Blockchain technology, for all its great uses and applications, is an evolving technology. Every time a new system comes out on the market, it is assumed that something has been improved upon from other previous systems. Sometimes, a developer will attempt to fix problems within their own systems to provide a better user experience. You may ask how this is possible if blockchain systems are immutable and can’t be tampered with. This is known as a fork.
Similar to forks in the road, the idea of a fork is where a system diverges into new directions. There are two different forms: hard forks or soft forks. A soft fork is more of a curve in the road than a fork in it. A developer gathers consensus from stake holders or miners on the system through a vote and — either by use of smart contract or developer intervention — the system is altered to accommodate the changes needed. In the case of a hard fork, an entirely new system breaks off from the original one and two chains are left.
There are many cases of this because blockchain technology is relatively new and has had issues like any other new technology. Bitcoin ended up with Bitcoin Cash (BCH) as a result of not having enough space for effective transactions per second. Ethereum has had various forks to keep up with demand and necessity. Still yet, various others break away to improve, solve and mediate problems on their respective blockchain. Whatever the reason for a fork may be, the idea is that after it has been done, the new system is better than before and is based off of the same block history as the original.
The problem with forks is in the consensus. Whether or not the developer is right in wanting to make changes to the system, it is ultimately up to the stake holders or miners to decide whether to follow or not. The blockchain’s consensus system is designed so that the community has the final say regardless. This also holds true when simply describing how miners confirm blocks; a 51% consensus means that a block is validated. Even if the developer creates the new chain and convinces a majority of users to convert to it, the minority of users who do not choose to do so may continue on with the old protocol without a problem. The inverse of this situation occurred when a large amount of Bitcoin (BTC) users decided not to use Bitcoin Cash (BCH), which then hard forked from Bitcoin to operate its own blockchain.
Other forms of fork consensus can appear through smart contracts that will give users the opportunity to vote on whether or not the updating of the blockchain is necessary. This allows for consensus to be built democratically among those who use the blockchain and does not require the entire rebuilding of a system. Within the confines of this idea, a consensus is made through stake. Those who hold more coins have a greater say in the choice, but ultimately, it comes down to the vote that makes the difference. Should the decision result in the smart contract being approved, changes are automatically made on the respective blockchain. If not, the blockchain continues on as it was. For example, this is the case with the Tezos coin.
Forks are necessary concepts in blockchain technology. As we continue to develop and understand the technology, we understand more about their capacity and capabilities. Conversely, hackers and other individuals who are interested in malicious activity are becoming more apt at attacking blockchain systems. These considerations make it necessary to develop systems and build on existing ones for the safety of the users already utilizing the blockchain. These kinds of changes are going to become increasingly important as time goes on and some of the major issues of blockchain systems become solved.
One of these such issues is that of scalability. Bitcoin has an average upload speed of seven transactions per second. Naturally, other protocols are far more capable. However, the fact remains that, as systems get faster and more efficient, older chains need to keep up. This was the case with our ILCoin Blockchain Project. One result of a hard fork we implemented managed to bring to our users a system that was scalable as well as entirely decentralized. These two concepts co-existing within a blockchain was unattainable before we developed our system beyond its earlier capacity. Now with our RIFT Protocol, we are able to upload between 71839 and 119731 transactions per second. Our users understood the need for this step and supported us in the creation of the new system. We have now accomplished five gigabytes of data within a single block.
As improvements of systems for greater usability, forks are a sign of development, of learning and of the forward movement of the industry. Our RIFT Protocol is paving the way for the Decentralized Cloud Blockchain (DCB); a system that we intend to release later this year. The DCB will be built utilizing the RIFT Protocol as its foundation. Utilizing this secure and scalable block size, DCB will allow for complete on-chain data storage that will be decentralized by the very nature of the blockchain. This makes for a safer, easier and more effective blockchain experience but also sets a standard for all future blockchains to come. This isn’t simply a move forward for our users, but a chance for everyone to become a step closer to a blockchain that can be used by all. This is the goal to which we should aspire: to innovate, to move and to change the world for the better.
A divergence of technology into a new system may not sound like a particularly interesting concept to begin with. However, within it, there is a lot to be excited about. It’s an opportunity for something new and grandiose; something that could change the way we work and interact with each other. Forks can lead to things we never knew were possible.
So, the next time your favorite blockchain comes to that fork in the road and needs an upgrade, don’t panic. Things are only bound to get better. Developers have a keen sense of what needs to be done, and if you truly trust a blockchain, it will only be for the better.