Lightning Strikes: An (Early) Version of One of Bitcoin’s Big Scaling Solutions is Finally Here

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Developers can now test an early version of bitcoin’s much-hyped Lightning Network.

Released by one of the most prominent startups working on the open-source micropayments protocol (San Francisco-based Lightning Labs), the daemon runs on the bitcoin testnet, so it’s not exactly for average users yet. Rather, the aim is for developers to get their feet wet testing the off-chain transactions, long heralded as one of the best ways to rapidly scale the network, (and it looks like some have already started).

Speaking to CoinDesk today, the Lightning Labs team called the release the “most feature-complete” implementation of the Lightning Network.

Taken together, they said it packages the full requirements of a working off-chain network, including the ability for channels to open and close and for payments to find a path through the network.

Lightning Labs co-founder Elizabeth Stark told CoinDesk:

“What our release does is it says to the world, ‘Hey, this is a package of features’, and it encourages people to contribute.”

Lightning co-founder Joseph Poon, one of the authors of the concept’s original white paper, added that the idea is to help prepare developers for Lightning’s launch on the live bitcoin blockchain and to ease businesses into integrating it.

Overall, the team seemed eager to give interested developers more guidance.

“We’re hoping that moving forward they’ll be able to contribute, but also test, since it’s pretty much wide open now,” developer Olaoluwa Osuntokun said.

He mentioned that Thursday, Lightning Labs will also be releasing a walk-through post along with a “channel faucet” that will release test coins developers can use to test transactions.

Bitfury, Blockchain Lab, Chaincode Labs, and MIT DCI also contributed to the release.

For those who want to find out more, the features in the daemon are those described in the in-progress standards, which outline what features each of the eight or so Lightning projects need to support in order to interoperate.

Right now, developers need to run a bitcoin node to try out the daemon, but a less resource-intensive, Lightning-compatible lite-client is in the works.

Ostuntkun mentioned that it will likely be packaged with some other tools, such as a user interface.

Obstacle ahead

All that said, it might not be the milestone the community is looking for right now.

The version is not compatible with the existing bitcoin codebase since it relies on a multi-faceted upgrade known as SegWit, which will make the off-chain channels more secure (as well as enable other long-term benefits like more advanced scripting, as Poon emphasized).

While most in the bitcoin community say the code will be a boost overall, it’s been somewhat controversial, and only about 25% of the necessary 95% of miners have flagged support for the change since November.

“We built this release with the expectation that it will trigger, and I think if you look at past histories of when other soft forks have triggered, sometimes it just took a critical mass. Just because the number is stable right now doesn’t mean we can’t reach critical mass,” Stark said.

She noted that the proposal doesn’t expire until 15th November of this year.

Yet, Poon and Osuntokun emphasized that a version of the Lightning Network, although limited and less user friendly, is possible with SegWit.

Poon concluded:

“We’re ready either way.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Lightning Labs.

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