Why The Latest Ethereum Update Was More Spork Than Fork

There are times when it makes sense to take a step back and make evaluations for comparative reasons based on historical patterns or assumptions regarding the evolution of something that hasn’t happened before. It’s the latter that was largely the case as we all collectively awaited the update to Ethereum Byzantium update. Yet despite loudly hearing this long-awaited event being hailed as a fork, I think it’s now safe to say, it should have more appropriately been considered a spork.

A concern with a fork, a typical one anyway, is the inclination of there truly becoming a divide in the users of a blockchain, which can be idealogical, technocratic or some combination thereof, but it is contentious nonetheless. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum have seen such a fork occur during past updates, and I know there is always a small feeling of uncertainty when the word is used.

By definition, a hard fork is a change in protocol that requires every member of the network to update their software to enforce the changes. In this matter, I find connotation most important, which is why I will now refer to a non-contentious fork as a ‘spork’. It’s like a fork, but we can look at it more lovingly, because sporks are part spoon and that’s mighty useful.

Protocol changes happen outside the blockchain all of the time. You update the software on your computer, and your phone, on a regular basis. Some updates are larger than others of course, such as going from Windows 7 to Windows 8. Do you remember when Microsoft Word changed it’s file format, and files saved on the new version could no longer be read on older versions? The point is it is very inconvenient when you try and operate on an outdated system.

Upgrades are often concerned with the security of the system as a whole. Recently, I wrote a blog in the wake of the Equifax hack (How Blockchain Can Secure Your Identification and Prevent it From Being Hacked). In the Equifax breach, over 40% of Americans had their identity stolen, and it was all because someone somewhere forgot to update the software after a major security upgrade. Amazing right? A significant number of hacks are due to this very same problem.

The most recent Ethereum spork has occurred. This means the software, referred to as a client, or node, which is how you interact with the blockchain, must be updated to it’s most recent version. This latest upgrade, named Byzantium, is the first of a greater two step process that will bring Ethereum to it’s third version, Metropolis. If you have not updated your software, you could be open to bugs or receiving incorrect blockchain state information.

The great part about these upgrades is the democratic nature, you have to elect to update your software and join the new, updated network. Just like you update your personal devices to stay up to date with the most recent security changes. Some interesting parts of this Byzantium spork include the ability to implement ZK-Snarks, the foundation for the cryptocurrency ZCash, as well as creating cryptography schemes that make your signature quantum resistant! The Ethereum Ice Age will be postponed until late 2018, and the block reward will reduce from 5 Eth to 3 Eth to begin preparing for proof of stake. A number of other changes will make smart contracts more versatile, and user friendly. Basically, your things can do more stuff and whatnot. However, if you don’t update, you won’t be able to take advantage of these exciting new updates.

If you use a wallet that is stored via a third party application, I would check the press at those websites and verify they have updated their software. If you run your own client software, make sure you update to the most recent version. The way you work or the access to certain data you store on the web may very well depend on it.

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