The bitcoin network is made up of nodes that relay information across the network. Anyone can run a node, which creates the decentralised architecture that Bitcoin is known for. Bitcoin Core, previously known as QT, currently runs on the majority of nodes and has a blocksize cap of 1MB. Bitcoin Classic is an alternative client, with one key difference, a 2MB block size cap.
A week after it’s launch, Bitcoin Classic is running on more than 1000 nodes, while Core currently runs on around 5000. Support for the alternative client comes from leading bitcoin startups including Coinbase, OKCoin, Bitstamp, Xapo and Blockchain.info. Global bitcoin wallet platform and exchange Coinbase, and its CEO Brian Armstrong, have been running the companies nodes on Bitcoin Classic since February 10.
Support for an increase in Bitcoin’s blocksize cap has spurred an ongoing debate in the bitcoin industry. The original 1MB cap was put in place as an anti-spam measure, in an attempt to make large numbers of bitcoin transactions expensive. As blocks approach their capacity, the fees required to ensure prompt confirmations become more expensive.
Many long term Bitcoin developers, including Gavin Andresen and Jeff Garzik, are in support of a larger blocksize limit, as is Erik Voorhees, the CEO of ShapeShift. Voorhees recently suggested that miners and Bitcoin Core should increase the 1MB cap.
“It can be a small increase just up to two megabytes or up to four. I think enough of the community really wants that to happen so it kind of needs to and it should be used to educate and inform the discussion thereafter. So, if such a hard fork is done, we will get a lot of information. If it is a huge messy fork, tons of drama and controversy and price goes all over the place because everyone is worried about it. We need to know that.”
Open source software is intended to be accessible and liberally used by anyone, and is often coded communally. The code can also be copied and coded separately, creating a new branch, or fork in the codes development.
Core developers point out that a recent proposal, Segregated Witness, will increase the effective blocksize cap in Core to around 2MB. The one off bump would require a soft fork to bitcoins code, but would co-exist with old software on the network. “Soft forks can introduce new features without disruption because users who want to use the new features can upgrade, while those who do not are free to continue as normal,” states the Bitcoin Core team.
“Segregated witness is a great innovation by Core, which Classic supporters are in favor of. An increase in the block size to 2 MB is what miners, businesses, and users want. Even Adam Back was gunning for this increase as a first stage upgrade.”
– Washington Sanchez, OB1 Co-founder
Bitcoin Classic would require a hard fork, where every participant is required to upgrade to the same rules. “Bitcoin Core strongly favours compatibility and believes it should be each user’s choice not to upgrade the rules of their current Bitcoin software. It turns out it is possible to add almost any new feature with a soft fork,” – states the Bitcoin Core team.
If the Bitcoin network is left in a situation where Bitcoin Classic reaches its 75% activation threshold, and the Bitcoin Core team decides to sustain the development of the core chain, Bitcoin enthusiasts such as Spondoolies-tech CEO Guy Corem believe that the Bitcoin network and chain will be split into two: the Classic and Core chain.
However, Coinbase CEO Armstrong argued that the market wouldn’t support two chains for long. Armstrong believes that if bitcoin mining firms and exchanges begin supporting both Core and Bitcoin Classic chains, and there is a 70 to 30 split, blocks mined on the minority fork will be virtually worthless and coins spent on the minority fork will plummet in value.
When the Bitcoin network last saw a split chain, 99% of hashing power was directed to the longest chain within a matter of hours. Interestingly, Armstrong suggested that Bitcoin Nodes will end up like internet browsers, and the ecosystem will become more diverse as time passes.