Bitcoin Core has demonstrated the collaborative effort in developing Bitcoin’s main protocol software, visualizing individual contributions in a short video of all activity. It represents an entire year of development in what was arguably Bitcoin’s most important year since its initial launch in 2009.
How Bitcoin (Core) Is Made
Bitcoin Core, initially called simply “Bitcoin” and in earlier times informally as “the Satoshi wallet” is an open source project that lives on GitHub. The latest version is 0.15.1. In theory, anyone may join in — although “commit access” that adds code to the live release is limited to an experienced group.
According to Bitcoin Core’s stats, Bitcoin development on GitHub in 2017 included:
- 1 activated soft fork (SegWit)
- 1,843 pull requests (a formal request to add a contribution)
- 1,195 pull requests merged (when a contribution is accepted)
- 21,153 GitHub comments
- 3,277 commits
- 161 Git contributors
- 713 GitHub contributors
Bitcoin Development: Decentralized and Open? Or Exclusive?
As well as looking cool and somewhat mesmerizing, the video aims to counter critics’ complaints that a small and exclusive group of people maintain control over Bitcoin development and direction.
This raises the question: who actually does “control” Bitcoin development? Conspiracy theories aside, this video suggests it’s no-one in particular. As a decentralized, open-source project Bitcoin’s direction comes from various places in the community — with improvements and changes suggested in comments, IRC chats, forums — then debated there to produce a kind of consensus.
That’s how it works in theory. Of course, no system is perfect whether its direction is decentralized or authoritarian, but the spirit of open source says decentralization produces the best result. It’s the difference between developing an open source operating system like GNU/Linux, or something like Windows and MacOS. Or Bitcoin and… central banks.
In its nine-year history, it’s estimated only 12 “people” have had commit access to Bitcoin’s protocol. Of those, only three still have commit privileges (or in other words, the absolute final say on what gets included in the release version). They are Wladimir van der Laan, Jonas Schnelli and Marco Falke.
The video shows contributors, individual files, and their directories. Check it out:
Bitcoin Core also lists 14 significant “contributors” whose names will sound familiar to anyone who reads Bitcoin news — and whose avatars feature prominently in the video.
Notable historic figures with commit access include Greg Maxwell, Gavin Andresen, Jeff Garzik, Martti Malmi — and of course, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Satoshi, whoever he, she or they were, did not originally use a version control system like Git. Satoshi uploaded the original source code to Bitcoin.org, where it was moved to SourceForge by Malmi (a.k.a. sirius), then later to GitHub by Andresen. And the rest is history.
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Images via Bitcoin Core