Ethereum and Bitcoin advocates have engaged in spirited Twitter exchange since Friday to answer an ostensibly simple question: What’s the total supply of ether?
“Adding a proper total supply command to the client seems like a low-cost and reasonable thing to do,” said Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin in the Ethereum R&D Discord channel last Friday.
Multiple independent developers jumped on the opportunity to set the “world computer’s” supply schedule straight.
The coin supply brouhaha takes place in the context of Bitcoin’s more-easily verifiable coin supply, thanks to the
gettxoutsetinfo command, which every Bitcoin node can execute to calculate the current supply. Due to its distinct design features, Ethereum lacked such a command, hence the impetus behind independent developers writing code to calculate its supply.
Ether, bitcoin and verifiability
The verifiability of assets is both a strong and novel feature of blockchains. Only rough supply counts exist for other assets such as gold or dollars. The supply of a given cryptocurrency, on the other hand, can be parsed down to the exact unit. This is valuable for modeling or auditing, among other reasons.
Bitcoin proponents – notably Kraken developer Pierre Rochard – recently pointed out that Ethereum had no simple method for verifying the supply of its native unit.
Bitcoin’s value and perception as “digital gold” emphasizes its supply characteristics – namely scarcity – moreso than Ethereum, which aims to serve as a developer platform for decentralized financial applications.
Indeed, many Ethereum community members were dismissive of the supply question. “I don’t give a shit about the supply,” said Augur co-founder and early cryptocurrency investor Jeremy Gardner on Twitter.
Beyond simply running the numbers, however, an additional concern voiced after the fact was the difficulty of running a full Ethereum node. Users who run their own nodes can “self-verify” not only the number of ethers in existence but also the validity of transactions on the Ethereum network.
Self-verification is a popular social concept, as well as an ethical touchstone, for Bitcoin proponents. The argument mainly relies on the ease of bootstrapping a Bitcoin node. Running an Ethereum node, on the other hand, is a much more time- and memory-intensive undertaking, one that’s led to the emergence of a small class of infrastructure service providers.
Ethereum community members are more dismissive of running a full node based on arguments from Buterin in the project’s early days. Ethereum 2.0 developers are also shooting for self-verification via lightweight clients made possible through Proof-of-Stake (PoS).
Developers were quick to note that many data sites posted wrong figures because of faulty modeling of coin issuance.
“Ethereum has multiple client implementations, so a supply bug in one would instantly break consensus,” Szilágyi said.
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