Most of us will be dead by then.
Likely to be the year 2106, Bitcoin will suddenly stop running based on the code its network of users is executing today. Users cannot send bitcoins to others. Miners securing Bitcoin’s global network will no longer serve a purpose. Bitcoin will just stop.
The good news is that the bug is easy to fix. It’s a problem Bitcoin developers have known about for years – at least 2012, maybe earlier, according to Pieter Wuille, a Bitcoin Core contributor. For some developers, the Bitcoin bug may shed some light on the limits of bitcoin’s decentralization as the community must all band together to fix it.
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Continue reading: Bitcoin hard fork? The science of contentious code is advancing
“This is a consensus change, but a very simple one, and I hope it won’t be controversial,” said Blockstream co-founder and engineer Pieter Wuille in an email to CoinDesk. “We still have about 80 years to address [the bug]. Who knows what could happen in such a time frame? ”
The mistake is simple. Bitcoin blocks are the containers in which transactions are stored. Each Bitcoin block has a number that keeps track of how many blocks are in front of it. But due to a restriction related to how block height numbers are stored, Bitcoin will run out of block numbers after block number 5101541.
In other words, when the block is around 86 years old, it will be impossible to produce new blocks.
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The change requires a so-called “hard fork”, the most sophisticated method of making a change to a blockchain. Hard forks are tricky in that they are not backward compatible. They require everyone who runs a Bitcoin node or miner to update their software. Anyone who doesn’t will be left on a bricked version of Bitcoin incapable of any activity.
The story goes on
While some blockchains like Ethereum do hard forks on a regular basis, a hard fork isn’t the happiest word in Bitcoin land.
The last time a Bitcoin hard fork was attempted, it sparked a vicious debate. Several large Bitcoin companies and miners gathered around a hard fork called Segwit2x in 2017. The problem is that far from everyone in the community agreed with the change to fit in perfectly with the ethos of Bitcoin’s leaderlessness.
Continue reading: No Fork, No Fire: Segwit2x nodes block the abandoned Bitcoin code
Because of this diary entry in the history of Bitcoin, when many people think of Bitcoin when they hear the phrase “hard fork,” they think of a centralized power trying to enforce change.
However, this bugfix hard fork is in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s most famous hard fork attempt. Instead of sparking discussion, the community and developers will most likely agree that there is a change that needs to be made.
After all, anyone who chooses not to update their software will eventually run a dead bitcoin chain.
It is unlikely that the bug fix is a controversial hard fork change. But that doesn’t make the subject any less interesting.
In an interview with CoinDesk, Gustavo J. Flores, Head of Product and Research at the bitcoin tech startup Veriphi, argued that this brings to light a limit to the “protocollossification” of Bitcoin.
Continue reading: Hard fork vs soft fork
If one thinks of mushy cartilage that hardens into bone over time, protocol ossification is the idea that as Bitcoin matures, it becomes harder to change. In the early years of Bitcoin’s life, the protocol was immature and there were far fewer users and developers tinkering with the software, making the technology easier to change. But Bitcoin can harden into a bony specimen that will be very difficult to change.
“Loglossification means a certain point in time, some say it should be now, when Bitcoin no longer changes. The rules are laid down as a country’s constitution would be, immutable as it would be too decentralized to coordinate changes, ”Flores told CoinDesk.
Just a dream?
The reason many Bitcoin technologists think the ossification is good quality is because it is a sign that the system is actually as decentralized as the community would like it to be, to ensure that the system is really free from one person or unity that intervenes and enforces a change that is not good.
Flores added that the ossification of the protocol will help “prevent future attempts that would be similar to Segwit2x, where some actors are trying to force an upgrade because they are well-known developers or large corporations, and this harms Bitcoin because it is is either untested code or cryptography, or because “the change removes the core value proposition or would reduce decentralization, which would damage the core value proposition in the long term.
“However, this mistake makes it desirable to be able to coordinate a hard fork to fix it, as we all want Bitcoin to get through this deadline,” said Flores.
“It basically brings us back to reality where the dream of protocol ossification (which leads us to ultimate decentralization) is further than expected and it may just be a dream that we can get closer to over time, but we can never lock it because emergencies like this could arise, ”Flores told CoinDesk.