketing advisor at WINGS, a decentralized ethereum platform for the creation of DAOs, said his platform had already shifted its focus to bitcoin smart contracts following the last hard fork.

"We do plan to support ethereum and ethereum classic, and are indeed pleased to see this hard fork tis addressing security issues," he said.

Still, Zynis's comments pointed to the broader optimism that the hard fork would proceed without issue, mitigating the chance that further competing blockchains would fragment the developer ecosystem.

He concluded:

"As long as hard forks do not produce more competing blockchains, this is a non-event for us."

Disclaimer: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Smart Contract Solutions, the parent company behind the Zeppelin project.

'Odd man out' image via Shutterstock

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