Segregated Witness (SegWit), the Bitcoin protocol upgrade proposed by the Bitcoin Core development team, was originally designed to activate via the Bitcoin Improvement Protocol 9 (BIP 9) standard, a hash-power signalling mechanism. This would allow the Bitcoin ecosystem to coordinate the upgrade relatively safely through miner readiness.
User-Activated Soft Fork (UASF) have an informative website and if you’re technical, you can read the Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP-148). I will note here that BIP-149 is another UASF proposal, but BIP-148 is a bit more urgent as there’s an important date set by that proposal on August 1, 2017.
What Does BIP-148 Actually Do?
BIP-148 has reference implementation code for exactly what it does:
If you don’t read C++, the comments themselves are pretty instructive. All these conditions have to be met for BIP-148 software to reject a block that’s otherwise valid:
- The block has to be found between the dates August 1, 2017 and November 15, 2017. August 1, 2017 is the date chosen by BIP-148 for block rejection. November 15, 2017 is when the current Segwit proposal expires.
- Segwit is not already on the network
- Block is not signaling Segwit.
How will this affect the network?
Practically speaking there will come a block X, the first block after August 1, 2017 not signaling Segwit, that will be rejected by the BIP-148 nodes, but accepted by the non-BIP-148 nodes. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call the block before X, C. BIP-148 nodes will be on C, other nodes on X.
A soft fork is a change to the Bitcoin protocol that introduces new rules or tightens existing ones. This makes soft forks backward compatible: nodes that did not upgrade should remain part of the same Bitcoin network.
Segregated Witness is a soft fork that would increase Bitcoin’s block size limit and solve some longstanding protocol issues. While it’s always hard to say with conclusive certainty, the proposal seems to have broad support within the Bitcoin ecosystem. Many wallets, exchanges and other companies in the space have indicated they are ready for it, while an overwhelming share of reachable nodes on the network have implemented the solution, too.
Many users on reddit seem to think that if enough users ran BIP-148 software, that it would make BIP-148 more likely. Perhaps, but there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. First, running node software is very easy and cheap. In fact, it’s so easy that you really shouldn’t be trusting the node statistics as it’s very easy to fake. Node software is useful because the node owners can validate the transactions and blocks for themselves. Essentially, node software is useful because you don’t have to trust others, but doesn’t do much for the actual blockchain state unless you mine.
As a node, you have the right to reject blocks or transactions for any reason, but that, too, is not useful unless others agree with you. This is why BIP-148 proponents desire support from “economic nodes” such as miners, exchanges, wallets and merchants. Let’s take a look at each and see what their incentives might be.
Really the only way, then, to have skin in the game and support BIP-148 is to mine BIP-148 blocks. Everyone else will simply be running both chains as it’s to their advantage. Mining equipment has dropped in price recently and mining yourself is really the only way to really contribute to a UASF via BIP-148. All other attempts are really attempts to solve the Byzantine General’s Problem without Proof-of-Work.
This should make intuitive sense. Bitcoin is a decentralized system where if a big change were achievable with little in the way of money, resources, or time, it would get exploited very quickly. There’s a real cost to change things and that very well may mean lots of money ($700+) spent by lots of people (1000+). In other words, Bitcoin is really hard to change, and that’s a wonderful feature.
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