[bitcoin-dev] Exploring alternative activation mechanisms: decreasing threshold

Matt Corallo lf-lists at mattcorallo.com
Sun Feb 28 02:38:54 UTC 2021

Forced-signaling, or any form of signaling, does not materially change whether a soft fork can be seen to be safe to 
use. Pieter wrote a great post[1] some time ago that goes into depth about the security of soft forks, but, while miners 
can help to avoid the risk of forks, they aren't the determining factor in whether use of a fork should be considered 
safe (ie the fork "has activated").

Not only that, but the signaling methods used in BIP 8/9 (ie the version field in the block header) do not imply 
anything about whether mining pools are running full nodes which enforce the soft fork at all, only whether the pool has 
configured their stratum software to signal or not.

Ultimately, forced-signaling, or signaling period, are not a substitute for having a broad set of upgraded nodes across 
the network, including an overwhelming majority of economically-active nodes, enforcing the rules of a new fork. As this 
can be difficult to measure, waiting some time after a fork and examining upgrade patterns across the network is important.


[1] https://lists.linuxfoundation.org/pipermail/bitcoin-dev/2015-December/012014.html

On 2/27/21 12:55, Luke Dashjr via bitcoin-dev wrote:
> This has the same problems BIP149 did: since there is no signalling, it is
> ambiguous whether the softfork has activated at all. Both anti-SF and pro-SF
> nodes will remain on the same chain, with conflicting perceptions of the
> rules, and resolution (if ever) will be chaotic. Absent resolution, however,
> there is a strong incentive not to rely on the rules, and thus it may never
> get used, and therefore also never resolved.
> Additionally, it loses the flexibility of BIP 8 to, after the initial
> deployment, move the timeoutheight sooner.
> Luke
> On Thursday 25 February 2021 22:33:25 Gregorio Guidi via bitcoin-dev wrote:
>> Hello,
>> I followed the debate on LOT=false / LOT=true trying to get a grasp of
>> the balance of risks and advantages. The summary by Aaron van Wirdum [1]
>> explains well the difficulties to find a good equilibrium... it
>> concludes that "perhaps, a new possibility will present itself".
>> Thinking about such a "new possibility" that overcomes the
>> LOT=true/false dichotomy, I would like to offer the following proposal.
>> It could be called "decreasing threshold activation".
>> Decreasing threshold activation works similarly to BIP8, with the
>> difference that the threshold that triggers the STARTED -> LOCKED_IN
>> transition starts at 100% for the first retargeting period, and then is
>> gradually reduced on each period in steps of 24 blocks (~1,2%). More
>> precisely:
>> On the 1st period (starting on start_height): if 2016 out of 2016 blocks
>> signal, the state is changed to LOCKED_IN on the next period (otherwise
>> stays STARTED)
>> On the 2nd period: if 1992 out of 2016 blocks signal (~98.8%), the state
>> transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> On the 3rd period: if 1968 out of 2016 blocks signal (~97.6%), the state
>> transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 14th period (~6 months): if 1704 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~84.5%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 27th period (~12 months): if 1392 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~69.0%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 40th period (~18 months): if 1080 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~53.6%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 53th period (~24 months): if 768 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~38.1%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 66th period (~30 months): if 456 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~22.6%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 79th period (~36 months): if 144 out of 2016 blocks signal
>> (~7.1%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period
>> ...
>> On the 84th and final period (~39 months): if 24 out of 2016 blocks
>> signal (~1.2%), the state transitions to LOCKED_IN on the next period,
>> otherwise goes to FAILED
>> (For reference, I include below a snippet of pseudocode for the
>> decreasing thresholds in the style of BIP8 and BIP9.)
>> Here are the main features and advantages of this approach:
>> 1. It is relatively conservative at the beginning: for activation to
>> happen in the first year, it requires a clear majority of signaling
>> hashrate, indicating that the activation is relatively safe. Only later
>> the threshold starts to move towards "unsafe" territory, accepting the
>> tradeoff of less support from existing hashrate in exchange for ensuring
>> that the activation eventually happens.
>> 2. Like LOT=true, the activation will always occur in the end (except in
