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An Introduction To Hard Fork & Soft Fork in Blockchain

BitForex Editor
Sep 28, 2020

When you're dealing with a decentralized blockchain like Bitcoin, the user would have to learn to be in sync and agreement with the blockchain sharing network. What we get, when multiple network participants work together to verify the data of each other's consensus is a blockchain. Disconnection from consensus often happens in software networks, which are as a result of blockchain hard forks or soft forks. Let's see what blockchain forks are.

What Are Blockchain Forks?

Unlike the regular kitchen forks that we're conversant with, a blockchain fork occurs when there's copied or false modification of data in the blockchain network. Interestingly, when a blockchain fork occurs, it doesn't eliminate the original data, however, it separates the project from the new one. Now leaving the network not only with clogged data but two seemingly alike projects going in different directions.

When two cryptocurrencies on the same blockchain networks have their projects generated from a common source but having alterations in their data, it reflects on the network. This can simply be explained by two split roads coming from one. Even when they share the same source, the divergence created now makes them different in many ways as they lead to multiple destinations.

Note that these scenarios only occur in open-source projects, and has been common before Ethereum and Bitcoin showed up. However, the differences between the types of blockchain forks are peculiar to the cryptocurrency networks. Let's get into the explanation of these fork types.

Hard Fork & Soft Fork: Explained

Even when they both share similar names and are alike in their operations, hard forks and soft forks are distinct software forks with significant traits. Let's take an overview of each of them. Shall we?

What Is A Hard Fork?

Hard forks are simply software updates which are run backward and end up becoming incompatible. In most cases, hard forks only occur when nodes develop new rules conflicting with the previous instructions or rules of the old nodes. Ideally, new nodes are designed to only stay compatible with similar nodes in new versions. Because of this foundational rule, blockchain networks become separated when there are old and new nodes operating on different rules. When this happens, there are now two contrasting nodes operating parallel to one another.

Of course, these networks still carry out transactions but do not be deceived, they do not run on the same blockchain anymore. Until the fork happened, all nodes on a software network had an identical blockchain. Yes, they still share the historic link between them (just like the split roads), but they'll have distinct transaction patterns afterward. This history between both nodes is why we have different coins on both networks when cross-referencing them before the fork.

For example, you had 10BTC before a blockchain fork pooped at block 800,000. You can make transactions with the 10BTC on the old chain in block 800,001, but the Bitcoins haven't truly been used in the new chain.

When an alteration is made on the block size as well, it calls for an immediate modification of the rules. Before the SegWit soft fork, nodes were only known to recognize blocks lesser than 1MB in block size. At the time, creating a 2MB block which was validated by one node would very much be rejected by other nodes. Only nodes with upgraded software could access and accept blocks higher than 1MB before SegWit soft fork came to light.

What Is A Soft Fork?

Just like the other, this is also a backward-compatible upgrade blockchain fork. However, unlike the hard fork which cuts off most links, soft forks are still able to make communication possible with the non-upgraded nodes. In a nutshell, what we get from soft forks is an additional set of new rules that don't conflict with the older rules. Clearly, soft-forking is caused by a distinct decrease in the block size of nodes.

Using the Bitcoin as a case study; even when we have a maximal limit on the size of the block, there are no restrictions on how small the nodes' block size could get. However, you'd have to refuse the integration of bigger sizes if what you're interested in the block below a particular size. Nonetheless, this often doesn't guarantee a complete disconnection from the blockchain network. You have a weak communication with the nodes that aren't bound by the new rules but still make use of some of the information sent your way.

A more familiar example of a soft fork was the implementation of the SegWit fork. This caused a major change in the forks technology just about when the Bitcoin/Bitcoin Cash spirit occurred years ago. The upgrade invented on SegWit resulted in a significant change in the formation of blocks and transactions because it was designed for that specific purpose. Old nodes now had access to validating blocks and transactions, except they couldn't interpret the information. The SegWit formation didn't break the rules, it only made it possible for old nodes to read the new rules.

With the SegWit, only a few fields remain on a read-only mode when nodes switch to the new instructions, which makes it possible to parse extra data. Even after the SegWit invention has gone two years, its activation still hasn't been able to upgrade all nodes. When this breaks through eventually it'd cause a great advantage to software networks in general. But, do we really no need such network-breaking change now?

Hard Fork Or Soft Fork: Which Is Better?

Irrespective of how bad we want the similarities between these two forks to surpass their differences, they both serve distinct purposes. Irregular hard forks could cause major irreversible divisions to a community. However, planned hard forks with directives allow users the option of modifying the software with all parties in an agreement. Soft forks are often mild when causing any changes to the networks.

With soft forks, users are restricted to the extent to which they can employ new changes on old rules. This is because most soft forks are read-only software network nodes. With all these said, if you have your network upgraded, you could get the network to remain compatible. When the update is done, you could go a long while without worrying about network fragmentation.

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