Andresen: Ethereum Won't Replace Bitcoin, But it's More Decentralized


Andresen: Ethereum Won't Replace Bitcoin, But it's More Decentralized

Former Bitcoin Core lead developer Gavin Andresen has clarified comments he made comparing growth in the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks.

Also read: Historic Day For Bitcoin As Pool Starts Mining

In a tweet on September 25, Andresen said:

Many interpreted this statement as a prediction Ethereum would replace Bitcoin as the world’s preeminent cryptocurrency. But that’s not the case.

Ethereum Shows Large Blockchains Can Stay Decentralized

Speaking to, Andresen clarified his comment further, saying Ethereum is an example of how a more flexible protocol can remain decentralized.

Blockchain Bitcoin UnlimitedA major argument against increasing the Bitcoin transaction block size is the risk of network centralization. Larger blocks would require more bandwidth and storage space, causing smaller node operators to drop out.

Andresen thinks this notion is wrong, and that operators run nodes for other reasons. He has previously claimed Bitcoin would not suffer from a block size increase.

As for Ethereum, he said it demonstrates how a much larger blockchain can remain decentralized. He was surprised to discover the Ethereum network has around 6,000 nodes (estimated) compared to Bitcoin’s 5,000.

The Bitcoin blockchain size is currently around 84.9 GB. Ethereum’s is smaller but grows at a faster rate, despite Bitcoin’s five-year head start. Some Ethereum client software also “prunes” the blockchain to reduce size.

Ethereum Won’t Replace Bitcoin

Ethereum’s permissiveness and wider range of use cases could be vital to maintaining enthusiasm.

“If I’m correct, and the size of the chain has nothing to do with the number of nodes (but is a reflection of how useful people find the chain to accomplish whatever they’re trying to accomplish), then it seems very likely that next year Ethereum will be even less centralized (as measured by the number of nodes on their network) than Bitcoin even as its blockchain size exceeds the Bitcoin blockchain’s size.”

Andresen’s comparison, however, doesn’t diminish Bitcoin’s current strength or position as the world’s favorite cryptocurrency.

Ethereum logo“That doesn’t mean Bitcoin will be dead or that ether will replace bitcoin as the number one cryptocurrency,” Andresen said. “5,000 nodes is plenty, it won’t matter much if Ethereum ends up with 100,000 — ordinary people don’t know or care how many nodes are relaying or validating their transactions.”

Even if the Bitcoin network falls to 1,000 nodes in 50 countries, that’s still decentralized enough, Andresen added. The potential for governments to force ISPs to deny service to Bitcoin nodes represents a “tiny” threat that a thousand nodes could counter.

Look Elsewhere for Internet Threats

Lower levels of the internet technology stack are more centralized and more vulnerable, he said. People worried about risks should look at the domain name system and machines making up the internet’s border gateway protocol backbone. Those risks, however, are still small.

Andresen pointed out in May that no other widely-used internet protocol has an arbitrary hard size limit like Bitcoin’s. While the border gateway protocol has certain traffic limits, it’s still nothing like Bitcoin’s.

Andresen Still Thinking About Future Bitcoin Role

Gavin Andresen
Gavin Andresen

Though no longer actively writing code for Bitcoin Core, Andresen still has a lot of influence in the cryptocurrency world. He has spoken out against the 1MB block size limit in the past, saying current blocks are more full than many realize.

Other Core developers revoked Andresen’s (and fellow developer Jeff Garzik’s) commit access to the Bitcoin code a few months ago. Their reasoning was opaque and controversial, citing a fear Andresen was “hacked” after he met with Craig Wright and said Wright was likely Satoshi Nakamoto.

Andresen received no official notice of who revoked his access or the real reason for doing so. Core has some great coders but the team needs to think more about processes, community and communication, he said.

For now, Andresen is considering how (and if) he still wants to play an active role in Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency world.

“Lots of smart people are doing lots of interesting things, which is fantastic … I have the luxury of being able to take some time to step back and decide what I want my role to be.”

Do you agree that Ethereum shows how large blockchains can remain decentralized? Should Gavin Andresen continue to speak out on Bitcoin issues?

Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Bitcoin Unlimited, Ethereum

Tags in this story
Bitcoin Block Size, Block Size Debate, Craig Wright, Decentralization, Gavin Andresen

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Jon Southurst

Jon Southurst has been interested in bitcoin since reading Neal Stephenson's 'Cryptonomicon' in 2012. A long-time tech writer, he has been a regular contributor at CoinDesk and has written for, DeepDotWeb and ancient print publications. He lives on an artificial island in Tokyo.

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