The blockchain project, named after a spell from the Harry Potter book series, has been looking for ways to attach itself to bitcoin since 2016, but with its platform getting closer to being ready (and options like sidechains still in development), developers now argue launching a new cryptocurrency is simply the easiest way to test MimbleWimble with real users.
But while the project touts itself as a more scalable, more private blockchain, launching new cryptocurrencies has historically been seen as controversial.
With hundreds (if not, thousands) of so called altcoins launching and fading into obscurity over the years, some have gone so far as to label the practice an elaborate fraud. But, according to one MimbleWimble developer, the project doesn't intend to follow models that have proven problematic or harmful to investors.
Igno Peverell, the project's pseudonymous lead developer, said:
Instead, Peverell said money for project development will likely depend on voluntary donations, though the team has not ironed out the details just yet.
Sidechain or new chain?
Stepping back, MimbleWimble's open-source team has continued to grow larger and become more active with time, and because of that, the project has made significant steps forward. Still, the original goal of launching it as a sidechain of the bitcoin network has remained a challenge.
Since MimbleWimble requires bitcoin's existing scripting system to be stripped out, the project has long been considered all but impossible to incorporate into bitcoin itself.
Indeed, Blockstream mathematician Andrew Poelstra, one of the earliest advocates for MimbleWimble, and arguably its most visible proponent, agreed that launching a new cryptocurrency is the "simplest" option.
"It's a very reasonable attitude and I'm glad that they're pushing the research and design of MimbleWimble forward," he added.
Yet, Poelstra mentioned it might be possible to peg the network's cryptocurrency, called grin, to bitcoin later on, using a mechanism he's currently developing.
He told CoinDesk:
But as for how those features are developing, things are still taking shape.
Because it isn't able to use bitcoin's scripts, it seemed at first as though MimbleWimble wouldn't be able to support more complex transaction types like Schnorr signatures and Lightning Network, both of which could boost capacity even further.
So, if grin has better privacy and scalability, and might be able to support many of the same features bitcoin has, does bitcoin still have any advantages?
To this question, Peverell responded with sarcasm, acknowledging that bitcoin still has the "largest market," "most known brand" and "most active ecosystem," making the prospect of competing difficult.
Further, Peverell noted that since bitcoin was upgraded to support Segregated Witness in August, it now allows more advanced transaction types, something that's likely to keep developers busy with new innovations.
All in all, the developer doesn't see it so much as a competition. Instead, Peverell argues that there are tradeoffs between the different approaches.
"We're not here to 'kill bitcoin.' We're here to provide a radically different, private and scalable alternative that plays well with it," he said.
Next steps on a testnet
Developers have been working on a code version of MimbleWimble, also called grin, since October of last year. And that implementation has seen plenty of progress, especially with a new cast of Harry Potter-themed developers (including Antioch Peverell, Luna Lovegood, Seamus Finnigan, and Percy Weasley) joining ranks.
But there's still a lot of work to be done before the team can launch the grin cryptocurrency, Peverell continued, including multiple rounds of testing. First, the current code still needs to be fleshed out, reviewed and tested.
"We now have a blockchain implementation that, while still naturally immature at this point, doesn't have gaping holes anymore," Peverell said.
Second, by testing and bulletproofing the code, they will crystallize an "alpha" release, with which they will launch a testnet, a big step toward showing the cryptocurrency community the underlying ideas really work.
Setting up the testnet means producing a first block, known as a "genesis block" (in bitcoin, this block was hardcoded by the technology's pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto). After that, volunteer testers will be able mine the network and make test transactions.
"I'm hoping we'll be ready before winter," Peverell said.
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstream.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.