- Forward Blocks is a new proposal that would allow significant changes to be made to the bitcoin network without resulting in hard forks.
- This new ‘soft fork’ mechanism could be the key to implementing new developments to improve scalability on the Bitcoin blockchain
- Developers have expressed mixed feelings about the proposal, some calling it a ‘breakthrough,’ while others are calling it a “network attack being called an upgrade.”
The proposal, called ‘Forward Blocks,’ offers a method to make significant changes to features like Block size or proof of work protocol to the Bitcoin blockchain without demanding that every user upgrade their software, or without resulting in hard forks that disrupt the security and sovereignty of the network.
Forward Blocks is the brainchild of Mark Friedenbach, a former NASA employee, Bitcoin protocol developer and the Co-founder of Blockstream, a Fintech company that works to accelerate innovation in cryptocurrencies, open assets, and smart contracts. According to Mark, “Forward blocks make that whole argument pointless. We don’t need a hard-fork to scale bitcoin, if and when we decide to do so. It can be accomplished as a soft fork like SegWit was.”
Bitcoin is no stranger to significant changes that have led to internal disputes and ultimately hard forks. The existence of Bitcoin Cash is the most notable example of a substantial difference in a core feature (the block size) leading to a network split that forced users to choose a side when their primary concern was storing their money safely and securely.
The ability to make significant changes to the network through soft forks would improve the networks capacity to scale, as the system can maintain its community while forming critical decisions about things like block size, which mining companies to use (in the case of Sia), or consensus protocols.
Mark describes the Forward Blocks mechanism as a mash-up of a variety of types of forks, where the combined approaches ‘cancels out’ most of the bad trade-offs while retaining the combined benefits. The benefits can also include the implementation of Sharding techniques that would further scale the network without any hard fork requirements.
A mixed feedback
However, some have argued that the only way to make major changes to a blockchain network should be through a hard fork, as such changes will likely create disagreement within the community, and members are entitled to accept or reject the upgrade as they so choose. Soft forks ultimately force the whole community to accept the changes made by a few, which undermines the blockchain ethos of decentralization that makes Bitcoin unique in the first place. So far, feedback about the proposal has been mixed, some calling it a ‘breakthrough,’ while others are calling it a “network attack being called an upgrade.”
The divisiveness on this issue is unsurprising considering what is at stake for the many developers, miners and general users of the bitcoin network. Although there is no indication that Forward block will be used in practice just yet, there may come a time when hard fork changes implemented through a soft fork mechanism will need to be taken more seriously as Bitcoin struggles to scale to meet the demands required for mainstream adoption.
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