The implementation of BIP 101 into Bitcoin XT has been, perhaps, the most controversial move in the Bitcoin development community up to this point. Bitcoin XT’s acceptance of larger blocks has been embraced by some Bitcoin Core contributors, while others are wary of making a change that could alter the requirements for running a full node on the network. Bitcoin Core Contributor Peter Todd has been a vocal critic of BIP 101, but he has found a reason to be happy about the proposal’s inclusion in Mike Hearn’s Bitcoin XT.
The Community Should Control Protocol Changes
Peter Todd does not believe that a block size increase should be taken lightly, but he does see value in helping more people learn about Bitcoin governance through the battle between Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin XT. During the recent Bitcoin Pacifica 2015 Bitcoin Governance Panel, Todd expanded on the idea that changes to the protocol should come through community adoption rather than a cabal of core developers:
“I personally, I was extremely happy to go see Bitcoin XT, get developed and get pushed because from a governance point of view I think it really helped people understand how did the governance of bitcoin actually work to the extent that it was not under control for a small group of people. It’s rather convincing that a much broader community -- to go into offering something and if it turns out that the Bitcoin XT becomes more popular than Bitcoin Core, great. I would be very glad to see that recognition happen -- that it is not those group of people who control things, it’s rather community adoption. How we measure community adoption, how we get the process, that’s very tricky but I wouldn’t want to be working at the system where that wasn’t true.”
Bitcoin Core Developers Avoid Controversial Changes
There is a misconception of how the Bitcoin development process works in certain segments of the overall Bitcoin community. Some people believe that the Bitcoin Core developers have ultimate control over the protocol, but that is not true when you consider that a new development team can fork the code and create a completely different software client. The Bitcoin XT controversy has been a useful illustration of this point. As Todd noted during the recent panel discussion, the knowledge that the overall community also has a say in development matters has prevented Bitcoin Core developers from making controversial protocol changes in the past:
“I’m going to make the point though that as much as you have this notion of the Bitcoin Core devs call the shots, in practice I think they’re extremely concerned and they recognize and they think about this all the time, the issue, to the extent that they want to go push through a change that does not have wide consensus across the entire community. For the most part, they’ve always avoided that. I can’t think off the top of my head, any changes that we’ve made to bitcoin core where a significant chunk of the community really disagree with.”
It’s possible that having multiple software clients with different development teams could free developers up to implement more progressive changes that may not make their way into the current, somewhat-stagnant Bitcoin Core system.
Users Won’t Adopt Changes Against Their Will
One last note made by Todd during the panel discussion had to do with what actually happens when a controversial change is brought to the core developers. Sure, the developers could implement the change, but the reality is users don’t have to upgrade to the new version of Bitcoin Core against their will:
“Always what happens is, if you run into a situation like that, for the most part, you do nothing and to the extent I would say, it’s not a case where it’s a centralized environment. It’s a case where, sure, a small group of people have a little bit and some sort of Github that lets them push the change on some location but the concept of what Bitcoin is, is not under the control of any one group of people. It may look that way, but I think we would point out very quickly, had those people tried to make a change against the will of others, nothing would have happened.”
Although “doing nothing” has been the solution for controversial protocol changes in the past, that philosophy does not work for something as vital as scaling the blockchain to accommodate more users and transactions. It appears that some progress has been made in the block size limit debate over the past few months, but there is still work to be done when it comes to finding the proper governance model for Bitcoin.
Kyle is a freelance writer who has been interested in bitcoin since 2011. His work has been featured on Business Insider, VICE Motherboard, Let's Talk Bitcoin, RT's Keiser Report, and many other media outlets. Follow the author on Twitter @kyletorpey