[bitcoin-dev] Issolated Bitcoin Nodes

Juan Garavaglia jg at 112bit.com
Thu Mar 23 22:37:34 UTC 2017

We notice some reorgs in Bitcoin testnet, while reorgs in testnet are common and may be part of different tests and experiments, it seems the forks are not created by a single user and multiple blocks were mined by different users in each chain.  My first impression was that the problem was related to network issues but some Bitcoin explorers were following one chain while others follow the other one.  Nonetheless, well established explorers like blocktrail.com or blockr.io were following different chains at different heights which led to me to believe that it was not a network issue. After some time, a reorg occurs and it all comes to normal state as a single chain.
We started investigating more and we identified that the fork occurs with nodes 0.12; in some situations, nodes 0.12 has longer/different chains. The blocks in both chains are valid so something must be occurring in the communication between nodes but not related with the network itself.
Long story short, when nodes 0.13+ receive blocks from 0.13+ nodes all is ok, and those blocks propagate to older nodes with no issues. But when a block tries to be propagated from bitcoind 0.12.+ to newer ones those blocks are NOT being propagated to the peers with newer versions while these newer blocks are being propagated to peers with older versions with no issues.
My conclusion is that we have a backward compatibility issue between 0.13.X+ and older versions.
The issue is simple to replicate, first, get latest version of bitcoind, complete the IBD after is at current height, then force it to use exclusively one or more peers of versions 0.12.X and older, and you will notice that the latest version node will never receive a new block.
Probably some alternative bitcoin implementations act as bridges between these two versions and facilitate the chain reorgs.
I have not yet found any way where/how it can be used in a malicious way or be exploited by a miner but in theory Bitcoin 0.13.X+ should remain compatible with older ones, but a 0.13+ node may become isolated by 0.12 peers, and there is not notice for the node owner.

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