The problem of hard and soft forks have been huge issues in both the Bitcoin (Bitcoin Unlimited, USAF, Segwit) and Litecoin communities. Decred has come up with their own solution to this and may be something that other coins look to going forward. In this article I’m going to explain what a hard fork is, how the voting process works, and why it is so important for the development of a coin.
Hard and Soft Forks
Let’s start off by explaining what forks are. In simple terms, these are updates to the main protocol of a certain currency. Hard forks describe an update that causes a permanent divergence in the block chain. Both block chains may continue to run but they will not be able to send funds to each other as they are using different rules and the coins are not compatible with each other.
Soft forks, on the other hand, are backward compatible updates that allow users to mine from both original nodes or updated nodes with the new rules. If by a certain time, a consensus is reached and a certain percent of the hash rate is mining from the updated nodes, then the new rules are implemented across the protocol and miners of the original nodes will basically be wasting their time.
Why Fork and Who Gets to Decide?
So the programming team decides perhaps they want to make a substantial upgrade to the network to enable a set of features. These features might be very important features such as lightning transactions which allow immediate transfer of currency. It’s important that the community keeps on developing these features because otherwise, your coin is going to be stuck in the mud.
While the development team can propose upgrades usually what happens is that the mining community decides whether to implement these or not. The mining community acts as the accountants of the system. They process transactions and they form new blocks in the block chain. Consequently, they have the power to decide how to build the next block.
One major problem with this is that the mining community decides what the future is and not the consumers – the people who actually use currency. One small set of people decide how upgrades should be processed and the other side that actually uses it, the majority of the users, get zero say in the matter.
Decred to the Rescue?
With Decred, they solve this problem by having the community vote on the blocks created by the mining community. If miners start implementing different upgrades the community can vote whether they want the upgrade to go on line or not. If the created block does not follow a certain protocol, they can vote it down and even refuse payouts to miners that don’t follow what the community wants.
So this, in essence, allows the community to actually keep an eye on what’s happening with the miners. We don’t have just one power that doesn’t represent the community. Rather, we end up with the user community sort of policing what’s happening with the mining community.
People who hold the coin should have the greatest say in how the future goes forward. Decred solves both hard forks and soft forks by allowing users to vote on the issues. Issues such as segwit and lightning transactions, which have caused many controversies in the Bitcoin and Litecoin communities. Decred is already trying to implement these changes this year and they may get these technological upgrades in advance of other coins.