War of the Words: Who's Said What About a Bitcoin Fork?

Bitcoin is abuzz with chatter about the prospects of a possible network split, a development that could drive the emergence of two separate blockchains.

Speculation has grown in recent weeks that miners and users backing Bitcoin Unlimited – an alternative bitcoin software implementation that seeks to change the network’s rule set – may effectively “fork” off the network, if not everyone agrees to migrate to their changes.

It’s an eventuality that has businesses in the industry weighing in again on a long-standing impasse over the digital currency’s future direction.

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What’s more, the nature and tone of the scaling debate appears to have sharpened, driven by animosity between those who support one vision over another. As such, a range of bitcoin startups (exchanges, wallet providers, miners and hardware makers) have weighed in on where they stand on the issue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the preparation seen comes from companies that would find themselves in possession of handling two separate bitcoin assets on behalf of customers should the network split.

A number of the statements, in addition to outlining policy, seek to assuage possible user concerns ahead of a split over the safety – and accessibility – of their money.

In this feature, CoinDesk takes a look at what these businesses are saying about the possible fork – and how they’re preparing for what could become a potentially messy situation.

Wallets

As might be expected, those working on wallet projects have positioned themselves – and their policies – ahead of a fork. Overall, the positions in this sector seem to focus on ensuring ease of use during a potentially disruptive period.

Here’s what those working in the wallet space have said thus far:

Name: KeepKey
Service: Hardware wallet

The startup told CoinDesk that, in the event of a fork, it would let users manage two accounts, one for each version of the blockchain.

“Our commitment is to our customers and we want to ensure that they can can safely transact on both sides of the fork should that happen,” CEO Darin Stanchfield told CoinDesk.

Name: Ledger
Service: Hardware wallet

Reiterating that hardware wallet users wouldn’t lose access to their bitcoins, Ledger said that, in the event of a split, it would release a software update allowing them to manage both currencies.

However, it was not immediately clear if this would be a short-term move.

“Should multiple chains prove to be viable in the long run, Ledger will update its Ledger Wallet Bitcoin Chrome app to add a BTC-C/BTC-U switch (in the same way that our Ethereum Chrome app has a ETH/ETC switch),” the company said.

“Users will then be able to independently manage their BTC-C and BTC-U coins, without having to export their private keys.”

Name: SatoshiLabs
Service: Hardware wallet

SatoshiLabs, which also operates the Slush mining pool, said on 20th March that its users of its Trezor line of hardware wallets would be able to access Bitcoin Unlimited tokens in the event that two blockchains emerge.

“Should Bitcoin Unlimited (BTU) split away and be implemented in TREZOR Wallet, it would be provided as another option in the currency selector. Therefore, in terms of the security of your coins, a little has changed — no action is required from you [and] your coins remain safe,” the firm said, adding:

“You will not magically lose coins because of a fork.”

Name: Samourai
Service: Wallet software

Wallet software provider Samourai detailed its (albiet brief) plan for a hard fork potential on 20th March via Twitter.

“Wallet Users: Samourai continues to run Bitcoin Core 0.14. There are no plans to switch to any implementation that breaks current consensus,” the team behind the software said.

Name: Armory
Service: Wallet software

The open-source project said this week that it wasn’t taking a side in the ongoing debate, but outlined steps that users could take in the event of a fork.

Name: Circle
Service: Wallet provider

Circle detailed its policy change in an email to users last week, a move that came months after the startup did away with its bitcoin buying and selling services.

“This bitcoin downtime will likely occur immediately upon a ‘fork’ of bitcoin with little to no warning, and during this period of bitcoin downtime you will not have access to bitcoin that you hold in your Circle account,” the startup said.

Name: Breadwallet
Service: Wallet software

In a 24th March statement, the team behind the Breadwallet wallet software said that it would “continue to connect to the chain that is the most popular amongst miners”, signaling that it would support the blockchain with the most mining power.

Notably, the team indicated its belief that, in the event of a fork, the smaller of two chains wouldn’t survive in the long run.

“We expect the less popular chain to quickly lose support and be abandoned, which is why we have not invested a lot of resources into adding the capability to interact with both chains separately,” the team said.

Name: Coinbase
Service: Wallet provider, exchange

Though the startup has indicated support in the past for efforts to raise the block size, Coinbase affirmed on 19th March that “the only version of bitcoin supported on the Coinbase platform today is Bitcoin Core, currently represented by the symbol BTC.”

