[Bitcoin-development] Scaling Bitcoin with Subchains

Pieter Wuille pieter.wuille at gmail.com
Sat Jun 13 14:39:04 UTC 2015

On Wed, May 20, 2015 at 4:55 AM, Andrew <onelineproof at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi
> I briefly mentioned something about this on the bitcoin-dev IRC room. In
> general, it seems experts (like sipa i.e. Pieter) are against using
> sidechains as a way of scaling. As I only have a high level understanding
> of the Bitcoin protocol, I cannot be sure if what I want to do is actually
> defined as a side chain, but let me just propose it, and please let me know
> whether it can work, and if not why not (I'm not scared of digging into
> more technical resources in order to fully understand). I do have a good
> academic/practical background for Bitcoin, and I'm ready to contribute code
> if needed (one of my contributions includes a paper wallet creator written
> in C).
In your proposal, transactions go to a chain based the addresses involved.
We can reasonably assume that different people's wallet will tend to be
distributed uniformly over several sidechains to hold their transactions
(if they're not, there is no scaling benefit anyway...). That means that
for an average transaction, you will need a cross-chain transfer in order
to get the money to the recipient (as their wallet will usually be
associated to a chain that is different from your own). Either you use an
atomic swap (which actually means you end up briefly with coins in the
destination chain, and require multiple transactions and a medium delay),
or you use the 2way peg transfer mechanism (which is very slow, and reduces
the security the recipient has to SPV).

Whatever you do, the result will be that most transactions are:
* Slower (a bit, or a lot, depending on what mechanism you use).
* More complex, with more failure modes.
* Require more and larger transactions (causing a total net extra load on
all verifiers together).

And either:
* Less secure (because you rely on a third party to do an atomic swap with,
or because of the 2 way peg transfer mechanism which has SPV security)
* Doesn't offer any scaling benefit (because the recipient needs to fully
validate both his own and the receiver chain).

In short, you have not added any scaling at all, or reduced the security of
the system significantly, as well as made it significantly less convenient
to use.

So no, sidechains are not a direct means for solving any of the scaling
problems Bitcoin has. What they offer is a mechanism for easier
experimentation, so that new technology can be built and tested without
needing to introduce a new currency first (with the related speculative and
network effect problems). That experimentation could eventually lead us to
discover mechanisms for better scaling, or for more scalability/security
tradeoffs (see for example the Witness Segregation that Elements Alpha has).

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