During a conversation with Muneeb Ali of Blockstack at Blockstack Summit 2017, BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen shared some of his thoughts on the current state of the Bitcoin development process. Key viewpoints shared by Cohen included a preference for soft forks over hard forks, blaming bitcoin miners for blocking Segregated Witness (SegWit), and what he views as unwarranted vitriol aimed at the Bitcoin Core contributors.
Compatible Changes in P2P Networks
In an early part of the conversation, Ali asked Cohen for his thoughts on how to make changes to P2P protocols that are already deployed on a massive scale. Cohen’s response illustrated a preference for backwards compatible changes, which generally come in the form of soft forks in Bitcoin.
“You have two peers that are talking to each other and a compatible change [or] soft fork is where, if you have a new peer talking to an old peer, they will talk to each other happily and it will continue to work,” explained Cohen. “And you can have incompatible changes where if a new peer tried to talk to an old peer the communications just won’t happen.”
Cohen added that, in his view, compatible changes should be preferred “all the time” because incompatible changes “just kind of don’t work.”
The BitTorrent inventor also clarified that there can be situations where incompatible changes are rolled out over many years. He provided an example of changes in BitTorrent that took place over the course of a decade.
“You really, really want very long time periods of compatibility before you allow incompatibility to happen,” Cohen added.
Pointing the Finger at Bitcoin Miners
In Cohen’s view, the current issues with the development of the Bitcoin protocol are “pretty easy to identify.”
“It’s the miners being butthurt,” claimed Cohen.
Here, it appeared Cohen was referring to bitcoin miners not updating their software to activate SegWit until many months after it had been included in a version of Bitcoin Core.
In Cohen’s view, SegWit was a remarkably good proposal from the contributors to Bitcoin Core. He described it as a bug fix and noted that SegWit should have been included in Bitcoin from day one. The improvement also added a de facto increase in the block size limit, which is a change specific segments of the Bitcoin user base had been clamoring for, in a backwards compatible manner.
“The expectations were that this would just go through quickly because there wasn’t any objective, good reason to block it,” said Cohen. “And then the miners just kind of started throwing a tantrum and held it up.”
Cohen pointed to the ASICBOOST controversy as a possible reason for the holdup.
“They still seem to have this delusion that they can just like do a hard fork and people will follow them, and I think it’s very important for just the health and viability of Bitcoin generally that the community at large tells them to take a flying leap and understand their place in the world,” added Cohen.
Comments on the Criticisms of Bitcoin Core
In Cohen’s view, the “vitriol” that is thrown at many of the contributors to Bitcoin Core is unwarranted because they’ve been doing normal development and “getting stuff done.” He noted that the source of this criticism for Bitcoin Core contributors seems to come from those developers not wanting to implement bad ideas.
“You came to them with a proposal and they told you it wasn’t a good idea: What more do you want from them?” Cohen asked.
“Almost everyone with a clue is behind [Bitcoin] Core’s general roadmap,” added Cohen.