Ethereum’s next hard fork, “Constantinople”, is a software upgrade that is expected to bring new stamina to its Blockchain. A simultaneous upgrading of the Network nodes throughout the platform is planned sometime between Jan 16 – 18.
Following its implementation, Ethereum Network users should be experiencing a pronounced improvement in transaction speeds, fees and Smart Contract usage. Basically, in the case of the Ethereum Network, a hard fork implies a package of EIPs (Ethereum Improvement Proposals) that have been accepted and will be added in the group of enhancements for the system.
Each EIP is composed of a structured proposal aimed at resolving one specific issue in engineering that has long been considered. In this case, it has been explained by Ethereum’s experts that many of the EIPs to be implemented are related to fixing or scaling technological aspects of Proof of Work (PoW) and Proof of Stake (PoS) algorithms, or in other words, related to the components of the system that process all transactions and all coin mining.
The Ethereum Network is a Blockchain that was created a few years after Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s Blockchain was conceived in January 2009, exactly 10 years ago, as a Blockchain whose only purpose was to function as a global monetary system with the main objective of offering security and scalability. Later, Ethereum envisioned to go beyond this. In 2015, Ethereum proposed a totally new kind of Blockchain, one capable of running computing programs called “Smart Contracts”, and also decentralized applications called “DApps”.
The purpose of this novel kind of Blockchain was to become a global supercomputer on top of which all kinds of institutions, companies or projects could be built. Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum in based on a programming language and paradigm which is Turing-complete (meaning theoretically any kind of program can be built with it). Ether is the cryptocurrency behind Ethereum that serves as the fuel that drives its platform of distributed applications. To this time in 2019, Ethereum already hosts thousands of decentralized applications based on Smart Contracts.
The technical term “hard fork” or “hardfork”, as it is applied to Ethereum, refers to a type of upgrade to the platform that implies radical changes in the consensus rules. That is, there will be a change in certain basic rules of the game. In Blockchain engineering, when a change has the name of “hard fork” – as opposed to those known as “soft forks” – what is meant is that the software prior to this update becomes incompatible with the new system.
Many people associate the idea of ”hard fork” with the concept of “Contentious Hard Fork” which is a change in the fundamental rules of the system that is given based on a dispute within the organization that administers the Blockchain and can cause a split into two different Blockchains. Constantinople is not a contentious hard fork. This hard fork is not intended to divide the community or the Blockchain. Rather, it could be called a friendly and relatively welcomed hard fork.
It is important to take note on one particular detail in order to feel safe about one’s own coins or applications, if one is an Ethereum user. Many people are understandably worried about potential consequences toward their wallets or against the Apps using Ethereum. No consequences are being foreseen to happen to people’s coins or Smart Contracts. Funds will remain safe in their accounts. Nobody’s account will suffer a change. Most common wallets won’t experience any problems. However, if one is running a full node (for example Geth or Parity), then it will be necessary to upgrade to the new version. Geth is already available on GitHub. For users who have a regular address, like those provided by Metamask, MyEtherWallet, Trezor or Ledger Nano, no updates will be needed. In the case one has Ether coins in an Exchange, no action will be needed.
Constantinople will launch most likely on January 16th of this new year 2019. According to the developers’ reports, it will occur at block number 7,080,000 and the EIP package that will be implemented will bring some of the biggest changes in the Ethereum network to date. It will likely be a very noticeable upgrade of the whole system, as if one was changing Operating Systems from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
The protocols that are programmed to be implemented are EIP-145, EIP-1014 and EIP-1052 to improve system performance and to promote the use of Smart Contracts; EIP-1283 to facilitate the development of decentralized applications; and finally, there is the EIP-1234, the only one that has caused controversy. This one intends to modify the rules of the Ethereum Difficulty Bomb. It has thus far been only this last EIP that has raised some controversy. Each EIP is analyzed one by one as follows, according to the data visible in the Ethereum GitHub (source: https://github.com/ethereum).
EIP-145: Implements an optimization strategy to cache changes in the data storage of the blockchain. Instructions are added on how the information within the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) is processed bit-by-bit. The EIP-145 reduces the amount of gas usage per transaction when storing and reading data.
EIP-1014: Allows all types of transactions to be carried out with addresses that do not yet exist in the chain, but that could exist. This improvement allows for transactions to happen between secure addresses that have not been generated in the Main Chain. Many Smart Contracts will benefit from this. In order to implement this new system, the EIP-1014 also implements a technology parallel to the Blockchain, one known as “STATE CHANNELS”. Frequently, these are referred to as “the Lightning Network of Ethereum”, since State Channels create the possibility of having thousands of off-chain transactions per second. EIP-1014 has been proposed and promoted by the creator of Ethereum himself, Vitalik Buterin. Even so, some people have shown doubts and have said this looks like a Bitcoinization of Ethereum while other users think it is an awesome step towards mass adoption since it will aid in introducing instant transactions.
EIP-1052: Adds a special code that allows to verify the bytecode of a contract, using the keccak256 of it, which permits to avoid an excess in the use of resources for the operation. It generates a hash for each Smart Contract that makes it possible for other Smart Contracts to verify it and interact with it in a more efficient and extremely fast way. This is one of the EIPs implemented to make Ethereum’s Smart Contracts more appealing to the general public.
EIP-1283: Converts Ethereum into a cheaper data storage system. This EIP will be extremely important from the point of view of the attractiveness of the data storage service in Ethereum, which is very expensive in the current state. People have been paying high prices for saving information on the Blockchain. EIP-1283 helps improve memory usage and the use of DAps. This EIP, like the 145 and the 1283, serve to compete against Blockchains like QuarkChain and Zilliqa who bring cheaper prices for data storage.
EIP-1234: Implements a delay in the explosion process of the Difficulty Bomb of the Ethereum Network. The delay is at least 12 months. The Difficulty Bomb is the process through which Ethereum’s coins become harder and harder to mine. As the years pass, the bomb is activated. When this happens and as more coins are mined, the bomb will finish its explosion process. The final moment when the bomb reaches its explosion climax is called “ETHEREUM’S ICE AGE”, or an age when it will be almost impossible to mine a coin through PoW. This is the biggest and most controversial update Constantinople includes as it implies an application of a reduction of Block reward. Mining reward will be lowered from three Ether per block to two (which means 1/3 less in profit). And naturally, miners have expressed discontent toward this.
Constantinople is the result of an enormous effort by all those who have contributed, in one way or another, to Ethereum in order to achieve a balance between the demands of efficiency and scalability coming from the users of the platform, and the desire of miners that keep the Ethereum nodes running. On the one hand, a large majority of the investors and users of the Ethereum Network express joy and satisfaction with the promises of improvements that Constantinople will bring, on the other hand the owners of the computational equipment that process all Ethereum transactions are afraid that the newly reduced reward will not be enough to cover costs or make profits. In any case, the equilibrium solution aims to attract many more investors to the network. If Ethereum grows in usage moving forward, in the end, everyone will benefit highly from this hard fork.