Onchain Scaling Conference: Are Hard Forks Really Necessary?

Today, the Encore Edition of the Onchain Scaling conference took place, discussing the many on-chain scalability solutions on the table for Bitcoin. Developer Jeff Garzik, Cornell professor Emin Gün Sirer, and lawyer Andrew Hinkes discussed hard fork potentials and the legal aspects of managing the blockchain protocol on-chain.

Also read: The Bitcoin Blocksize Debate Has Not Even Fully Begun Yet

Jeff Garzik: ‘Pushing the Envelope — How Scaling Leads to Scaling.’

Jeff GarzikJeff Garzik opened the livestream with his presentation, “Pushing the Envelope – How Scaling Leads to Scaling.” Garzik discussed the many constraints on the Bitcoin network’s growth and how the protocol is a “constant” dynamic system that always needs maintenance. The Bitcoin developer stated his belief that improvements are required as capacity challenges appear.

Garzik began by describing how technologies have progressed over time in “eras,” such as the PC era, the Internet era, the mobile era, and the upcoming decentralized era. This concluding period is characterized by the Bitcoin protocol, Garzik said, enabling permissionless applications, trust-shifting, automation and immutability.

Garzik explained that, as these technologies have evolved, “economic actor tension” arose from two differing opinions of centralization and decentralization — or small blocks versus larger blocks in the context of Bitcoin.

Garzik then explained recent improvements to Bitcoin’s protocol, which include dynamic fee adaptation via memory pool limiting, signature validation, compact block relay, child pays for parent, and CLTV. Following the improvements, the programmer dug into consensus and considering network upgrades such as forks.

He explained how both soft forks and hard forks remove existing rules and add new ones. With hard forks, there are many positives and risks, he said. For instance, the Ethereum/ETC fork was considered a rushed fork, leaving users confused and upset.

Garzik concluded his discussion by talking about Segregated Witness properties. Garzik believes a tiny few choosing Bitcoin economics is antithetical to Bitcoin’s ethos. Soft forks are not risk-free, nor are they opt-in, he said. Lastly, Garzik argued that the time it takes to make these decisions has costs, which affect users and businesses in the long run.

Emin Gün Sirer: ‘Scaling Bitcoin for the Next Generation.’

Following Jeff Garzik’s presentation, Cornell professor Emin Gün Sirer discussed a new protocol he is working on called Bitcoin-NG (Next Generation). The professor went over the attributes and testing of this code to achieve scaling.

Bitcoin-NG is a Byzantine, fault-tolerant blockchain protocol that uses a concept like microblocks. Emin Gün Sirer prefers solutions like Bitcoin-NG, arguing that payment channels such as the Lightning Network can complicate user experience.


The professor noted his concern about privacy, routing, and user experience in regards to the Lightning Network. With Bitcoin-NG, the professor and his colleagues have experimented with the code to a point where they claim it achieves optimal scalability. This includes bandwidth, latency and propagation time of the network.

Sirer said there has been a lot of testing with NG, and also noted that a miniature copy of the Bitcoin blockchain is held at Cornell University for simulation. The professor believes it’s an exciting time to be in this industry, and being afraid of scientific solutions to Bitcoin’s problems is not the best approach.

    Andrew Hinkes: The Law of Forks

Andrew HinkesThe final presentation wrapped up the stream with attorney Andrew Hinkes, Esq., who specializes in contract litigation, business torts, and electronic discovery.

Hinkes stated his belief that, within the blockchain universe, legalities apply to users and stakeholders.

The legal management advisor used the Ethereum-DAO situation, arguing that Bitcoiners may be able to learn from how the Ethereum community handled the situation.

One notable topic Hinkes discussed was the Ethereum.org legal agreement. This agreement details that in the end, users are responsible for their own actions and the associated risks of unofficial Ethereum networks.

Hinkes explained that it’s difficult to determine what is official and what is not in these instances.

He also noted the DAO attacker may be able to file a claim against the Ethereum Foundation have his stolen funds returned to him, since the Foundation reversed his theft in the hard fork. Even though this is unlikely for various reasons, said Hinkes, it is plausible.

Finally, Hinkes forked the discussion from Ethereum to the Bitcoin protocol. He didn’t see a unilateral decision being made about the block size debate. Instead, he suggested that Bitcoin may dissolve into different forks if a hard fork occurs, and that a minority chain might persist for an extended period of time.

However, a hard fork does not mean “ultimate doom” for Bitcoin, said Hinkes, but that changes are inevitable at any rate.

Hinkes speculated that some legal implications towards a fork may emerge if user investments get damaged, but that there isn’t really anyone liable in the Bitcoin ecosystem. The odds of legal ramifications are very low, he said, because there is no developer in control of the network, and no corporate entity behind it. That differs from Ethereum, where legal control exists, along with legal implications.

The Onchain Scaling Conclusion

Overall, the three presenters had quite a bit to say about hard forks and on-chain scaling solutions.

The takeaway seems to be that hard forks are a necessity for the Bitcoin network and shouldn’t be feared. This includes various methods of achieving a different type of code to the aftermath and possible legal ramifications.

Did you listen to the Onchain Scaling Conference encore? Let us know what you thought about the discussions in the comments below.

Images courtesy of Twitter, OnChainScaling.com.

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