Tom Zander
Jan 12, 2017

Bitcoin: the long view.

Bitcoin is an amazing idea and has been running with great success for 8 years. It is far from perfect, though. Many issues will take time to rectify in a good and responsible manner. I want to share my longer time engineering goals for the Bitcoin full node which direct my priorities and you have been able to see some of these already in the Bitcoin Classic full node which released its 1.2 version last week.

1 Protocol documentation

Bitcoin as a whole is something we often call a protocol. But unlike most protocols, there is preciously little documentation out there that describes in detail what actually goes over the wire.

The first goal is to move towards a Bitcoin that is fully documented. The point here is that the documentation of the protocol is to be 'leading'. So if there are two implementations that disagree, the protocol-documentation is the one that is right. This avoids fluffy arguments like who has the biggest market share or who has been around longest as those somehow being more right.

2 Backwards compatibility of protocol

Parts of the current Bitcoin protocol were designed without keeping in mind industry best practices. For many parts this is not a big deal, but some those best practices were there for a very good reason. A good example is that practically all of the data structures in the Bitcoin protocol are not changeable. It is impossible to add a value to a p2p message, you can't remove an unused variable that is stored in each and every transaction.

The second goal is to move towards tagged protocol data-structures. The idea of tagged data goes back decades, well before Bitcoin was created. The point here is that we know mistakes have been made and will continue to be made by humans extending and fixing Bitcoin. For this reason we need the ability to cleanly make backwards compatible changes. Adding a new field in an existing p2p message is much cleaner than having to create an entire new message-type with all the same info, plus one item.

Note; The basic concepts of Bitcoin are sane and sound, we should not change those!

3 Access to blockchain as a database

Bitcoin as an industry depends on the blockchain as the universal database that everyone shares and uses. The main property of a database is that it can provide fast access to the information you seek. A normal database would be able to return all transactions since a certain date, as a quick example.

Unfortunately the blockchain in any full node has data-access methods that are quite primitive and very very slow, making the blockchain essentially private data. This means that block explorers end up having to re-create a full database. Research of usage patterns and many properties are limited to a few that have plenty of patience.

The third goal is to move towards a full node that provides full access to Bitcoin, including its database. The simple access of the raw data is something that can be made substantially faster and it opens the node to being much more useful for a large range of features.

This blog originated from the classic long term roadmap which has a second section going into more detail on each of those goals.

Join the Bitcoin Classic community

Do these goals align with what you are looking for in Bitcoin? Please consider joining us. Running the client, sending an email when you find a typo or simply sharing your story on reddit are great ways to start. Read the Classic community page for many more ways to join this exciting movement.