>> the negligible case where less than 1.2% of hashrate supports it).
>> 3. This approach is quite easy to implement, in particular it avoids the
>> extra code to deal with the MUST_SIGNAL period.
>> 4. There are no parameters to set (except startheight). I am a KISS fan,
>> so this is a plus for me, making the activation mechanism robust and
>> predictable with less chance for users to shoot themselves in the foot.
>> It is also a plus for me that - if adopted as the default mechanism - it
>> would require very little discussion on how to activate future
>> soft-forks. In fact I think it would be a winning move for Core to
>> commit to such a scheme, to avoid getting lost in game-theoretic rabbit
>> holes.
>> 5. Since there is no MUST_SIGNAL period, no automatic chain split occurs
>> around activation when not all miners have upgraded (so activation is
>> generally as benign as a MASF). A chain split will occur only when/if an
>> invalid block is created (and this requires dedicated effort! it can
>> only happen by circumventing the normal policy rules [2]). This
>> mitigates the risk of reorgs and involuntary forks around activation,
>> even with low miner signaling.
>> 6. It removes motivation to create UASF clients that force activation.
>> While individual nodes could still try to force a quicker activation,
>> the motivation to do so is reduced since the same result is obtained
>> just by waiting a little more.
>> 7. Compared to LOT=true, activation is cleaner and quicker when it is
>> relatively safe to do so (when the signaling hashrate is - let's say -
>> in the 70%-80% range). On the other hand, activation is pushed further
>> and further in time when it is less safe (when signaling hashrate is
>> <50%, meaning that there is a serious risk that users/miners that did
>> not upgrade start following an alternative chain). This gives everyone
>> time to prepare properly for such a potentially disruptive event.
>> 8. If a significant number of users and miners consciously decide (for
>> whatever reasons) that they don't want to upgrade and want to fork
>> themselves off from the chain followed by Core (as is their
>> prerogative), they will have time to do so safely.
>> 9. Compared to the strategy of doing LOT=false and then LOT=true if it
>> fails, using the decreasing threshold approach may not seem very
>> different. But it completely removes the need to fiddle with different
>> client releases and with the issues associated with deployed nodes with
>> different consensus parameters.
>> All in all, reading the various perspectives on this mailing list and
>> outside I have the feeling that the strongest arguments against LOT=true
>> have at their core a certain uneasiness with the MUST_SIGNAL mechanism
>> and the related automatic chain split on activation, which is something
>> that greatly complicates the analysis (but please tell me if I am
>> wrong...). In this sense, this proposal achieves the big objective of
>> always ending in activation (like LOT=true) without resorting to
>> MUST_SIGNAL and chain splits.
>> A final note: this proposal should be seen as somewhat independent from
>> the discussion on taproot activation. Personally I would be happy with a
>> LOT=false activation for taproot that succeeds quickly, while the
>> decreasing threshold approach could be evaluated as potential default
>> activation mechanism for the future.
>> I would be happy to hear what you think about this. What are the
>> possible issues/drawbacks of using this mechanism?
>> Thanks,
>> Gregorio
>> [1]
>> https://bitcoinmagazine.com/articles/lottrue-or-lotfalse-this-is-the-last-h
>> urdle-before-taproot-activation
>> [2] This was not the case in the past for upgrades such as BIP16 (P2SH),
>> which generated frequent reorgs due to a combination of low activation
>> threshold (55%) and no policy protection. But for upgrades such as
>> taproot the normal policy rules prevent the creation of invalid blocks
>> by non-upgraded miners. See
>> https://blog.bitmex.com/the-arts-of-making-softforks-protection-by-policy-r
>> ule/
>> Pseudocode:
>>           case STARTED:
>>               int elapsed_periods = (block.height - startheight) / 2016;
>>               if (elapsed_periods > 2016 / 24) {
>>                   return FAILED;
>>               }
>>               int threshold = 2016 - 24 * (elapsed_periods - 1);
>>               int count = 0;
>>               walk = block;
>>               for (i = 0; i < 2016; i++) {
>>                   walk = walk.parent;
>>                   if (walk.nVersion & 0xE0000000 == 0x20000000 &&
>> (walk.nVersion >> bit) & 1 == 1) { ++count;
>>                   }
>>               }
>>               if (count >= threshold) {
>>                   return LOCKED_IN;
>>               }
>>               return STARTED;
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