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What to Expect When Ethereum’s Constantinople Hard Fork Happens

“Cautious optimism.”

That’s how Hudson #Jameson, developer relations for the Ethereum Foundation, described the mood in the run-up to #ethereum’s fifth planned system-wide upgrade, Constantinople.

Expected to activate next #Wednesday, Jan. 16, Constantinople is a type of upgrade known as a hard fork – which means it needs to be #unilaterally installed across all nodes in the network to function as intended.

This approach is a #process that comes with inherent risks. For example, if a sufficient number of users don’t agree with an #upgrade, it could cause the network to split. Such an event took place in 2016 when a controversial hard #fork following the collapse of the DAO led to the emergence of two distinct blockchains, ethereum and ethereum #classic.

Still, Afri #Schoedon, release manager for the Parity ethereum client, said that risk of a chain split is low because #adoption of the upgrade by ethereum’s top mining pools – the parties most critical in avoiding a chain #split – has been strong.

“#Miners are prepared,” Schoedon said. “Only miners can split the chain.”

Currently, a tracking #website ran by Peter Pratscher, the CEO of top ether mining pool Ethermine, tracks Constantinople #adoption to be a mere 15.6 percent. Speaking to CoinDesk, Pratscher said that the statistics are flawed, and claimed the #adoption to be closer to a majority.

“We expect most of the not-updated #nodes to be updated by the time the fork block arrives,” Pratscher said.

Named after the capital of the #Byzantine Empire, Constantinople forms part of a three-part upgrade called Metropolis. It combines a total of five #ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs). And while the majority are non-controversial #tweaks, one aspect of the upgrade has been the cause of some controversy.

In particular, #Constantinople delays the “difficulty-bomb,” an algorithm in ethereum’s that increases mining difficulty over #time. Because the upgrade will decrease the mining difficulty, it also takes steps to reduce the reward #miners are given for securing the network – down from 3 ETH to 2 ETH per block.

This has led miners to express #discontent with the upgrade. But at the same time, major mining pools have stepped up in support of the #change.

“We expect a smooth #upgrade without any issues,” Pratscher remarked.

Splits aside, there are also other #risks to a system-wide network upgrade as well. Code bugs can cause networks to splinter, and #algorithms can go awry, leading to unanticipated difficulties. But developers are confident that such risks are minimal in #Constantinople, and in the months leading up to next week’s event, testing has sought to sniff out #vulnerabilities in the software.

“We have testing and monitoring #software such as our fork monitor and protocol fuzz tester that constantly monitor for issues before, during, and after #hard forks,” Hudson Jameson said,

“We are very excited to be implementing these changes to the #ethereum protocol. However, we put the safety and #stability of the network first and foremost.”

Array of upgrades

Constantinople introduces five new #upgrades to the network.

These include optimizations for #developers that seek to make smart contract and decentralized application design more approachable.

Taylor Monahan, the CEO of #ethereum wallet MyCrypto, described the overall thrust of the Constantinople upgrade as “simple quality-of-life #improvements for contract development.”

According to core #developer Nick Johnson, one such upgrade, EIP 1283, involves what is called “net gas metering.” Originally authored by #Johnson, this element will improve one of ethereum’s ongoing usability issues – its rising gas #costs.

“With it, we can #reduce unnecessary gas overhead for #contracts, as well as making new coding patterns cost-effective,” he said.

Another upgrade – cited by several #developers as the most exciting of the Constantinople change – is EIP 1014. Also called #Skinny CREATE2, the upgrade is expected to pave way for new kinds of layer two scaling solutions, such as state #channels.

“It makes it possible to create new types of state #channels that reduce or even eliminate onchain deployment costs, which improves scalability and reduces #costs and hassle for users,” Johnson said.

According to Turbo Geth’s Alexey Akhunov, EIP 1014 could impact future #ethereum changes, such as the potential implementation of rent or rolling costs for storing data on the #ethereum platform. And it could lead to other, unanticipated new smart #contract features as well.

“Another exciting (and potentially dangerous) thing that#CREATE2 enables [is] recreating the contracts at the same address after they have been destroyed,” #Akhunov said, explaining:

“This recreation can be done either with the same #code, or (with a bit more trickery) with a different code – which basically leads to fully-upgradable #contracts.”

