[bitcoin-dev] Hardfork to fix difficulty drop algorithm

Bryan Bishop kanzure at gmail.com
Wed Mar 2 16:17:31 UTC 2016

On Wed, Mar 2, 2016 at 8:56 AM, Luke Dashjr wrote:

> We are coming up on the subsidy halving this July, and there have been some


One reason "hard-fork to fix difficulty drop algorithm" could be
controversial is that the proposal involves a hard-fork (perhaps
necessarily so, at my first and second glance). There are a number of
concerns with hard-forks including security, deployment, participation,
readiness measurement, backwards incompatibility, etc. In fact, some
Bitcoin Core developers believe that hard-forks are not a good idea and
should not be used.

# Hard-forks

An interesting (unspoken?) idea I’ve heard from a few people has been “we
should try to avoid all hard-forks because they are backwards
incompatible”, another thought has been "there should only be one more
hard-fork if any" and/or "there should only be one hard-fork every 30
years". I also recognize feedback from others who have mentioned "probably
unrealistic to expect that the consensus layer can be solidified this early
in Bitcoin's history". At the same time there are concerns about “slippery

Also, if you are going to participate in a hard-fork then I think you
should make up some proposals for ensure minimal monetary loss on the old
(non-hard-forked) chain, especially since your proposed timeline is so
short seems reasonable to expect even more safety-related due diligence to
minimize money loss (such as using a new address prefix on the hard-forked
upgrade). Anyway, it should be clear that hard-forks are an unsettled issue
and are controversial in ways that I believe you are already aware about.

# Have miners gradually reduce their hashrate instead of using a step
function cliff

adam3us recently proposed that miners who are thinking of turning off
equipment should consider gradually ramping down their hashrate, as a show
of goodwill (and substantial loss to themselves, similar to how they would
incur losses from no longer mining after the halving). This is not
something the consensus algorithm can enforce at the moment, and this
suggestion does not help under adversarial conditions. Since this
suggestion does not require a hard-fork, perhaps some effort should be made
to query miners and figure out if they need assistance with implementing
this (if they happen to be interested).

# Contingency planning

Having said all of the negative things above about hard-forks, I will add
that I do actually like the idea of having backup plans available and
tested and gitian-built many weeks ahead of expected network event dates.
Unfortunately this might encourage partial consensus layer hard-forks in
times of extreme uncertainty such as "emergencies".... creating an even
further emergency.

# "Indefinite backlog growth"

You write "the backlog would grow indefinitely until the adjustment
occurs". This seems to be expected behavior regardless of difficulty
adjustment (in fact, a backlog could continue to grow even once difficulty
adjusts downward), and the consensus protocol does not commit to
information regarding that backlog anyway...

# Difficulty adjustment taking time is expected

This is an expected part of the protocol, it's been mentioned since
forever, it's well known and accounted for. Instead, we should be providing
advice to users about which alternative payment systems they should be
using if they expect instantaneous transaction confirmations. This has been
a long-standing issue, and rolling out a hard-fork is not going to fix
mistaken assumptions from users. They will still think that confirmations
were meant to be instantaneous regardless of how many hard-forks you choose
to deploy.

- Bryan
1 512 203 0507
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