[Bitcoin-development] Making fee estimation better

Peter Todd pete at petertodd.org
Fri Oct 25 22:13:27 UTC 2013

On Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 12:35:34PM -0700, Jeremy Spilman wrote:
> Do you think we're at the point where wallets have to be able to
> "actively bid" the fee using replacement due to block contention?

If Bitcoin continues to grow we probably will be at some as-yet-unknown
point in the future.

> I think a fee estimation API is just a data point. Depending on the
> properties of the estimator, and how that's presented in the UI, it
> could serve to either increase or decrease the need for recovery.
> Like you said, we already have "fee estimation" in the form of
> "user, please estimate the fee!" Now we want to make fee estimation
> "better", and one key aspect of better fee estimation is decreasing
> the need for recovery. Techniques like signing multiple transactions
> with different fee levels should become less useful the better you
> are at estimating the fee.

Yes, but equally all estimates are imperfect, and you can trade-off risk
that your transaction will not go through initially for lower fees.

Estimates can be made sufficiently conservative that they are rarely
wrong - this is basically the strategy of the current system. Given that
demand for blockchain space isn't "saturated" it works reasonably well
for now. But without a good mechanism to recover from an initial bad
estimate you have to be more conservative than is efficient.

> What I find interesting is that fee estimation can look at the size
> and type of the transaction, the age of the inputs, the number of
> inputs versus outputs, amount of the outputs, factor in [assumptions
> about] what fee policies miners are actually using, and after all
> that, look at the actual competing transactions on the blockchain
> and try to figure out how many of those are even real.
> For example, if you just look at fee-per-KB of mempool versus
> fee-per-KB of recently mined transactions, without taking into
> account input age, number of inputs vs outputs, output amounts...
> all the other things miner might have used to discriminate between
> transactions, then I don't think you'll end up with a better fee
> estimator.

To a first approximation there's not much reason for miners to take
anything other than fee-per-KB into account when determining what
transactions to mine; you want to stuff your 1MB block full of high
paying transactions. That a child tx may make a parent more profitable
to mine complicates things - Gavin's current fee estimator also makes
too-low-estimates in that case - and not all algorithms to do so will
come to the same conclusion. (doing it perfectly is something like
O(n^2), and imperfectly is O(1) but doesn't handle multiple children

There are some second-order effects, a block is less likely to be
orphaned if all transactions in it have propagated sufficiently, thus a
miner should penalize very recently broadcast transactions. In addition
because miners never orphan themselves large miners have a significant
advantage regarding orphan-inducing effects. However those effects all
tend to be miner specific, and/or only temporary.

FWIW the logic behind orphans is currently rather frightening: a
rational miner will, the moment they learn that a block exists via the
quickly propagating block header, start working to extend that block
with one that either doesn't contain any transactions, or only contains
transactions they can be reasonably sure another miner didn't mine.
(e.g. via exclusive tx mining contracts) This boosts their profit
because they aren't wasting their effort while the rest of the block
propagates, removes much of the incentive have any limit on block size,
and incentivizes miners to extend chains they haven't actually validated
yet. (relying on the other miners incentive not to produce an invalid

> Contention might bump you out of a few blocks, but if the basis for
> calculating the fee is fundamentally compatible with the relay
> policies and the transaction-inclusion policies being run by large
> mining pools, the transaction isn't dead, it's just pending.

With a size-limited blocks inclusion is more a matter of supply and
demand than policy.

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