Exclusive Guide to May 2019 BCH Protocol Upgrade: Who, What, When, How, Why

TL;DR: For the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) community, 12pm UTC on May 15th, 2019 is its first hard fork since November of last year, which proved to be contentious, resulting in a chain split. The price has slowly made near recovery, and development has kept apace in terms of applications and merchant adoption. BCH developers characterize the pending scheduled protocol upgrade as modest and uneventful, hoping the rate of software improvement and code refining bring continued confidence to investors, enthusiasts, and businesses alike. Though more than a dozen were involved, CoinSpice was able to catch three prominent developers and ask their opinions about pending changes to the network, giving BCH watchers a better sense of where the project stands and is ultimately headed.

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Guide to the May 15th, 2019 BCH Protocol Upgrade

“When the median time past of the most recent 11 blocks (MTP-11) is greater than or equal to UNIX timestamp 1557921600,” the BitcoinCash.org GitHub noted, “Bitcoin Cash will execute an upgrade of the network consensus rules according to this specification. Starting from the next block these consensus rules changes will take effect: Enable Schnorr signatures [, and allow] Segwit recovery.” Projects in the cryptocurrency ecosystem often upgrade, fork hard and soft. Why should anyone care? Change is something of a controversy, however, as it can unnerve those for whom crypto’s much touted characteristics of immutability and trustlessness all seem at risk.

Exclusive Guide to May 2019 BCH Protocol Upgrade: Who, What, When, How, Why

Bitcoin Cash itself is the result of a hard fork, and a contentious one at that. Back in summer of 2017, after years of protracted debate, investors, miners, businesses looking for a coin to emphasize peer-to-peer digital cash for the world went their own way, leaving Bitcoin Core (BTC). BCH ranked as high as number two by market capitalization, and remained among the top five during its relatively short history. Forks, many argue, are necessary for freedom of choice, competition, and innovation.

The open source nature of protocols means a chance to improve upon existing notions, ideas. Go too far, of course, a team might fork itself out of existence through accusations of centralization, incompetent developers, incessant and unnecessary tinkering, pie-in-the-sky ambitions, or worse. And daring to break from the very real network effect of a well-known project can be devastating for everyone involved.

Goldilocks

General sentiment among BCH developers at the moment could be described as having a Goldilocks feel: not too hot, not too cold, just right. Three prominent devs CoinSpice spoke with all chose their words carefully. No hype. Independent developer Mark B. Lundeberg, Bitcoin ABC’s Amaury Séchet, and CashShuffle’s Josh Ellithorpe responded similarly: May 15th, 2019 will carry two features, the start of a basic Schnorr Signatures arrangement and correcting of a relatively minor unintended consequence from the November 15, 2018 upgrade, concerning Segwit address recovery.

Exclusive Guide to May 2019 BCH Protocol Upgrade: Who, What, When, How, Why

Compatible node implementations include Bitcoin ABC 0.19.5, BCHD 0.14.2, Bitprim 0.19.0, and Bitcoin Unlimited Cash Edition 1.6.0.0. Unfairly put on the spot by CoinSpice to quickly list who contributed to this particular upgrade, Lundeberg rattled off how he and Séchet mainly worked on Schnorr Signatures with “Jason Cox & Fabien helping review,” he mentioned. “BU – Andrea Suisani and Andrew Stone I think,” also assisted, Lundeberg continued, along with “bchd – Chris Pacia; bcash – alwaysAnon & Jonathan Gonzalez; bitcoincash.org specs – Mengerian & Shammah; bitprim – Fernando; [and a] big help during testing – imaginary_username,” more than a dozen developers in total. “But many other nodes are involved too, so lots of other devs for that,” he stressed.

Lundeberg has risen in public profile among BCH enthusiasts more recently for his work on Schnorr Signatures. Asked about continued use of hard forks and their potential for public relations mischief, he appeared to caution, “It seems to me in the short term, the 6 month schedule made sense, but I know everyone would like that to cool down after some time. Perhaps seeing that this upgrade was so minor, it may be time to consider lengthening the cycle.” And as for the headline-grabbing Schnorr integration, Lundeberg downplayed it as “a very good start for people wanting to do private things. I suspect that further innovation in the upgrade layer will not be needed, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments on Core to see if there is something very valuable.”

The Community is More Focused Now

Asked about his mood heading into May 15th, 2019 compared to last November, Bitcoin ABC’s Amaury Séchet told CoinSpice, “It’s nice. The community is more focused now, as it has become clear who is actually pulling their weight and who is [fomenting] confusion [and unnecessarily delaying] progress.”

With regard to protocol adjustments, Séchet agreed with the characterization of them as minor. “Yes,” he explained, “changes in there have no impact on most software interacting with the chain.” As to the future of upgrades through a hard fork process, he came close to echoing Lundeberg, “I don’t think we can continue to do so forever, but as long as we are limited in size, we should take the opportunity.”

CashShuffle’s Josh Ellithorpe too described upgrade changes as “quite minimal,” and suggested “the Schnorr addition is just for basic Schnorr support; it reduces the [transaction] size slightly, but doesn’t include any of the real advanced features that can be built on top of Schnorr,” he detailed. The pace of change for Ellithorpe “definitely gets the ball rolling, and I believe iterative development is the best path forward. One well tested scoped change at a time,” he told CoinSpice. As for Segwit recovery, “the clean stack rule made it impossible for miners to recover funds sent to a Segwit address on BCH.
This has been relaxed to allow miners to recover those funds again.”

As BCH’s price recovers methodically, the community is looking to the upgrade process as evidence its instincts toward careful scaling and well-thought out innovation can be done. In the days and months to follow, the only proof anyone will care about might have little to do with social media battles, posturing, marketing — network overall performance and fundamentals are all that could ultimately matter.

DISCLOSURE: The author holds cryptocurrency as part of his financial portfolio, including BCH. 

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