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. 

Criticisms of Soft Forks

Soft forks based on the NOP opcodes are relatively uncontroversial. The NOP opcodes were placed in Bitcoin Script with the explicit goal of allowing non-disruptive upgrades.

However, many developers are concerned that other methods of soft fork upgrades make unacceptable tradeoffs. Common criticisms of soft fork changes include:

Technical debt

Because soft forks are more technically complex than a hard fork upgrade, they introduce technical debt, a term that refers to increasing the future cost of code maintenance because of design tradeoffs made in the past. Code complexity in turn increases the likelihood of bugs and security vulnerabilities.

Validation relaxation

Non-upgraded clients see transactions as valid, without evaluating the modified consensus rules. In effect, the non-upgraded clients are not validating using the full range of consensus rules, as they are blind to the new rules. This applies to NOP-based upgrades, as well as other soft fork upgrades.

Irreversible upgrades

Because soft forks create transactions with additional consensus constraints, they become irreversible upgrades in practice. If a soft fork upgrade were to be reversed after being activated, any transactions created under the new rules could result in a loss of funds under the old rules. For example, if a CLTV transaction is evaluated under the old rules, there is no timelock constraint and it can be spent at any time. Therefore, critics contend that a failed soft fork that had to be reversed because of a bug would almost certainly lead to loss of funds.