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Bitcoin Core Dev Jeff Garzik: Softforks Are a Rule by a Tiny Elite

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:50 PM
Andrew Quentson
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:50 PM

Jeff Garzik, a core bitcoin developer who previously worked as Principal Software Engineer at RedHat before leaving to work full time on bitcoin development, stated in a public video  that soft forks are a rule by a “tiny, few technocratic elites.”

The talk addressed the downsides of segwit “since only the upsides are promoted heavily,” by firstly arguing that repeated soft forks are repeated collusion.

Garzik states:

“Repeated softforks are repeated agreements, a positive collusion, of these tiny few, to change the rules that the entire network is locked in.”

Garzik states that node operators and businesses do not opt-in to a soft-fork, instead, the entire network is locked in as only miners need to upgrade. Non-upgraded nodes are left with lower security, according to Garzik, and they further need to trust miners and mining pools, undermining bitcoin’s trustlessness.

Segwit – The First Economic Soft Fork

Garzik states that the features segwit delivers are a “foundational change that enables other changes.” Although it has benefits, such as addressing transaction malleability and UTXO costs, Garzik states it has drawbacks. The most prominent is the setting of a new precedent as segwit is the “first economic soft fork” according to Garzik.

He explains this by an analogy of “two buckets” which fill up at different speeds. Transactions from non-upgraded nodes reach capacity limits quicker which creates further complexity due to the co-existence of two systems. Garzik states:

“Wallet/exchange up-layer software must know two transaction ids, two addressing paths, and more.”

The added complexity increases development time for businesses and wallet developers to upgrade, so any capacity is unlikely before January 2017, says Garzik. He further argues that block space decisions should be made algorithmically so that they are predictable and non-manipulatable.

The Long Road to Capacity Upgrade

As most readers know, transaction capacity has been a long discussion in the bitcoin space leading to numerous conferences, meetings, workshops, but an agreed way forward at a community level has not been found.

Miners delegated their decision early on to bitcoin developers, who, operating under a consensus decision-making system, defaulted on no action, followed by segwit which increases capacity to almost 2mb, depending on how it is used.

Although there have been criticisms of segwit, primarily for being a soft-fork, changing bitcoin’s economics, and adding complexity, there were no objections at the final pull request  as far as we are aware. It was thus merged and it is currently incorporated in the latest release, but the code is non-active.

The actual release of the segwit client after almost a year is now expected in the next few weeks. It will then need some time for miners to upgrade with a time estimate for the first segwit transaction now shifting to sometime this winter when finally, after almost two years of discussion at that point, we might see a bigger than 1mb block.

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