A blockchain that was born out of the rejection of a contentious technical change is on the cusp of making a decision some argue contradicts its core values.
That’s the situation the developers behind ethereum classic face ahead of a hard fork expected to be enacted on its blockchain on 25th October (should network participants approve the upgrade). Originally formed in reaction to a decision by the ethereum community to edit its “immutable” ledger, the fork caused an ideological schism among its enthusiasts.
Alarmed by the action (or seeing a chance to profit by continuing the original network), miners and speculators began running its blockchain, which developers named “ethereum classic”. Other investors then bought into the vision, and today, there are currently 85m classic ethers (ETC) worth $87m.
What perhaps wasn’t foreseen, though, was that ethereum classic would face a situation where it would soon need to enact an unplanned hard fork.
But following a series of attacks that have targeted ethereum over the past month, ethereum classic has realized it is also vulnerable given its use of nearly identical technology. Pressure has further mounted on developers to resolve the issue after ethereum’s successful hard fork.
Given the nascent nature of its community, the uncertain path forward for ethereum classic has spurred discussion among its supporters and detractors. As a result, some in the ethereum classic feel the group must act.
Ethereum classic community manager Carlo Vicari argued for the fork in practical terms, telling CoinDesk:
“Either you do the update and the chain survives, or you don’t and the chain ceases to function. So, it’s kind of an easy choice.”
Those in the project’s leadership say any criticisms amount to “trolling”, or the willful spreading of uncertainty about ethereum classic and its vision.
Still, the wider industry perhaps hasn’t been friendly to ethereum classic’s predicament.
Cornell computer scientist Emin Gün Sirer, for example, argued that by ethereum classic’s reasoning, its new hard fork would compromise its immutability, or the idea that a transaction history should be final and not subject to revisions.
Ethereum classic developers don’t quite see it that way, however. Instead, they argue that their “own founding rules“, leave room for hard forks that fix technical problems.
“Because of the technical nature of this fork and important security vulnerabilities it addresses, there was no contention about it within the community,” lead developer Arvicco told CoinDesk.
He asserted that those who are against it don’t “understand the difference” between protocol changes meant to improve the protocol and those that “confiscate” and “redistribute” funds.
A small group has even said that they will stay on the old ethereum classic blockchain if the fork occurs, with possible names including “Ethereum Classic Unlimited,” “Ethereum Classic Uncensored” or “Ethereum Classic Classic”.
It’s questionable how seriously to take this group, as the subreddit claims that they will never, under any circumstances, update the ethereum software. Others are less committed to a blockchain that never changes, arguing that ethereum classic should have voted on the decision.
Reddit user gobriangao, who has supervised two ethereum classic public surveys, argued that it sets a precedent for ethereum classic decision-making.
“If we don’t measure consensus formally now, how are we better than [ethereum]? How do we know when something is contentious? Who judges what constitutes an easy protocol fork or something worse? A few devs?” Gobriangao wrote.
Gobriangao argued that ethereum classic needs to establish a governance system that sets the new blockchain apart from ethereum.
The comments suggest ethereum classic will continue to try to differentiate itself from the second most popular blockchain from which it spawned, but the event itself highlights how disagreement about technical terms continues to divide blockchain communities.
Further, the hard fork strikes at the root of the recent discussions around immutability and the best way to make updates to public blockchains, a discussion also happening in bitcoin as well.
Some seem to think that the event at least it furthers discussion about different “types” of hard forks, and how much they change “consensus rules” (though others have speculated as to just how accurate this view is in describing how blockchains function).
Should ethereum classic execute a hard fork, it will also be recreating the events that led this to form. This means that miners and users will tomorrow have a choice whether they want to continue running the old blockchain, though Arvicco suggested community sentiment is against this idea due to the usability issues at play.
“ETC volunteers keep informing people about the need to upgrade and help the users that encounter issues.”
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which is led by CEO and founder Barry Silbert. Silbert has previously disclosed he has invested in ethereum classic.
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