Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Many people are familiar with blockchain technology, but did you know that Ethereum has the largest and most active blockchain community in the world?
Unlike many other blockchain networks, Ethereum is programmable. This customizable feature has enabled developers to solve problems ranging from digital identification and privacy, to corporate ownership and data security.
When the blockchain community disagrees on what changes the network needs to function smoothly or when such changes should take place, developers plan for a fork (an offshoot) of the underlying code rules.
Today’s graphic maps out the major Ethereum blockchain forks that have occurred to date, highlighting key events that surrounded each of these updates. It also includes details on the highly anticipated Istanbul hard fork, planned for December 2019.
Four Types of Forks
Forks are common practice in the software industry, and happen for one of two reasons: split opinions within the community, and required changes to the blockchain code.
When either reason is discussed, four major types of forks can occur.
- Codebase Forks: Copy of the original code, to allow for minor tweaks without developing the whole blockchain code from scratch.
- Blockchain Forks: Branching or splitting a blockchain’s whole transaction history, causing the new network to develop a distinct identity.
- Soft Forks: Gradual software upgrades—bug fixes, security checks, and new features.
- Hard Forks: A permanent division of the blockchain.
There are currently three types of hard forks:
Scheduled upgrades to the network, often abandoning the old chain
Community disagreements cause major code changes, forming a new chain
- Spin-off Coins
Minor changes to the blockchain’s code that create new coins
Let’s dive into the timeline of major Ethereum forks, and explore a few of their defining moments and characteristics.
Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Below are some of the most prominent and important forks—both hard and soft—on the Ethereum blockchain since its launch.
Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, and his team finished the 9th and final proof of concept known as Olympic in May 2015. The Ethereum blockchain, also known as Frontier, went live shortly after, on July 30, 2015.
Also known as “Frontier Thawing”, this was the first (unplanned) fork of the Ethereum blockchain, providing security and speed updates to the network.
Homestead is widely considered Phase 2 of Ethereum’s development evolution. This rollout included three critical updates to Ethereum: the removal of centralization on the network, enabling users to hold and transact with ETH, and to write and deploy smart contracts.
The Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) event was the most contentious event in Ethereum’s short history. The DAO team raised US$150 million through a 2016 token sale—but an unknown hacker stole US$50 million in ether (ETH), prompting the developer community to hard fork in order to recover the stolen funds.
Widely regarded as the only Ethereum fork of any significance, this hard fork was based on the controversial DAO event. The original chain became known as Ethereum Classic, and the new chain moved forward as the main Ethereum chain.
This September 2019 hard fork event required all software users to upgrade their clients in order to stay with the current network. Enhancements included better security, stability, and network performance for higher volumes of traffic.
Regarded as the third phase of Ethereum’s evolution, the Metropolis-Byzantium soft fork functioned more like an operating system upgrade, rather than a full split.
Constantinople is the current version of the Ethereum blockchain. This hard fork occurred concurrently with the St. Petersburg update. Important changes included closing a major security loophole that could have allowed hackers to easily access users’ funds.
Constantinople’s most notable improvements include smart contracts being able to verify each other using only the unique string of computer code of another smart contract, and reduced gas fees─namely, the price users pay to process transactions more quickly.
Future Forks in the Road
The Ethereum community is preparing for the next hard fork event Istanbul, scheduled for release on December 4th, 2019.
Ethereum’s 4th and projected final stage of development is Serenity, which has yet to be scheduled. Community members have speculated what changes will come with Serenity, but many agree that the Ethereum blockchain will shift focus from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake.
- Proof of Work (PoW): “Miners” are rewarded with cryptocurrency for solving puzzles that process and post blocks of data to the network
- Proof of Stake (PoS): Miners are chosen from a pool of miners, based on the stake of cryptocurrency they bid; no puzzle = no reward
Proof of Stake means that there is less competition for completing blocks of data, significantly reducing the energy required to process data. Currently, a single Bitcoin transaction consumes the same electricity as 1.75 American households do in a day.
Ethereum Leads the Way
Ethereum continues to be a leading blockchain platform, with the highest number of decentralized apps (dApps) and a massive, engaged community.
To date, cryptocurrencies have largely been the focus of news headlines. However, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what blockchain can offer, and the value it will create beyond the financial world.
[Blockchain] could be the foundation of a whole new era whereby our basic right to privacy is protected, because identity is the foundation of freedom and it needs to be managed responsibly.
—Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Bitcoin mining requires significant amounts of energy, but what does this consumption look like when compared to countries and companies?
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Cryptocurrencies have been some of the most talked-about assets in recent months, with bitcoin and ether prices reaching record highs. These gains were driven by a flurry of announcements, including increased adoption by businesses and institutions.
Lesser known, however, is just how much electricity is required to power the Bitcoin network. To put this into perspective, we’ve used data from the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) to compare Bitcoin’s power consumption with a variety of countries and companies.
Why Does Bitcoin Mining Require So Much Power?
When people mine bitcoins, what they’re really doing is updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, also known as the blockchain. This requires them to solve numerical puzzles which have a 64-digit hexadecimal solution known as a hash.
