Bitcoin Core Planning Improvements to Its Development Process

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The group of contributors behind Bitcoin Core, the reference implementation of the Bitcoin protocol, have taken a lot of heat in the past year or so due to the misunderstandings related to the project’s development process. The project has made strides towards improving their communications over the past six months, but there are many in the Bitcoin community who believe there is still room for improvement.

One of the key improvements for Bitcoin Core lately has been the introduction of Ciphrex CEO Eric Lombrozo as the spokesperson for the project. Lombrozo is a longtime contributor to the project, and he’s been tasked with the job of clarifying various aspects of Bitcoin Core with the media and the general public as a whole.

CoinJournal recently chatted with Lombrozo to get a better understanding of current and future improvements to the Bitcoin Core development process.

Development on Higher Protocol Layers

As many have come to learn over the past year, most Bitcoin Core contributors now view the Bitcoin blockchain as a settlement layer. Higher-layer protocols, such as the Lightning Network, are expected to improve the scalability of the network this year, but this focus on layered protocols also has implications for the development process. Lombrozo explained:

“Changes to consensus rules involve significant logistics challenges and can be contentious. It would be better if we could avoid having to change them frequently.”

When developers are able to experiment with the Bitcoin protocol in ways that do not break consensus, there should be an increase in experimentation and flexibility for new contributors to Bitcoin. Lombrozo stated, “The way I see it, the consensus layer should focus on dispute resolution and short proofs — with all the application logic in higher layers.”

New protocol layers, such as advanced payment channels and sidechains, could allow developers to bring new features to Bitcoin in a more-timely fashion.

Segregated Witness, BIP 9, and Sidechains are Helpful

In addition to the often-hyped sidechains and Lightning Network, Segregated Witness (SegWit) and BIP 9 may also be helpful in creating a more efficient development process. In the past, Lombrozo has spoken about the benefits of BIP 9 and its ability to allow many soft forks to be deployed simultaneously.

Johnson Lau, who is a relatively new contributor to Bitcoin Core, is currently working on a new scripting system for Bitcoin that could enable some useful features such as better privacy and trustless, cross-blockchain exchanges. He recently told CoinJournal, “SegWit and BIP 9 (Version Bits) makes introduction of new scripting system like MAST much easier than before.”

Lau also noted that re-enabling certain opcodes has been discussed for years, and he doesn’t think he would be able to implement new opcodes without the SegWit and BIP 9 framework. SegWit’s ability to simplify the process of updating Bitcoin’s scripting language has been touted as a key benefit of the improvement in the past, and the fact that this is Lau’s first C++ project is a testament to that simplification.

Figure Out Governance First

Of course, before a complete upgrade to Bitcoin Core’s development process can take place, much more needs to be figured out in regards to Bitcoin’s system of governance. Blockchains are still an extremely new area of study, so not many people (if anyone) completely understand how these systems should be governed at this point in time.

Although Bitcoin Core is attempting to create a more-open development process, Lombrozo falls short of saying developers should be able to push new changes to Bitcoin’s consensus rules directly to miners for their approval. He explained, “There needs to be a vetting process prior to deployment. We should not be deploying soft forks that are unlikely to activate.”

Closer collaboration between Bitcoin Core contributors and the worldwide bitcoin mining community appears to have led to a more efficient model of governance in 2016, but we’ll have to see how the BIP 9 rollouts of CHECKSEQUENCYVERIFY and Segregated Witness do over the next few weeks and months.

According to Lombrozo, miners have the power to enforce soft forks but not hard forks, which makes them (hard forks) a far more complicated tool for governance. Developers for other Bitcoin proposals, such as Bitcoin Classic and Bitcoin XT, tend to disagree with this view, but they have not gained anywhere near the necessary levels of support to implement their proposed changes.

Once more options for experimentation are available for developers, the pace of innovation on top of Bitcoin should increase.