'Rat Poison Squared on Steroids': What's New in Bitcoin's Latest Lightning Release

With a sly poke at Warren Buffet's comment that Bitcoin is "rat poison squared," c-lightning developers' latest release adds some key new Lightning features.

AccessTimeIconAug 4, 2020 at 6:47 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:40 a.m. UTC
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All eyes are on bitcoin's bullish price at the moment. Behind the scenes, however, developers are tinkering to build the infrastructure that many hope could make the Bitcoin system more accessible to more people.

Last week, Bitcoin tech startup Blockstream released its latest major version of c-lightning, its implementation of the Lightning Network. The release is dubbed "Rat Poison Squared on Steroids," facetiously referencing Warren Buffet's comment that Bitcoin is "rat poison squared" and, in his opinion, investors will get burned if they put their money into it.

Of course, c-lightning's developers probably don't believe Bitcoin is "rat poison," seeing as they're working full time to scale bitcoin payments. The Lightning Network is pitched as the future of Bitcoin because it ushers in faster and cheaper payments and scales the network so it can support many, many more users than it currently can support without slowing it down.

With this release, Bitcoin's Lightning Network gradually continues to make headway. Here's a dive into the major pieces of the latest release.

MPP-sending for more reliable payments

Multi-part payments (MPP) are one feature that will improve the Lightning Network's user experience (UX). Sometimes payments fail when the software can't find a path to the user. This is especially likely to occur when payments are bigger; large payments require an adequate amount of liquidity in all the channels between the sender’s node and the receiver’s. If there isn’t enough liquidity to support passing the payment along, the payment will fail. 

MPP effectively splits payments into smaller pieces so they're easier to send across the network, making payments more reliable.

"The most obvious feature is that we now can pay with multi-part payments," Blockstream Lightning engineer Rusty Russell told CoinDesk.

C-lightning has been able to receive MPP payments since last year, "but Christian [Decker, Blockstream engineer] finally got around to implementing the sending side," Russell said.

This is a piece of a much broader effort to update Lightning's UX to hopefully attract more users. MPP was discussed by developers back at a Lightning developer summit back in 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. 

Watchtowers fight fraud

Watchtowers is a fraud-fighting component of the Lightning Network that is early on in its creation. A watchtower "watches" a user's bitcoin in the Lightning Network to make sure it's safe. If someone tries to cheat, the watchtower detects the infraction and responds by penalizing the offending user.

C-lightning has made changes to make it easier for watchtowers to hitch up to c-lightning. Blockstream engineer Christian Decker "added enough information that a plugin can easily support a watchtower," Russell told CoinDesk. "We tell it exactly what transaction it would need to publish if the previous (cheating) transaction were to appear."

Like plug-ins in other software, such as the Google Chrome browser or a music-making program, a plug-in in c-lightning adds extra functionality to the c-lightning node.

Russell noted the Lightning watchtower Eye of Satoshi is already using this new feature.

Coin tracking for taxes

C-lightning has laid the groundwork for a tool to track "all" of a user's coin movements, Russell told CoinDesk.

This could come in handy for anyone worried about tracking their Lightning coins come tax season, so they can figure out what they owe the IRS.

This underlying tracking work has been added to this release. The next step is to make this functionality available for users. Neigut is "putting the final touches" on a plug-in that "records everything your accountant will want to know about where your money came from and went," Russell said.

"Seems she is actually looking forward to next tax year so she can use this in anger :)," he added.

Other changes

While these are a few of the most significant changes, there are plenty more. 

C-lightning now supports sending keysend transactions, which offers a new way to tip others with Lightning payments. And Russell mentioned that the developer team has been "re-engineering everything" to support a new bitcoin transaction format called PSBT (partially signed bitcoin transactions), which facilitates transactions with hardware wallets, a secure method of storing bitcoin since the device remains disconnected from the internet.

Peruse the release notes for more details. 


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