Bitcoin's Ethereum-Style Programmability Could Come in 12 Months, Rootstock Founder Says

The new project would build off the much-discussed "BitVM" design released last year by developer Robin Linus, which has kindled hopes that the oldest and largest blockchain could eventually see Ethereum-style programmable layer-2 networks.

AccessTimeIconMay 1, 2024 at 5:32 p.m. UTC
Updated May 1, 2024 at 5:36 p.m. UTC
  • Rootstock's new plan to bring programmability to Bitcoin could unfold over the next 12 months.
  • The project could lead to the development of layer-2 networks atop Bitcoin without requiring any major changes to the blockchain's underlying code.
  • Sergio Demian Lerner, an Argentine developer known for his early work on Satoshi Nakamoto's bitcoin stash, discussed the project Wednesday at the Bitcoin++ developer conference in Austin.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — The founder of Bitcoin layer-2 protocol Rootstock has detailed plans for a new "BitVMX" project designed to improve the oldest blockchain's programmability by keying off developer Robin Linus's much-discussed "BitVM" design unveiled last year.

Sergio Demian Lerner, a Buenos Aires-based programmer known for his early research on Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto's mining activities and later for contributing to the Ethereum blockchain's development, discussed the project onstage Wednesday at the Bitcoin++ conference in Austin, Texas.

"We have a roadmap to finish this in one year" and "we are moving forward at full speed," Lerner said during the presentation.

Linus's release of BitVM last year has been widely cited by Bitcoin developers as a breakthrough for the 15-year-old blockchain since it theoretically would facilitate the development of programmable layer-2 networks similar to those that are being used in the Ethereum blockchain ecosystem to make transactions cheaper and faster. Key to the project's promise is that BitVM would require no changes to the underlying Bitcoin code – seen as crucial due to the blockchain's decentralized governance, often lacking consensus among developers over major upgrades.

Lerner had disclosed last month during an exclusive interview last week on CoinDesk's The Protocol podcast that he was working with colleagues on the new project without providing details.

Last week, Rootstock Labs published a blog post on the effort, arguing that "theory and practice are two very different things," referring to Linus's original concept.

"The BitVMX research team intends to build on this initial discovery with additional innovations to create an improved development framework for running programs on Bitcoin," according to the blog post. "The name is a nod to BitVMX’s origins while highlighting its focus on extending Bitcoin and accelerating the development of the next generation of sidechains and layer 2s."

Rootstock Labs added that "a team of core contributors is working on a public roadmap of proposed improvements to the network in the next 12 months."

According to an accompanying whitepaper, "BitVMX framework provides the foundations to run any CPU on Bitcoin, with a focus to run a fully-compliant RISC-V processor programmable using a standard compilation toolchain" – a technical description of the new system that boils down to facilitating a "myriad of use cases."

Edited by Aoyon Ashraf.


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Bradley Keoun

Bradley Keoun is the managing editor of CoinDesk's Tech & Protocols team. He owns less than $1,000 each of several cryptocurrencies.