The rift between bitcoin and its offshoot bitcoin cash isn't just ideological – it's hazardous.
For months, a technical quirk has led some users of both cryptocurrencies to lose money, both temporarily and permanently. But it appears that nightmare scenario may soon be in the past, as bitcoin cash's developer team recently announced it is taking steps to address the problem.
To recap, bitcoin cash originally split from bitcoin earlier this summer in an attempt to experiment with a different long-term technical vision for the technology. For all their differences, though, it's their similarities that are causing the problem.
When bitcoin cash created a new blockchain from bitcoin's transaction history, it took much of the old code along with it, including the address format that users use to send money. The problem with that is, if users aren't paying attention, they can send bitcoin cash to their bitcoin addresses, or vice versa.
A quick google search unearths dozens of forum posts where users complain of this problem.
"I accidentally sent my BTC to a BCC address. Is there a way to recover them? Is there somebody that can help me with this matter?" pleaded one user on Bitcoin Stack Exchange, a technical forum.
The solution, however, is within reach: the address formats simply need to be changed so they aren't compatible. And Amaury Sechet, lead developer of Bitcoin ABC (a bitcoin cash software implementation), believes achieving this should be the project's next big step.
When announcing his work on a new address format called "cashaddr," he called it a "pressing" change, contending that the change could be made as soon as December.
He added later:
Unlike bitcoin cash's last big change, though, this one wouldn't need to be a hard fork, meaning not everybody needs to upgrade their software in order to stay on the network.
"The 'key' to this, pun intended, is that the underlying public and private cryptographic key pairs won't change – just how they are represented as 'addresses' will look different in wallet software," Calin Culianu, who's contributed to the Bitcoin ABC software, told CoinDesk.
Still, he noted the upgrade will go smoother if everyone, including wallet providers, adopts the change in advance. That way, the whole ecosystem will be aware of the new addresses.
But what's interesting is that Sechet's proposal draws from changes first put forth by Bitcoin Core contributors, the volunteer development group behind bitcoin's main implementation.
Although bitcoin cash intends to compete with bitcoin, attempting to push fees lower, this willingness to take inspiration from bitcoin's main software implementation shows the two cryptocurrencies aren't on totally different paths.
"We want the user experience to be flawless, especially with potentially significant amounts of money involved," said Bitcoin ABC contributor Shammah Chancellor.
All that said, the jury's still out on whether the proposal will be adopted.
Developers argue it needs agreement from the bitcoin cash community. One developer, Roy Bagami, for example, agrees with ushering in a new address format but said he's "not a big fan of bech32," the format Sechet's cashaddr based off of. So, he's proposed something else.
Still, others defended the change. "It's a good proposal," Chancellor told CoinDesk.
More broadly, developers have an optimistic outlook for the bitcoin offshoot, with Culianu arguing it's doing "great," and he no longer feels the need to help out.
"I was more interested in making sure it takes off and it has a shot back when they really needed manpower – now that Amaury Sechet has put together an even larger team and everything is going smoothly – I no longer felt a need to contribute," Culianu told CoinDesk.
Other contributors have proposed longer-term roadmaps with possible enhancements bitcoin cash could make down the line, such as addressing the "transaction malleability" bug. While they might be a hint of what's to come, they've mostly generated heated debate so far.
Either way, while an address format might seem like a small change, it could be a sign of further differentiation between bitcoin and bitcoin cash moving forward.
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