Constantinople also includes 2 further #upgrades – EIP 145 and EIP 1052 – which will improve ease-of-use for smart contract development and #streamline certain operations within ethereum’s code.

“With these improvements we can expand what we can do easily with the #ethereum chain to encompass more use-cases,” Johnson said.

Miner debates

Still, while the majority of #Constantinople includes well-tested and technically straightforward changes, there’s another code #change that has been hotly debated. Authored by Parity’s Afri Schoedon, the code #change in question is EIP 1234.

And that’s because one of the main #aspects of Constantinople is a delay for what is known as the “difficulty bomb” alongside the aforementioned #technical features.

Originally intended to smooth the #transition to ethereum’s upcoming consensus switch, proof-of-stake, the difficulty bomb is an algorithm that incrementally #increases the time it takes to produce new blocks.

Eventually, the bomb forces the #blockchain into a state known as the “ice age,” during which time the difficulty becomes so high that #transactions can no longer be confirmed. As such, the algorithm also has the benefit of encouraging frequent #code changes in order to modify it.

According to Akhunov, delaying the difficulty bomb is the most critical aspect of #Constantinople.

“The main importance of #Constantinople is to delay the difficulty bomb, otherwise mining difficulty would start #climbing up sharply. Other than that, there are no changes that are really crucial,” he said.

However, delaying the difficulty #bomb comes with its own subtleties. And that’s because the speed at which blocks are produced on #ethereum also determines the regularity by which the platform’s internal cryptocurrency, ether, is issued.

To that end, Constantinople decreases block mining rewards from 3 ETH to 2 ETH per block – a move that sparked controversy with the blockchain’s miners that depend on the rewards to keep their mining businesses profitable.

Heightening the #controversy is the emergence of increasingly specialized mining hardware for ethereum, which according to some, #risks making mining operations for hobbyist miners – often running GPU hardware, rather than specialized #ASICs – less feasible.

“In general we are not looking forward to the #ethereum Constantinople upgrade,” Ethermine’s Pratscher said. “[Constantinople] will make #mining unprofitable for a lot of miners which will have a negative impact on the security of the ethereum #network.”

Pratscher cited the recent attack on #ethereum classic, in which the blockchain was overwhelmed by hostile hashpower, as an example of the #problems that can occur if there are fewer miners present.

“That 51 percent attacks are a real #threat is currently shown by the recent attack executed against the [ethereum classic] #network,” he said.

Brian Venturo, who operates a small #mining pool called Atlantic Crypto, echoed these concerns, telling CoinDesk:

“EIP-1234 in Constantinople will immediately add pressure to #mining economics.”

The next phase

Due to this upcoming reduction in miner #payouts, miners such as Pratscher and Venturo are banking on a potential future upgrade, named #ProgPoW, that promises to block specialized ASIC hardware from the network and ensure that GPU #mining remains competitive.

At press time, it is #unclear whether such a change will be deployed. While it was given a “tentative” go ahead at a #developer meeting in early January, discussions regarding the proposal have failed to reach a #consensus since then.

Still, #developers are confident that technical work will continue in the coming months, as layer two scaling #enhancements continue to mature, and the formative aspects of ethereum’s long-awaited upgrade – #Serenity – begin to crystallize.

All things considered, the upcoming #upgrade has fostered a mood of careful apprehension.

“I am slightly nervous about #Constantinople, because it is always hard to guess how likely it is that something goes wrong,” #Akhunov said.

According to Akhunov, under the worst-case #scenario, something goes wrong with the new difficulty algorithm and causes disruption to the #ecurity of the network. Other developers cited consensus issues as the biggest concern. Taylor Monahan of #MyCrypto said she was most worried by the potential of scammers to use the upgrade as an #opportunity to trick people out of their funds.

But irrespective of the risks #involved in the upgrade, developers are confident that they’ve taken every possible step to secure the #upgrade. Additionally, there are certain advantages to the difficulty bomb as well.

For example, even if certain #nodes get left behind on the Byzantium software, the upcoming difficulty bomb means that it will become unusable in the coming #months, and will be forced to upgrade in order to continue transacting on #ethereum.

For that reason, #Monahan said that Constantinople “feels nice.”

“Everyone’s hard work is paying off,” she said, adding:

“A lot of people will benefit from the #improvements (even if they don’t realize it) via cheaper #contracts, more efficient opcodes, and opening more possibilities for #contract interaction.”

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