Coinbase echoed other services in saying that it may be required to temporarily suspend withdrawals and deposits in the event of a fork.

“Customers who wish to access both blockchains at the time of the hard fork should withdraw their BTC from Coinbase since we cannot guarantee what will happen during the hard fork or when this access may be available,” the startup added.

Name: GreenAddress
Service: Wallet provider

The team behind security-minded wallet GreenAddress said that they don’t believe a fork will occur; however, like the other wallets, they outlined a brief game plan if it comes to pass.

“We will always provide safe wallet support for Bitcoin under the original chain rules, as GreenAddress is server based and follows Bitcoin’s consensus rules. Users do not need to take any particular action at this time,” the team said.

Exchanges

Bitcoin exchanges have been among the more active in seeking to define their policies ahead of the fork, largely embracing the idea of creating markets for both BTC and BTU should two blockchains emerge. That said, a policy rollout earlier this month laid bare the complexities to which the situation could lead.

Here’s what the exchanges have said thus far:

Name: Exchange Consortium
Signatories: Bitfinex, Bitso, Bitbank, Bitonic, Bitstamp, Bitsquare, Bittrex, Bitt, BTCC, Btcchina.com, Coincheck, Coinfloor, Kraken, QuadrigaCX, Ripio, ShapeShift, The Rock Trading Ltd and Zaif

A group of some well-known exchanges, including Bifinex, Bitstamp and Kraken, were the first to respond to a possible fork in bulk.

The plan indicates that the exchange expect to list the two tokens as separate assets, while allowing for the market to determine any winner.

“Since it appears likely we may see a hard fork initiated by the Bitcoin Unlimited project, we have decided to designate the Bitcoin Unlimited fork as BTU (or XBU). The Bitcoin Core implementation will continue to trade as BTC (or XBT) and all exchanges will process deposits and withdrawals in BTC even if the BTU chain has more hashing power,” the group has said.

Name: Poloniex
Service: Exchange

One of the more aggressive exchanges when it comes to listing new tokens, Poloniex emerged as an important market indicator.

Notably, it signaled it would be more cautious in listing any bitcoin fork.

“We will support Bitcoin Core continuously as BTC,” cryptocurrency exchange Poloniex said in its statement. “In line with our current internal policy, if you have bitcoin on balance at the time of the fork, we will make Bitcoin Unlimited available for withdrawal provided it is safe to do so.”

Poloniex also outlined how it would define “safe”, putting forward that it would be incumbent on the Bitcoin Unlimited team to guard against replay attacks (a concern that other exchanges have raised given the risk posed to user funds).

Such attacks featured in the aftermath of ethereum’s fork last summer when users were able to send transactions on both chains at once, leading to the loss of funds.

Name: BitMEX
Service: Futures exchange

In a notice, futures exchange BitMEX endorsed the earlier statement by the exchange consortium. Notably, the company was uncompromising on the point of replay attacks.

“BU will not be listed or used as a deposit/withdrawal currency until replay protection is implemented and BU is not at risk of a blockchain reorganization if the Core chain becomes longer,” the company said.

Name: BitFlyer
Service: Exchange

The Japanese exchange indicated that it hopes the split will ultimately result in one bitcoin, whether it’s one that uses Bitcoin Core or the Bitcoin Unlimited software.

Even so, BitFlyer plans to support both tokens in the event of a fork, while suggesting its services could be temporarily closed should this occur.

“[W]e are strongly against the coexistence of multiple blockchains that would result from a hard fork,” it said.

“If a fork occurs, we may need to establish a time period during which no bitcoin operations, no bitcoin deposits, and no sending or receiving of bitcoin may be processed.”

Name: Gemini
Service: Exchange

In its statement, Gemini was perhaps less decisive about how it would respond to a fork, writing that it “may choose to eventually” support the chain with less mining pool support.

“The ‘BTC’ balance and trading activity you see on Gemini will likely reflect the chain with the greater total difficulty,” the exchange said, adding:

“We understand that our customers have diverse opinions on this subject, and we will do our best to incorporate your suggestions.”

Miners

Amidst the debate, bitcoin’s miners – the entities that engage in a globally competitive, energy intensive race to add new transactions to the blockchain – have emerged as potential kingmakers.

