Hard Fork cafe

The contentious hard forking of Ethereum is often wheeled out by members of the Bitcoin community as a cautionary tale. However, there's a contingent within Bitcoin that thinks the Ethereum fork was not a disaster at all, a fact validated by the marketplace in cryptocurrency.

The implication is a hard fork of Bitcoin would not be the disaster many say it would, and that in any case the market should decide what's right.

Long-time Bitcoin evangelist and angel investor Roger Ver said: "People say, look at Ethereum; look at the disaster that happened there. But myself, and most of the big blockers, don't see there's any problem at all.

"If you look at the market cap of Ethereum before the hard fork and the split into Ethereum Classic, the combined market cap of Ethereum and Ethereum Classic is greater than the market cap before the split - and everybody got what they want. The most objective measurement we have is that the market actually valued the two split Ethereums more than it valued the one original Ethereum; the market viewed it as a good thing and I don't see it as any sort of disaster whatsoever."

This comes down to the long-running debate about scaling Bitcoin and block sizes. Challenging the view of the Bitcoin Core, which favours gradually enlarging Bitcoin's transaction handling capabilities, is Bitcoin Unlimited, a full node implementation that allows each node to vote for what the block size should be.

Ver points out that right now there is somewhere around 40,000 Bitcoin transactions waiting to be confirmed on the network. Those who think Bitcoin should be allowed to scale on-chain via bigger blocks are carrying on the original vision of Satoshi, he says.

In the other camp are Blockstream and the developers of layer 2 technologies. "These two camps have an incompatible vision," said Ver. "I think it would be best for Bitcoin if both camps went their separate ways and they don't have to deal with each other anymore."

"To my mind there is no doubt whatsoever that the Bitcoin that is allowed to scale on-chain and have cheap, fast state transactions is the one that the market will decide to use.

"Blocks went from 10KB to 50KB to 100KB to 500KB, and now to 1MB. To suddenly say we are not going to get any bigger than that, when we know allowing those blocks to grow is what led to the fantastic growth we have had so far, just seems like suicide."

Bitcoin Unlimited's Roger Ver
Bitcoin Unlimited's Roger Ver

Ver says he is not opposed to other scaling solutions in the pipeline per se. "There is huge, huge amount of room for additional scaling just by increasing the blocks. That doesn't mean that Lightning Network is a bad idea; it doesn't mean that Segregated Witness is a bad idea; it just means take the scaling where you can get it.

"Today we are at about 2.5 transactions per second (tps). With Bitcoin Unlimited nodes it would increase the block size from 1MB to 10MB, which would increase the transactional throughput from 2.5 tps to let's say 25 tps. Then in the future there's no reason the blocks couldn't be 100MB, and then that would put us at 250 tps.

"Even today the network could be fine with close to 100 MB blocks, and in the future it's going to be easier and easier; just look at how much faster and better and cheaper everything is today than just a few years ago."

There has been some intrigue concerning a possible groundswell of support for Bitcoin Unlimited coming from China. Last weekend an event organised by Chinese mining conglomerate Bitmain, concluded with a discussion about how to solve the scaling problem. Bitmain is invested in Chinese mining pool ViaBTC, which supports Bitcoin Unlimited.

Ver said: "Bitmain strongly supports on-chain scaling and Bitcoin Unlimited; ViaBTC obviously does."

Bitmain controls a number of operations, including BTC.com mining pool, which has offices in Amsterdam. IBTimes asked BTC's head of business development Alejandro De La Torre if he thought there was growing support for Bitcoin Unlimited within Bitmain.

"I can't speak for Bitmain to be honest with you," said De La Torre.

Regarding Roger Ver's laissez-faire approach to hard forking, he said: "If there is a hard fork then I believe that the network with the majority of the hash power, users and businesses behind that coin will live on.

"One would move forward and the other might have some small miner hash power, might be trade speculated for a while – sort of what Ethereum Classic has become. It doesn't necessarily have to be a disaster. Of course many people believe that if we end up with two different Bitcoins, users will get confused about that."

De La Torre went on to say he thinks there are other reasons to be careful about Bitcoin Unlimited. "We look at everything carefully. Our developers have read Bitcoin Unlimited and some of them think it's not so well written and that it's basically cherry picking certain things.

"For instance, they are not pulling in all the fixes from Bitcoin that Core has done that make Bitcoin much more usable. They are just going forward with the hard fork without well thought out code."

A staunch supporter of Bitcoin Core development, who regularly does battle with its challengers on social media, is Samson Mow, chief operating officer of Bitcoin giant BTCC.

Samson Mow, COO, BTCC
Samson Mow, chief operating officer, BTCC

Mow said: "You could say it's a simple solution [increasing block size] but there is actually so much to understand behind it. If you don't take the time to really understand it then you follow the majority and go well Core is stupid, they can't increase the number from one to two.

"The Core perspective is to maximise and optimise as much as they can, before they increase the block size. They are not opposed to increasing the block size but until they have exhausted every method of compression, for lack of a better word, then they are going to keep on doing this."

Mow referred to Bitcoin Unlimited's voting system as a "new attack vector opened up to Bitcoin protocol". He said conversations with many in the mining community revealed that Bitcoin should prove itself as an asset first, before a payment method. "You can always have different layer 2 technologies to become a payment method but you only have one shot at being an asset. If you screw that up it's over."

Regarding ViaBTC, Bitcoin Unlimited and the Bitmain connection, he said: "Most people in China know that Bitmain has invested into viaBTC for whatever reason. ViaBTC have said they will reveal the relationship between them and Bitmain eventually."

Mow said the next stage for Bitcoin Core is the release of the final code for Segregated Witness, adding that the amount of testing being done has been the cause of delay.

"Maybe some kids are saying Bitcoin Core is so slow. But it should be slow. It's up-grading a financial system worth $10bn.

"Bitcoin Core don't brag or put on big events like Ethereum. They are very academic, low key, technical, security-minded people. In this day and age maybe that holds you back and opens up an opportunity for detractors to say you are doing a bad job."