Keep Calm and Bitcoin On? Developers Aren't Worrying About a Fork

As the discussion heats up over the possibility of a bitcoin hard fork, some developers are playing down the likelihood of a split.

AccessTimeIconMar 24, 2017 at 10:55 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:11 p.m. UTC

Amidst one of the more turbulent phases of bitcoin's two-year scaling debate, calm and collected might not seem like adjectives you'd use to describe bitcoin developers.

After all, now that a sizeable number of miners are running Bitcoin Unlimited, a popular (and controversial) alternative bitcoin software, there’s been fresh "discussion" of a potential fork of the network (which could result in two competing coins). The community is in a bit of a frenzy over the possibility, with some traders liquidating positions and others fretting over a post-fork attack on the old chain.

Yet, not everyone thinks that a fork will occur.

Bitcoin Core contributor Eric Lombrozo, for instance, has taken a skeptical and calm view, arguing that the bitcoin community has seen this all before.

The idea behind this sentiment is that Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Classic, other controversial software alternatives that tried to move bitcoin to a new set of rules, have emerged and declined over the last couple of years.

While supporters view Bitcoin Unlimited as the future of bitcoin, trumpeting it as a fork will bring it about as the prevailing software, critics view it as broken – an idea they say is bolstered by two recent bugs that temporarily wiped out some of its nodes.

Others, such as Lombrozo, say that it's simply a twist on old alternatives that have yet to have an impact on the rules of the main bitcoin network.

"Nearly two years of hostile fork attempts. Same playbook each time," Lombrozo told CoinDesk.

He argued that it’s "not really" any different than its predecessors, adding:

"The idea you can change bitcoin by lobbying one group of stakeholders against another is fundamentally flawed, as is the idea you can force controversial consensus rule changes. Bitcoin requires more tactful politics."

From the other side in the debate, Bitcoin Unlimited chief scientist Peter Rizun's view is the opposite in some ways. He believes bitcoin will see a block size parameter increase, making bitcoin competitive with growing alternative cryptocurrencies again.

"In my opinion, there's a 75% chance we get an upgrade to larger blocks in 2017," he said.

However, Rizun agrees with Lombrozo that there won't be a split:

"I think the fear of a blockchain split is totally overblown – nobody wants it to happen, it's not going to happen."

'Altcoin' threat

Other developers took a different stance.

"I think there is a strong chance there will be a Bitcoin Unlimited fork," anonymous Bitcoin Core contributor BTCDrak told CoinDesk.

Some developers have been taking preparatory measures, writing code that could protect SPV wallets, which aren't as savvy as full nodes at detecting if they're fed false information.

To that point, people from both sides have said that they want a fork to happen soon so that the issue is over with, perhaps because anticipation has been high recently.

And, indeed, some Bitcoin Unlimited supporters seem to be in a hurry to see a shift.

"Well, I certainly don’t want to be quoted on a date. We are early in 2017, if this does not get done in 2017 then the long-term damage will be irrecoverable," Bitcoin Unlimited president Andrew Clifford said.

Clifford cited a threat from alternative cryptocurrencies, such as ethereum or monero, which he said will surpass bitcoin in terms of momentum if developers don't increase the block size parameter soon.

Vested interests

So, while some argue that only one bitcoin will survive in the event a fork, others have suggested that, as the issue is so contentious, most people won't move to the new chain and Bitcoin Unlimited will spin off into another cryptocurrency.

"A hard fork is by definition an altcoin that the entire community decides to adopt as a replacement," Bitcoin Core contributor Luke Dashjr said.

“Since most of the community rejects Bitcoin Unlimited, it is impossible for it to become a hard fork,” he contends.

Still, most in the community want only one bitcoin in the end. It's just hard to get everyone to agree on which one that should be.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of a shift to a brand new cryptocurrency with new rules, even if they seem to be minor changes – as evidenced by the past two years of infighting. So, people are worried it could result in some sort of split.

That's why a fork has yet to occur, according to Lombrozo, and why he doesn't think one will happen this time around, either.

In conclusion, he said:

"Anyone can fork at any time. That people don't speaks to the strong incentives not to."

image via Shutterstock


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