Toms Blog

Where I talk about Bitcoin and Technology

Tom Zander

Bitcoin Classic was started as a response to the market need for bigger blocks and an alternative developer group to provide it, as primary and first way to get Bitcoin to scale to the next million. Since that first release in February we have come a long way. The Bitcoin landscape has changed, and mostly for the better. This is an accomplishment a lot of us can be proud of.

Our two main goals were to have more distributed development and to have bigger blocks. We are a lot closer to both ideals, but there is more work to be done.

I personally started this journey some 3 years ago. I tried the code that was Bitcoin Core and wanted to improve upon some things that annoyed me. Now 3 years later I have seen every file and most of the code of what is in Bitcoin. It is a very rewarding problem to study and can occupie one for years.

My primary role in Bitcoin Classic is one of release manager. This essentially means I take the responsibility to get the highest quality releases. Next to that I love to innovate and write code. I've been doing a lot of that over the last months.

So, why title this blog "Classic is back"? The truth is, it never really went away. I think its fair to say that Classic stepped aside when the 2MB band-aid solution we shipped caused a lot of market response and discussion. But Classic has always been there. Busy, coding, improving things.

One of the changes we have seen in the market is a change in understanding how all Bitcoin software can work together. This idea has been used many times before, so has stood the test of time already. It is about how we can have a limit without setting a limit in the software.
All software, when it is immature and only targets a small amount of users, has limits build in. These limits are really there because the author learned that his software is not good enough to do more and a limit is by far the easiest 'solution'.

This design isn't uncommon, the older ones among us may remember that Ms DOS had a memory size of 640kB. Emails 20 years ago had a maximum size of 1MB.

As part of growing up of that software; better solutions were found that made those limits obsolete. The limits were removed and people were happy.

Removing of the limits in software doesn't make them unlimited. It just makes other costs limit the actual size. You still can't send a DVD sized email. The maximum size now is determined by the market. A basic calculation of cost and benefit.

Lets take a look at some market incentives that a Bitcoin Miner has;

These are conflicting incentives. There are both reasons for bigger and there are reasons for smaller blocks. The end result will be, that blocks will have a size set based on the market demand for space in those blocks. Simply because that is the most profitable for miners to do. The good thing here is that the best situation for miners is a pretty good situation for everyone else in Bitcoin as well.

What Andrew Stone came up with is that everyone publishes the maximum size they are willing to accept and this makes the market of block sizes become an open market. Now miners can decide what the ideal block size is, without fearing that their blocks will be rejected by other miners for being too large.

A purely market driven block size is a big change for Bitcoin and it may take a bit more time before everyone gets used to it, and in the mean time Classic is working on several next-generation projects.

Network manager / Admin server

In Classic I started a project that is the Network Manager, a replacement network layer which solves many of the problems we have with the p2p code we have inherited from the Satoshi client. On top of this is currently being build an admin server. The admin server will fill the role of remote control. You can create transactions, query the block chain, sign data and ask it to make coffee. All but the last are already present and this admin server just uses that existing functionality from the 'Bitcoin-cli' app.

The place where it shines is that the speed is various magnitudes faster and it allows not just asking questions like a webserver, but the admin server has a live connection and it pushes out data. For instance when a new block comes in.

So it enabled a new set of network enabled tools that can be created with it. Some examples where its going to be used are; * Application management software which monitors any number of nodes under its control for warnings and slowness. But also for operational statistics, like how many mega-bytes have been sent. * Scientific research to query the entire blockchain without having to store it locally. * much faster uploads of big blocks from a miner to the full node.

This project is nearing 80% completion. Is Classic back on track?

Flexible Transactions (BIP134)

In the original Bitcoin 0.1 release Satoshi Nakamoto included a design that is a very good indication of his intentions for the future. He included a version field for transactions. Today, 8 years after the fact, we are still using the exact same format that was introduced as version 1 all those years ago. We are not really using this version field that Satoshi provided.

There are plenty of problems we have in Bitcoins design which would benefit immensely from actually being able to make fixes in the transaction format. And flexible transactions is a protocol upgrade that is meant to make that happen.

The Flexible Transaction proposal has been under development for a couple of months now and we currently solve quite a lot of issues in this first version.

Fixes Bitcoin issues;

Where are we now?

Flexible Transactions is running on a testnet. The functionality is 80% done. We have some more tests to run.

Bitcoin Classic is definitely back.

Developer friendly

Bitcoin Classic is based on the 8 years old Satoshi codebase, I myself have been spending more time than expected learning this codebase and I know from other developers I'm definitely not alone. The codebase is not even that large! The most often heard complaint is that that it lacks a modular design.

Hard to understand code leads to lower quality products. This is very simple to understand: programmers are just human and they make mistakes when they have to create clean code in a dirty environment. I think it makes a lot of sense to have a focus on improving the architecture and the code quality of Bitcoin Classic. The goal is to help developers understand the code faster and at the same time help our products to be of higher quality.

Because there is such a lack of modular design, the best way to start fixing this is to introduce this modular design. Basics like an "Application" class as a starting point for application-wide resources have been coded and more is coming.

The various products I mentioned today are also all based on common and reusable technologies. The introduction of a common message-format will be the common layer between the Flexible Transactions and the Network Manager and the Admin Server, as a quick example.

I feel its very important to work on all these improvements together with other teams that are part of Bitcoin. They have their own improvements and in the end we want to reuse each others innovations and, ultimately, code. I have had many good conversations with people like Pedro Pinheiro, Dagur Valberg Johansson (dagurval), Amaury Sechet (deadalNix), Andrea Suisani (sickpig), Freetrader and Justus Ranvier whom are great people to work with and cover the majority of the Bitcoin implementations. There is a lot of overlap in what we do and how we think.

The important part is the differences. Each Bitcoin Client is unique in its own way and this is useful for everyone. This helps to avoid the echo-chamber problem and we avoid killing ideas that are before their time. More people competing on a friendly basis will benefit everyone and that is what it means to have many implementations of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin Classic is back. Bitcoin Classic is working on some pretty exciting things and we have all come a long way.