Here’s what some of the miners in the space have said thus far:

Name: Bitmain
Service: Mining, ASIC development

In an interview with Bloomberg on 10th March, Bitmain co-founder Jihan Wu said that Bitmain’s mining pool, AntPool, would move to support Bitcoin Unlimited.

“We will switch our entire pool to Bitcoin Unlimited,” he told the publication. “We can’t tell how the hard fork will play out. We will only know by the time we get there.”

The statement would go on to spark the largest, global discussion about a potential fork given AntPool’s size and Bitmain’s market position.

Name: BitFury
Service: Mining, ASIC development

In statements to CoinDesk, CEO Valery Vavilov said that his company supports the Segregated Witness upgrade put forward by Bitcoin Core.

Vavilov said that it offers exponentially “more opportunities for transaction growth” compared to Bitcoin Unlimited.

“We will continue to work tirelessly to vigorously safeguard and secure the bitcoin blockchain that protects the interests of users and businesses around the world,” said Vavilov.

“We are going to continue to support the current agreed-upon consensus rules, and we will make our decision based on what protects users and protects businesses from attacks and losses.”

Name: ViaBTC
Service: Mining pool

ViaBTC has long backed the Bitcoin Unlimited project, and in a 24th March blog post pushed for other pools to integrate the software.

Further, the mining pool said that it disagreed with the idea of supporting two currencies with two distinct blockchains.

“If the current blockchain hard forks into two chains, only one of them will be the valid bitcoin chain, which means there will only be one bitcoin, following the principles of Satoshi’s white paper,” said ViaBTC.

“We will only support the scaling solution with the majority of consensus from the bitcoin community.”

Infrastructure

Finally, there’s the startups and project teams that provide infrastructure services to the bitcoin blockchain, but that fall out of more common categories.

Here’s what some of them have said about the fork thus far:

Name: BitGo
Service: Security

In statements widely circulated by Bitcoin Core supporters, BitGo came out strongly on behalf of the project’s existing development team.

“BitGo considers any hard fork which is rolled out without industry-wide consensus, and therefore splits the network, to be an altcoin, not bitcoin itself,” it read.

Name: Colu
Service: Local currency creation

As a provider of software that allows alternative currencies to be launched on the bitcoin blockchain, Colu is perhaps in a unique position when it comes to the possibility of a fork.

Ultimately, it reasoned that its customers would need to be clear about which infrastructure they would seek to base their service on, arguing they would need to select one of the two blockchains and communicate the choice to users.

More broadly, the company said it doesn’t believe a block size fix is a panacea for bitcoins woes.

“We are also confident that ‘scaling’ can’t be achieved by merely raising the block size, and right now the only viable solution we see for reaching scalability (and not short-term patches), while keeping Bitcoin’s features of censorship resistance , is moving transaction off-chain,” it wrote.

Name: Counterparty
Service: Bitcoin protocol

Similar to Colu, Counterparty is a top-level bitcoin protocol that seeks to enable asset creation on top of the bitcoin network.

As such, while it lamented the “increasing toxicity” in bitcoin surrounding the debate, it noted that it would eventually have to base its service on one of the two blockchains (should they evolve into separate markets).

“With whatever happens, we will not be maintaining two separate Counterparty networks, ever, but we keep the option open to switch from one to another if we can form a rough consensus in our community and we believe it is in the best interests of Counterparty users and developers,” the statement read.

Name: Canadian “Bitcoin Economic Nodes” Group
Service: Multi-sector
Members: Honey Badger, Bitcoiniacs, Bitcoin Brains, Bitcoin Embassy Quebec, Bitcoin Outlet, Bylls, Coincards, Coinkite, Crypto Broker, Crypto Jeweler, Échange de Montréal, Jordan Samulaitis (individual broker), Satoshi Counter, Satoshi Portal, QuickBT, Yuri Yerofeyev (individual broker)

On 27th March, a group of Candian businesses and entreprenuers released a joint statement staunchly opposing Bitcoin Unlimited. The group said that they support the activation of Segregated Witness and opposed any hard forks that could result in a network split.

“Under no circumstance will the current Bitcoin Unlimited proposal be considered by the undersigned to be the original Bitcoin cryptocurrency as described in the Satoshi whitepaper and as currently used under the denomination ‘Bitcoin’ in our businesses,” the statement read.

Are we missing any new statements? Let CoinDesk know in the comments below:

Pen and ink image via Shutterstock

Bitcoin CoreBitcoin ProtocolBitcoin UnlimitedBlock SizeScaling

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