Have you ever needed to make a big decision? Maybe it’s where to go to college, or even to go to college at all. Maybe it’s what car to buy. Maybe it’s who to marry, or if you should breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend. These decisions are big, but they’re big because each option we pick could completely change our path of life.
If we pick to marry this person, our life will go one way, if we pick to not marry them, it will go a completely different way. Some would call these decisions “forks” in our lives and if you were to zoom out on all of our decisions, you could see your life could go a completely different route. When it comes to big decisions like this, you can look at your life as having 2 different futures. The future is uncertain, so you have to pick very carefully. When it comes to having 2 futures, there’s a concept in crypto and the development world to explain major changes in code. We call these forks.
What is a Fork?
In the development world of programming, a fork is an updated or new version of code that is simply old code that has been changed a bit. In the sense of crypto, a fork could refer to two potential ways that a blockchain could continue. Its basically a change in protocol. However, there are two forms of these changes, soft forks and hard forks. Let’s go over them, then we will talk about which one is better, or which one may be more dangerous.
A soft fork doesn’t require the miners to do anything different. They can keep mining in the same fashion they have been and they don’t have to do anything. Nevertheless, the intended changes will be made. This would be like if your parents get divorced. As a child, you don’t really have to do anything – you just continue living your life under their new set of rules.
A hard fork does require the miners to do something. Whether it’s updating their software or change some numbers in the software or some other intentional action, a miner must make a change to contribute to the network if a hard fork happens. The idea here is that the old blocks are so different than the new blocks in the blockchain, that the miner’s old software can’t work with it. It’s kinda like if you buy a new car – you’ll probably have to buy a new key, the old key just won’t work, and it might not even fit… depending on how old your car was. In a similar manner, a hard fork changes the block structure in a manner that requires all the people participating in the network to intentionally make a change to continue mining.
In our divorce analogy, which is a bit morbid, but we always use funny or exciting examples on this channel, a hard fork would be like when your spouse tells you to stop drinking or they are going to divorce you. You can continue what you are doing if you want, but they aren’t going to stick around. Actually, that is a great example of a fork, because you technically could still keep mining using the old protocol, while everyone else moves to the new protocol.
Which ones are more dangerous?
You would think hard forks are the most dangerous because they have the greatest ability to change a protocol. However, Vitalik says soft forks are more dangerous, because you don’t have to agree to the change, there is less friction to the change. Using a few soft forks, and some creative ways to work without changing too much of the current architecture, you can make some major changes to a program. However, you will always be bottlenecked by the fact that you must be confined by how the current blocks work. So both have power.
Examples of Crypto Forks
Ethereum Classic is a great example of a fork, but there are other famous forks as well.
Litecoin is actually a fork of bitcoin, meaning they copied the original code and then changed it purposefully so much that it’s a whole different coin. In fact, some people would say they made some improvements. They made there be 4 times as many total litecoins than bitcoins, the fork also made the block size larger and block time shorter, which made the transaction fees much lower, and the transaction time much faster. Basically, it’s a much faster and cheaper version of bitcoin. But there’s a trade off. We don’t have time to discuss the tradeoffs, but you should subscribe if you haven’t already and when we post our Litecoin video, you’ll learn the specifics.
Bitcoin Cash is very similar to Bitcoin, but they wanted to make the cryptocurrency actually scalable. To show you what I mean, Bitcoin can only process around 5 transactions a second, which is really, really slow using today’s fast-paced economic system. Bitcoin cash simply increased the block size so more transactions could happen per second, up to 60 per second, which is a huge improvement.
Ethereum Classic Fork
This is actually how Ethereum classic was created. During Ethereum’s early days, there was an organization called the DAO that was essentially a venture capitalist fund of $150,000,000. Around a third of that money was stolen by hackers, but this is where the fork happened. Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, said “that’s not right, let’s give them back their money”. And so he did and this became the blockchain we know today. The other blockchain, which didn’t have the money reverted, is known as ethereum classic, and we call it classic because it runs on the old rules of Ethereum. Blockchain purists think we shouldn’t be able to intervene like that, but we did and now there’s 2 blockchains, 2 forks, from one decision. What do you think about it, was it right? Let us know in the comments below!