Hards Forks and Soft Forks Explained In A Nutshell

what is Bitcoin Forking


Have you ever done an update on your phone? Bet, you have. There’s an update of some new features or terms/conditions added by the company that they wish to integrate to the app. These terms and conditions are self-imposed or centralized, meaning, the company or app provider might not ask you to agree to the same for enforcement and integration. So, simply a pop-up and you are good to update your app anticipating some new features to fall into place. Sounds simple, right! With that said, the world of cryptosphere and blockchain is quite different than this. On the network, when there are changes, it must be enforced via a consensus. If not, they result in forking. But there are different categories of forking on the blockchain network which is mentioned as the following; 


Temporary Forking 


Mining is the mechanism to validate blocks on the blockchain network, but there are times when two blocks are simultaneously mined and this causes a lot of contention for validation. To help deal with the same, the blockchain network validates the block with the longest chain, since the protocol allows the longest chain to be considered as valid for adding to the network


Permanent Forking 


Permanent forking is when there is something that has been enforced which you can never return back to. For example, when you upgrade your software versions like Mac OS Sierra or Mojave moving to Catalina. It is possible to switch back to Mac OS Sierra or Mojave  but it is definitely not possible to go back to Catalina 10.15.6 version from the latest 10.15.7 version. That’s what permanent forking is all about. But even permanent forking has diversions ahead and you will get to know about it in the form of soft-forking & hard forking. 


What is Soft Forking? 


It is a type of upgrade on the blockchain network which is backward compatible. Meaning, if you own a Macbook Air and you are presently using the macOS Catalina, there is a provision to go back to Sierra or Mojave as per the need and convenience of the network. Generally, when a soft fork event is happening on the blockchain, it is not necessary for the network to get a consensus for the update. The reason for this is the flexibility that soft-forking provides like the network to either stick to the present upgrade or, they have even the opportunity to join the new nodes with the new upgrades. In some of the cases, the block might split if they see there is increasing network traffic and transactions are taking a lot of time. To help mitigate the same, they might set-up new rules that might minimize the block size to 500 KB from 1 MB supposedly. 


Segwit is a good example of a soft-fork. In the Segwit network, the community decided to optimize the block space by including more transactions in the block if necessary space was available. To help achieve the same, the public key and trans-sig were removed that used to occupy almost 60% of the blocksize. The segregation of the transactions per block was witnessed by the community and approved via a consensus mechanism. 


What is Hard Forking? 


Hard forking is permanent where you can always see the last transaction at which you diverged but no new updates are available to you after leaving the previous network of blocks. Or, in plain simple terms, you can just think of the operating system that you use on iPhone XS, the same operating system is not compatible with iPhone 6s. In the event of hard forking, the new participants are needed to upgrade to the new ledger else they will be termed invalid on the network. All the previous nodes are subject to following new updates, features and they can never go back to the previous network. 


Bitcoin or BTC  Blockchain breaking into Bitcoin Cash or BCH is the best example of hard forking. BTCs hard-fork happened because there were network participants who were not approving of the Sigwit consensus of 1 MB. Having said that, they completely agreed to set-up a new eco-system on the blockchain network that would accommodate an 8 MB space upgrade for more transaction processing capability. 



Blockchain needs to evolve with time and forking allows greater democratization rather than imposing fascist principles on the chain network. With forking, the scope for scalability in blockchain has already broadened and present times will help make this consensus feature much more robust and accommodative for wide-scale adoption.

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