The Great Big Block Size Debate

The Great Big Block Size Debate

Since core developer Gavin Andresen announced his proposal to the Bitcoin community to increase the block size many have been in high debate. The question is when the March 2016 date arrives will consensus be met? With miners, exchanges, core developers and the community in such an uproar it’s hard to say.

Bitcoin is an open source protocol. Its core development is headed by Wladimir J. van der Laan, Gavin Andresen, Jeff Garzik, Gregory Maxwell, and Pieter Wuille. Among these five developers the code has seen others such as Peter Todd contribute to the Bitcoin code. Roughly 259 individuals have added to the the protocol and its core. Between them all and other voices over 7,400 commits have happened.

“I am – in general – in favor of increasing the size blocks: as technology grows — Pieter Wuille, Developer

This leads to another important question. Does everyone take part in this system and have a final say in the code? The answer as of now would be yes. Gavin does indeed influence the Bitcoin project to an extent. Widely recognised as the main developer behind the scenes, and all five of them have great and different opinions. However if any of the five core developers chose not to seek consensus, or were to change any core aspect of the client they would fail. It would undermine the work of many, and there would be many disagreements. Not just from those who have contributed code but also wallet servers, miners and mining pools, and exchanges. March 11, 2013 is a perfect example of miners refuting a hard fork. Bitcoin is a peer to peer system and completely open source.

Over the course of this discussion many in the community had a lot to say about Gavins proposal and his following blog posts. Blog posts which addressed certain arguments against his idea showed Andresen has been committed to this change. People like Peter Todd, Mike Hearn, and Andreas Antonopoulos had very strong opinions from the get go. Todd and others stating from the get go of Andresens proposal that not all the developers agreed with the increased block size. Arguments such as higher fees, and centralization are core issues with the increase. Positives of increasing the size include faster transaction times, and various scaling fixes.

“Block size is a question to which there is no answer, but which
certainly has a LOT of technical tradeoffs to consider.”
— Gregory Maxwell, Developer

These debates have fueled many different Bitcoin clients appearing to the public. Such as Bitcoin XT run by developer Mike Hearn. Bitcoin XT acts as a test net for the Bitcoin core and is increasing its block size as we speak. Even Andresen has expressed the intentions of adoption in a SourceForge message saying Bitcoin Core users would be asked to adopt the new changes and then approach the miners. Mike Hearn currently leads and has full commit access to XT.

Bitcoin Core is not really changed in drastic ways. There have been a bunch of hard and soft forks throughout its existence. Developer van der Laan said the core is changed in a “non-controversial and janitorial” manner. Two of China’s largest exchanges BTCChina and Huobi have been against the 20mb increased proposed by developers. Some miners and various pools have also disagreed with the Increase. Various pools from China have requested an 8mb increase rather than the 20. The increased number of megabytes has been all over the map in this heated debate.

A higher limit can be phased in once we have actual use closer to the limit and make sure it’s working OK. — Mike Hearn Developer

On June 22nd core developer Jeff Garzik had an interesting discussion with another fellow developer Pieter Wuille. Posted to reddit Jeff shows the public his discussion. Peter writes:Some people have called the prospect of limited block space and the development of a free market a change in policy compared to the past. I respectfully disagree with that. Bitcoin Core is not running the Bitcoin economy, and its developers have no authority to set its rules. Change in economics is always happening, and should be expected. Worse, intervening in consensus changes would make the ecosystem more dependent on the group taking that decision, not less.This completely ignores reality, what users have experienced for the past ~6 years.

Jeff responds with: “Change in economics is always happening” does not begin to approach the scale of the change.


For the entirety of bitcoin’s history, absent long blocks and traffic bursts, fee pressure has been largely absent.


Users & market are forced through a second period of chaos and disruption as the free market is rebooted again by changing the block size limit.


The average user hears a lot of noise on both sides of the block size debate, and really has no idea that the new “let a fee market develop” Bitcoin Core policy is going to raise fees on them.


It is clear that – “let the free market develop, Right Now” has not been thought through – Users are not prepared for a brand new economic policy – Users are unaware that a brand new economic policy will be foisted upon them” — Jeff Garzik Bitcoin, Developer

A week ago Jeff has proposed to increase the Bitcoin Core block size to 2mb. The Linux expert and self described libertarian has often given his views publicly to redditors. Currently blocks are created every 10 minutes and only hold 1mb of transaction data. If core developers reach an agreement, Garzik and several others want to initiate BIP 102 a fallback plan if consensus does not meet around the entire network.

“All that has to do be done to change bitcoin to a new economic policy – not seen in the entire 6 year history of bitcoin – is to stonewall work on block size.


“Closing size increase PRs and failing to participate in planning for a block size increase accomplishes your stated goal of changing bitcoin to a new economic policy.”


“no [code] change”… changes bitcoin to a brand new economic policy, picking economic winners & losers. Some businesses will be priced out of bitcoin, etc.


Stonewalling size increase changes is just as much as a Ben Bernanke/FOMC move as increasing the hard limit by hard fork. — Jeff Garzik, Developer

Needless to say the debate is not over. Many are worried that consensus may never be reached with all the disagreements. With accusations flying everywhere, and the supposed use of sock puppets one would wonder if a conclusion can be met. A lot of people are skeptical of the proposed upcoming hard fork, and offer different alternatives showing testing as example.

However many are also positive about increasing the the block size and show in test net environments why the increase works as well. Increased transaction time could make global remittance solutions possible with Bitcoin. A smaller block size may not be adequate to handle such commitment. Although there’s also the voice of ‘If its not broke, don’t fix it’ which is also represented in this argument.

Do you see consensus reached by March 2016? Let us know in the comments below.

 
Images courtesy of Twitter and Redmemes