Sunday, December 4, 2022

You’ve Heard of Hard Forks and Soft Forks. What About the Velvet Fork?

You’ve Heard of Hard Forks and Soft Forks. What About the Velvet Fork?

The cryptoverse is still wide open for theorists of all kinds. Accordingly, a group of researchers from Imperial College London and Austria’s SBA Research have now theorized the existence of a fork beyond hard forks and soft forks: the “velvet fork.” Notably, the researchers believe velvet forks could help “avoid long-lasting scaling debates.”

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‘A Wild Velvet Fork Appears’

The researchers — Imperial College of London’s A. Zamyatin and W. J. Knottenbelt and SBA Research’s N. Stifter, A. Judmayer, P. Schindler, and E. Weippl — have published a paper entitled “A Wild Velvet Fork Appears! Inclusive Blockchain Protocol Changes in Practice.”

The theorists describe their work as follows:

[W]e show that variants of this new upgrade mechanism have already been employed in real-world scenarios. Velvet forks present a possible new upgrade path to blockchain consensus rules that could help avoid long-lasting scaling debates and discord in the community. New protocol extensions could be actively deployed without necessitating at least majority agreement by all consensus participants. On the other hand, velvet forks could introduce new possible attacks and threats and fundamentally impact the game-theoretic incentives of the underlying blockchain. In any case, this interesting new concept deserves further research attention.”

Here, then, a few quick points to consider. First off, velvet forks make modifications to a given protocol both “backward compatible and inclusive to legacy blocks.” Under this kind of fork, “new protocol rules […] are not enforced by upgraded consensus participants and any valid block adhering to the new rules is also a valid block in terms of the old rules.”

It’s seemingly a you can have your cake and eat it too dynamic.

Secondly, the researchers conclude there are numerous examples of velvet forks at work today. The examples provided are the P2Pool decentralized mining protocol, merged mining, colored coins, and sub-chains with so-called “weak blocks.”

Lastly, the essayists note that velvet forks can open up novel attack vectors that need further scrutiny. Concerns were raised over how velvet forks could play into phenomena like selfish mining, double spending, and abuse regarding enforcing a “regular soft fork in a hostile manner.”

Undoubtedly, these are strong starting points for further study.

Vitalik Buterin Chimes In

Ethereum co-founder Buterin is known to frequent r/Ethereum and comment on technical topics.

Unsurprisingly, then, Buterin commented on the researchers’ essay, which was posted on the subreddit on the morning of March 11th.

Buterin pictured.

He wrote:

“In my lingo this would be ‘agreeing on a different state transition function’; I would say it’s definitely a useful kind of fork.”

Maybe with further study and development, then, such velvet forks may see increased deployment in the cryptoverse at large.

What’s your take? Do you think this kind of academic research is desperately needed in the space? Sound off in the comments below. 

Images via Medium, Angelica’s Bakery

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