[bitcoin-dev] Libconsensus separated repository (was Bitcoin Core and hard forks)

Jorge Timón jtimon at jtimon.cc
Thu Jul 23 14:30:06 UTC 2015

On Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 2:49 AM, Eric Voskuil via bitcoin-dev
<bitcoin-dev at lists.linuxfoundation.org> wrote:
> On 07/22/2015 05:13 PM, Eric Lombrozo via bitcoin-dev wrote:
>> Only being partly serious - I strongly am in favor of a sufficiently
> modularized codebase that swapping out consensus rules is fairly
> straightforward and easy to test...
> We (libbitcoin) have taken the time to publish and maintain bitcoind's
> "libbitcoinconsensus" source files as an independent C++ library (with
> Java and Python bindings).
> https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Libbitcoin_Consensus
> It can be easily verified against bitcoind sources and in builds of
> libbitcoin-blockchain it can be swapped out for libbitcoin's native
> consensus checks.
> https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Libbitcoin_Blockchain#Consensus_Validation
> So there is really no reason to consider the original client synonymous
> with consensus. I initially argued for this library to be natively
> isolated from bitcoind, but that didn't seem to be in the cards so we
> did it independently.

I think there were some misunderstandings in our previous conversation
about this topic.
I completely agree with having a separated repository for libconsensus
(that's the whole point, alternative implementations can be
consensus-safe by using it, and in the event of a schism fork[1], they
can fork just that smaller project without having to relay on Bitcoin
Core [satoshi] at all).
But I thought you also wanted Bitcoin Core to use libconsensus instead
of just having a subtree/subrepository like it currently does with
I'm not sure if that would ever be accepted, but in any case we're
certainly far away from that goal. Here are some things that need to
happen first:

1) Finish encapsulating consensus code so that it can be built without
any (we've done it only with script-related code so far). Here are
some related PRs (other people havee done other things that help with
this as well):

*** MERGED Consensus: Decouple pow from chainparams #5812 [consensuspow]
*** DELETED MOVEONLY: Move constants and globals to consensus.h and
policy.o #5696 [consensus_policy0]
*** DELETED Refactor: Create CCoinsViewEfficient interface for
CCoinsViewCache #5747 [coins]
*** MERGED Chainparams: Refactor: Decouple IsSuperMajority from
Params() #5968 [params_consensus]
*** MERGED Remove redundant getter
CChainParams::SubsidyHalvingInterval() #5996 [params_subsidy]
*** MERGED Separate CValidationState from main #5669 [consensus]
*** DELETED Consensus: Refactor: Separate CheckFinalTx from
main::IsFinalTx #6063 [consensus_finaltx]
*** MERGED Consensus: Decouple ContextualCheckBlockHeader from
checkpoints #5975 [consensus_checkpoints]
*** MERGED Separate Consensus::CheckTxInputs and GetSpendHeight in
CheckInputs #6061 [consensus_inputs]
*** MERGED Bugfix: Don't check the genesis block header before
accepting it #6299 [5975-quick-fix]
** REVIEW Optimizations: Consensus: In AcceptToMemoryPool,
ConnectBlock, and CreateNewBlock #6445 [consensus-txinputs-0.12.99]
** REBASE MOVEONLY: Move most of consensus functions (pre-block) #6051
** REBASE Consensus: Refactor: Turn CBlockIndex::GetMedianTimePast
into independent function #6009 [consensus_mediantime]
** DEPENDENT Consensus: Refactor: Consensus version of
CheckBlockHeader() #6035 [consensus_checkblockheader]
** DEPENDENT Consensus: Consensus version of pow functions [consensus_pow2]

2) Finish libconsensus's API: expose more things than VerifyScript, at
the very least, also expose VerifyTx, VerifyHeader and VerifyBlock.
Feedback from alternative implementations like libbitcoin is extremely
valuable here. Some related closed-for-now PRs:

** DEPENDENT API: Expose bitcoinconsensus_verify_header() in
libconsensus #5995 [consensus_header]
** DEPENDENT API: Expose bitcoinconsensus_verify_block() in
libconsensus #5946 [consensus_tip]
** REBASE Chainparams: Explicit Consensus::Params arg in consensus
functions #6024 [params_consensus2]

3) Move libconsensus to a separate repository as a
subtree/subrepository of Bitcoin Core.

Only after all that we can discuss whether Bitcoin Core itself should
include libconsensus' code or just use its API directly.
I hope that after all this, libbitcoin also reconsiders whether to
reimplement its own libconsensus or use the "official" one directly

> In any case I agree with your stated need for this isolation (if not the
> means) for the reasons you state. The community needs to move beyond a
> largely singular and monolithic codebase that is holding that position
> in part due to fear about consensus bug forks.

I completely agree. That's the goal of libconsensus (and an
alternative implementation like libbitcoin being able to use it
without sacrificing any of its current or future design differences
from Bitcoin Core would be a sign of success in this reward).
Unfortunately any changes that touch consensus code are risky and
therefore slow. And when consensus encapsulation changes conflict with
other changes (not because the other changes need to change consensus
but because consensus code is still coupled with policy and other
bitcoind-specific code), refactors are never prioritized. Ironically,
you need to encapsulate the consensus code to avoid such conflicts,
which would make all non-consensus changes far less risky (reducing
the consensus-critical review development bottleneck).

