Updating Consensus

Avoiding double spends, confusion, forks, and attacks, aren't the only complexities of a decentralized consensus mechanism, what happens when you want to update the consensus rules? How to you change a protocol that no one controls? In the last part of Chapter 10 we'll read through the various mechanisms for updating the the Bitcoin code and consensus rules. Read the Chapter 10 from "Changing the Consensus Rules" till the end. 

Contentious Hard Forks

This is the dawn of consensus software development. Just as open source development changed both the methods and products of software and created new methodologies, new tools, and new communities in its wake, consensus software development also represents a new frontier in computer science. Out of the debates, experiments, and tribulations of the bitcoin development roadmap, we will see new development tools, practices, methodologies, and communities emerge.

Hard forks are seen as risky because they force a minority to either upgrade or remain on a minority chain. The risk of splitting the entire system into two competing systems is seen by many as an unacceptable risk. As a result, many developers are reluctant to use the hard fork mechanism to implement upgrades to the consensus rules, unless there is near-unanimous support from the entire network. Any hard fork proposals that do not have near-unanimous support are considered too "contentious" to attempt without risking a partition of the system.

The issue of hard forks is highly controversial in the bitcoin development community, especially as it relates to any proposed changes to the consensus rules controlling the maximum block size limit. Some developers are opposed to any form of hard fork, seeing it as too risky. Others see the mechanism of hard fork as an essential tool for upgrading the consensus rules in a way that avoids "technical debt" and provides a clean break with the past. Finally, some developers see hard forks as a mechanism that should be used rarely, with a lot of advance planning and only under near-unanimous consensus.

Already we have seen the emergence of new methodologies to address the risks of hard forks. In the next section, we will look at soft forks, and the BIP-34 and BIP-9 methods for signaling and activation of consensus modifications.