Segregated Witness is now a reality

Peter Wuille, long time member of Bitcoin Core development team since May 2011, managed to complete the expected upgrade to Bitcoin’s Protocol. Segregated Witness code has been published in Github’s pull request, with 38 additions to Bitcoin’s core master branch.

Segregated Witness (or SegWit) is a new mechanism designed to remove part of the data carried in the network’s blocks, this data contains digital signatures that now will be placed alongside the blockchain. This will make blocks smaller, giving more room for additional transactions. It also means that nodes can save hard drive storage space since the signature files can be discarded, and they are only necessary when a block needs verification.

This protocol upgrade will also solve the transaction malleability problem, an issue that was yet to be tackled by the development team since Bitcoin’s inception. Transaction malleability is a weakness in which a ‘rogue’ node modifies an incoming transaction to make it invalid in the hash portion of it, the Bitcoins will eventually reach it’s intended destination, however this does mean that, for instance, it is not safe to accept a chain of unconfirmed transactions under any circumstance because the later transactions will depend on the hashes of the previous transactions.

SegWit deployment or adoption isn’t going to be instantaneous, however, there is a strong incentive to do so, Bitcoin Core’s website lists more than 36 companies or projects which have stated that they will support segregated witness, the list includes major players and actors of the Bitcoin ecosystem, wallet providers, and blockchain explorers are getting ready for the deployment.

Peter’s Github states that there is some item’s left to do, these includes:

  • Define a deployment time for the Testnet.
  • Prepare the nodes that will perform the signature verification (and thus reducing blocks size)
  • Perform tests with a mixed network of upgraded and non-upgraded nodes.
  • Define a deployment time for the Mainnet (the actual Blockchain).

Although the list includes a testing phase, Peter said that the testing is already being done. The decentralized nature of Bitcoin means that ultimately, the adoption of the new protocol upgrade will depend on the miner’s rate of adoption. About 95% of the miners will need to update their software to consider the transition a success. Nodes will not need to update their clients.

Fortunately, this upgrade is considered as a soft-fork, so there is no real risk for the network, and a new chain of transactions will not be produced. The upgraded clients will speed up the Blockchain, allowing for more transactions to happen every 10 minutes, old miners or nodes will remain fully functional and will coexist with their upgraded peers.

This upgrade to Bitcoin’s Protocol comes as a lifeboat, as turmoil erupted in the community because the network has been under severe stress during peak hours. Block sizes consistently have been reaching the 900 KB upper mark, however, the mid-term and long-term landscape of Bitcoin is still somewhat dark, since no real consensus have been achieved, and several frameworks or plans on how to push the Block size limit of Bitcoin up are still being debated.

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