What to Expect When Ethereum Classic Defuses Its 'Difficulty Bomb'

The upcoming ethereum classic fork will disable a 'difficulty bomb,' committing the network to a proof-of-work consensus algorithm.

AccessTimeIconMay 28, 2018 at 6:30 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 7:59 a.m. UTC
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Ethereum classic (ETC) is set to fork in the coming days as part of a bid to diffuse a so-called 'bomb' in its code.

Set for block 5,900,000, the change, in which all users of the original ethereum blockchain will need to update their software, is meant to disable a feature that is designed to increase the difficulty of mining the protocol's rewards ahead of a shift to a new consensus algorithm.

Such changes, originally envisioned as part of the roadmap now continued by the ethereum blockchain, would render ETC mining unprofitable if allowed to persist.

Advocates in the ethereum community argue that proof-of-stake systems are more energy efficient than their proof-of-work counterparts. However, Anthony Lusardi, developer and director of ETC Cooperative, a community development and marketing body for the protocol, argues this is yet another point on which the ethereum and ethereum classic communities disagree.

As such, he sought to frame the impending removal of the code as another way the ethereum classic project is attempting to differentiate since the 2017 split.

"Proof-of-work seems to be the most decentralized approach currently to achieving consensus from what the majority of the community feels," Lusardi said in an interview.

He told CoinDesk:

"There's a lot of new algorithms being proposed like proof-of-stake, delegated proof-of-stake and byzantine fault tolerance, and within our community we're not convinced that these newer versions of consensus are any more decentralized and we're somewhat afraid that they may be more centralized than say proof-of-work."

Ethereum classic's decision to uphold its proof-of-work system was not made in haste. In fact, discussions started in 2016 after the collapse of the smart contract-based funding project The DAO, which triggered the original splintering of the ethereum and ethereum classic blockchains.

In January 2017, the ETC community moved to fork their blockchain to delay the bomb to allow for more deliberation time.

"We didn't know if we were going to move to proof-of-stake or stay with proof-of-work and there were a lot of discussions. We realized we didn't have enough time," Igor Artamonov, CTO of the ethereum classic development team, told CoinDesk.

By now, however, proof-of-stake systems have been better explored, Lusardi said.

He contends that proof-of-work systems better resist centralization because mining requires continuous infrastructural investment in hardware. Conversely, once a participant achieves an "economic majority" in a proof-of-stake system, he said, "there doesn't seem to be much to ever stop them from having it."

Ethereum classic developer Cody Burns agrees. "The entire premise is that you would put normal money into the system to buy a stake in it, and banks and large institutions have unfair amounts of capital compared to normal participants," he said.

"We would have spent the last four or five years just reinventing the modern financial system that we have now. Same actors, same players," he added.

Mass destruction? Unlikely

Hard forks have proven contentious in the past due to the potential for networks to split if miners fail to update their software or if some users decide to keep the network going with old code. But, Lusardi, Artamonov and Burns all said they don't anticipate the upcoming fork to spark any controversy or technical difficulties.

The majority of nodes and miners have already updated their software, which was released three months ago, they said.

Major ethereum classic developer and tech company IOHK has also followed suit. It released its node client Mantis V1.1 three weeks ago with hard fork integration so its users had sufficient time to update, IOHK's ethereum classic community manager, Kevin Lord, told CoinDesk.

"There have been extensive announcements, discussions and careful review of the proposal," he said, adding that the company will "be keeping a watchful eye on the network."

However, the developers noted that exchanges could be potentially unaware of the fork, but suggested the risk was small. Nonetheless, Lord said he recommends that users maintain control of their private keys and do not store their tokens on exchanges.

The developers anticipate that the fork will benefit the community, and not only by eliminating the mining difficulties caused by the bomb. The fork is also expected to reduce the amount of time it takes to create a block.

"Right now we're on 26 second block times on average, so this will take us back down to 14," Burns predicted.

Some users may be disappointed with the fork, however, because the network upgrade will not result in an airdrop or the creation of a new coin unlike other types of hard forks.

All in all, the disabling of the bomb will likely pass without much notice, the developers told CoinDesk.

"We tend to not have very contentious forks," Lusardi said.

Bomb image via Shutterstock


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