Bitcoin scaling can be achieved without “hard fork”: Mark Friedenbach
There was a sense of anticipation in the air as the audience waited patiently for Mark Friedenbach’s talk at the ongoing “Scaling Bitcoin 2018” event in Tokyo. “Scaling Bitcoin Event” focuses on the systematic identification of portions of the Bitcoin protocol that best lend themselves to continuous, 'nonconsensus layer’ improvement. It was here that Friedenbach proposed his innovative and breakthrough idea of “Forward Blocks”, a protocol that can help increase the block size of Bitcoin in a novel manner.
Blockstream co-founder, Mark Friedenbach is a software engineer who left his job at NASA to work on Bitcoin full-time. Mark specializes in blockchain scalability, privacy enhancing technology and issued asset extensions to Bitcoin.
The concept of "Forward Blocks"
The new concept presented at the "Scaling Bitcoin" workshop, dubbed as “Forward Blocks,” suggests a major on-chain capacity boost by means of a Proof-of-Work (PoW) alternation that is done as a soft fork, combined with the use of alternative private ledgers.
The presentation says:
“Forward blocks arose out of considering how a proof-of-work change could be accomplished as a soft-fork, combined with mechanisms for soft-fork deployment of privacy-enhancing alternative ledgers.”
Forward Blocks provide the following scaling benefits:
- Improved censorship resistance through sharding.
- Direct on-chain scaling up to 3584x (for bitcoin specifically).
- It also provides a few miscellaneous other benefits such as a linearized block subsidy and the underlying ledger support for future chain enhancements such as confidential transactions and sidechains.
He further goes on to illustrate that Forward Blocks involve separate chains with separate proof-of-work functions, rather than a single block chain with each block subject to multiple work requirements.
The presentation notes:
“The forward blockchain achieves on-chain scaling by increasing its per-block aggregate weight limit while maintaining a fixed, long duration target inter-block interval. This achieves the smallest possible impact on centralization risks for both full validators and SPV nodes.”
The sharding term has been in the limelight ever since it was announced by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin earlier this year. Speaking about sharding, Friedenbach says:
“One of the methods is sharding. I am talking about database sharding. If we can have one forward blockchain, we could just as easily have 30, and source transactions from them separately such that each shard has its own UTXO set, and transactions are required to source its input from a single shard only. Stuff in one shard is not connected to what happens in other shards. There needs to be a way to transfer between shards, and there are some synchronization requirements, and it's the same mechanism we used earlier for the coinbase rules.”
Major improvements for on-chain Bitcoin transactions
Earlier, it was thought that some of the biggest changes to Bitcoin could only be made with a hard fork, a change that isn't backward-compatible, requiring all the cryptocurrency's users to upgrade to keep up with the change.
During the presentation, Friedenbach also suggested major improvements for on-chain Bitcoin transactions or those that appear on the Bitcoin blockchain.
“The so-called soft-fork alternation implies a strengthening of consensus rules where old nodes still see the chain advance. The research also represents a definition of forwards compatible soft-fork, for which non-upgraded nodes still receive and process all transactions.”
Friedenbach also mentions in the presentation that he was not initially thinking about Bitcoin scaling solutions but instead a dual proof-of-work change where you introduce a new proof-of-work with a soft-fork.
“The first idea was to add an additional proof-of-work algorithm. I am not proposing this, but it's a good place to start and thinking about this,” he says.
The problem of Bitcoin scalability is one of the major topics of discussion surrounding this top cryptocurrency and it has been going on for as long as the cryptocurrency itself has existed. Arguably, the coin has proved its resilience by withstanding such attacks for over a decade.
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