Unfortunately and ironically again, safer, small and incremental
changes are less interesting for reviewers.
For example, I've been trying to move consensus code to the consensus
folder for a long time. The correctness of a MOVEONLY change is
trivial to review for anyone who knows how to copy/paste in its
favorite editor and how to use git diff, but will I ever get answers
to my questions in [1]?
I know there's many people who really care about this, Cory Fields,
Wladimir and Pieter Wuille to name a few have reviewed many of this
changes (I've just got used to publicly whine about lack of review on
this front and policy encapsulation [very related fronts] as an
attempt to get some attention: not always, but begging for review
actually works some times).

Another unfortunate fact is that although a script-only libconsensus
allows you to avoid a big part of all possible consensus fork bugs,
there cannot be users of a finished libconsensus to ask things to util
a finished libconsensus actually exists. At the same time, the future
users (alternative implementations, since bitcoin core is already
"using libconsensus") are the most relevant people to listen when it
comes to the C API. That's why I beg you to comment on [2], even if
#5995 is currently closed. Your input on [1] would be very appreciated
as well (maybe you think it's better to expose verifyTx before
exposing verifyHeader, even if exposing verifyHeader is something that
could be done faster).

 > To make choice regarding consensus an actual choice (and thereby actual
> consensus) the modularity you suggest is essential. One must be able to
> take new developments without having to take consensus changes. The
> option to fork the codebase is not reasonable for most people. At this
> point there is no defensible reason for coupling consensus checks with
> other features.

Would you agree that asking people to fork an independent libconsensus
project instead of having to fork the full Bitcoin-qt is much more
I mean, I agree with your points. If "the specification of the
consensus rules is an implementation", then that implementation
shouldn't be coupled with a bunch of policy and non-consensus
technical choices (storage, dependencies, p2p protocol...). But I
still think that "the specification of the consensus rules should be a
concrete implementation" rather than based purely on a natural
language like English.
I believe that's the only point where we fundamentally disagree, but
it shouldn't be a barrier in our common goal of taking "power" away
from Bitcoin Core development. If we're successful Bitcoin Core won't
have any privileged position with regards to, say, libbitcoin when it
comes to deciding consensus rules changes.
You see, people like Mike Hearn believe that "uncontroversial
acceptance by Bitcoin Core devs" is the same as "uncontroversial
acceptance by all users of the system" (for a libbitcoin developer
like you, obviously a superset of Bitcoin Core's users). He thinks
that Gavin proposal is only a schism consensus fork[3] because the
code is in github/bitcoinxt/bitcoinxt instead of
github/bitcoin/bitcoin, not because PeterTodd-the-user-of-the-system
(he doesn't care about him) opposes it.
But let's imagine a different situation:

1) libconsensus us finished and used by libbitcoin
2) Bitcoin Core was unanimously in favor of Gavin's 32 GB initial
proposal and the changes are applied to bitcoin/bitcoin and
bitcoin/libconsensus (or Bitcoin Core has a dictator like Mike
wants[4] and he accepts it, it doesn't really matter for this

But let's also assume that X% of the users and 10% of the miners are
against that Schism hardfork, and they don't want to be forced to
change the rules by any influential group, mining, economic or user
Libbitcoin cannot be forced to accept the next, controversial version
of bitcoin/libconsensus, so you guys fork libbitcoin/libconsensus out
of the last ok version.
Centralized-bitcoin and old-bitcoin would become 2 separated
currencies and some people would likely lose money in the transition
from one currency to 2 of them, but the users of old-bitcoin have the
right of keeping the rules they signed up for and the only responsible
people for this likely-catastrophic schism would be the Bitcoin core
developers for trying to impose consensus changes into others against
their will. Trying to impose consensus changes against the will of
some users is wrong, and it is irrelevant if that happens in Bitcoin
Core or Bitcoin Tx (if it is uncontroversial, it's also irrelevant
where it gets implemented first).

I really believe bitcoin needs competitive alternative implementations
and I believe libconsensus is a tool to help that happen and reduce
the "gatekeeping" friction that there's (unfortunately) around Bitcoin
Core. I look forward to any potential collaboration on this front.
Even if you still want to maintain a reimplementation of libconsensus
(which I humbly think it's a mistake, but I don't think there's any
point on keep discussing that, since we know we disagree) we can
collaborate on the future common API of a complete libconsensus (with
verifyBlock and all). I really hope we can do that.

[1] https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/pull/6051#issuecomment-120708121

[2] (kind of outdated, but the API is what matters here)

[3] https://github.com/jtimon/bips/blob/bip-forks/bip-forks.org#schism1-hardforks

[4] http://lmgtfy.com/?q=mike+hearn+dictator&l=1

More information about the bitcoin-dev mailing list