Miners may be rewarded with bitcoins, but only if they arrive at the solution before others. It is for this reason that Bitcoin mining facilities—warehouses filled with computers—have been popping up around the world.
These facilities enable miners to scale up their hashrate, also known as the number of hashes produced each second. A higher hashrate requires greater amounts of electricity, and in some cases can even overload local infrastructure.
Putting Bitcoin’s Power Consumption Into Perspective
On March 18, 2021, the annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network was estimated to be 129 terawatt-hours (TWh). Here’s how this number compares to a selection of countries, companies, and more.
|Name||Population||Annual Electricity Consumption (TWh)|
|All of the world’s data centers||-||205|
|State of New York||19.3M||161|
|Walt Disney World Resort (Florida)||-||1|
Note: A terawatt hour (TWh) is a measure of electricity that represents 1 trillion watts sustained for one hour.
Source: Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Science Mag, New York ISO, Forbes, Facebook, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Worldometer
If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 29th out of a theoretical 196, narrowly exceeding Norway’s consumption of 124 TWh. When compared to larger countries like the U.S. (3,989 TWh) and China (6,543 TWh), the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption is relatively light.
For further comparison, the Bitcoin network consumes 1,708% more electricity than Google, but 39% less than all of the world’s data centers—together, these represent over 2 trillion gigabytes of storage.
Where Does This Energy Come From?
In a 2020 report by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that 76% of cryptominers rely on some degree of renewable energy to power their operations. There’s still room for improvement, though, as renewables account for just 39% of cryptomining’s total energy consumption.
Here’s how the share of cryptominers that use each energy type vary across four global regions.
|Energy Source||Asia-Pacific||Europe||Latin America|
and the Caribbean
Source: University of Cambridge
Editor’s note: Numbers in each column are not meant to add to 100%
Hydroelectric energy is the most common source globally, and it gets used by at least 60% of cryptominers across all four regions. Other types of clean energy such as wind and solar appear to be less popular.
Coal energy plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region, and was the only source to match hydroelectricity in terms of usage. This can be largely attributed to China, which is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that they weren’t surprised by these findings, as the Chinese government’s strategy to ensure energy self-sufficiency has led to an oversupply of both hydroelectric and coal power plants.
Towards a Greener Crypto Future
As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, it’s likely that governments and other regulators will turn their attention to the industry’s carbon footprint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.
Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry, a blockchain financing provider, believes that cryptomining can support the global transition to renewable energy. More specifically, he believes that clustering cryptomining facilities near renewable energy projects can mitigate a common issue: an oversupply of electricity.
“It allows for a faster payback on solar projects or wind projects… because they would [otherwise] produce too much energy for the grid in that area”
– Mike Colyer, CEO, Foundry
This type of thinking appears to be taking hold in China as well. In April 2020, Ya’an, a city located in China’s Sichuan province, issued a public guidance encouraging blockchain firms to take advantage of its excess hydroelectricity.
Exploring the Practical Applications of Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology is no longer a fringe innovation. Here’s how it is being used in increasingly practical ways, from elections to entertainment.
In a few short years, blockchain technology has been steadily gaining traction in traditional business applications around the world.
So much so, that blockchain-focused venture capital fundraising tripled to $3 billion between the years 2017 and 2018.
Four Practical Uses for Blockchain Tech
Today’s graphic from Noah Coin highlights four major sectors where blockchain technology is being used to innovate and enhance important business processes.
In an increasingly digital world, which industries are being transformed by blockchain?
One of the primary benefits of blockchain technology is its immutability─the unchangeable nature of the “ledger” of data posted to the network.
This critical feature can provide widespread benefits across a variety of industries around the world. Let’s dive into some key examples.
Major Practical Applications of Blockchain
1. Financial Services
Recent numbers show that the asset management industry could cut costs by $2.7 billion every year by moving to blockchain tech. Practical applications of blockchain in the financial services industry include client screening and onboarding, recordkeeping, data privacy and security, and trade processing.
Similarly, the insurance industry is fraught with errors and costly mistakes. The FBI estimates that over $40 billion a year is lost through fraud across all non-health insurance industries.
- RiskBlock, a proof-of-insurance product, helps insurers save time and money through automated processes, and it helps insured individuals validate their insurance claims securely and quickly.
2. Smart Contracts
Blockchain and smart contract technologies function well in instances where legal contracts are required to maintain ownership rights and data privacy laws. These customizable, self-executing smart contracts on the blockchain can be easily managed by all parties.
Issues with ownership rights and royalties are commonplace within the entertainment industry. To navigate these issues, blockchain technology offers an unchangeable, traceable, real-time distribution and reporting network for all involved.
- Ujomusic is one such application that is helping artists track their royalties worldwide.
3. Digital IDs
According to the World Bank, over 1.1 billion people worldwide still have no way to prove their identity. At the same time, companies and financial institutions in both traditional and digital markets are being required to follow more stringent know-your-customer (KYC) initiatives.
Despite this, many providers are still not sufficiently meeting these standards; to further complicate things, regulations vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
- Companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco are migrating to the blockchain to securely and privately verify users.
4. Blockchain Internet of Things (IoT)
Gartner predicts that 20.4 billion IoT-connected devices will be active by the end of 2020, with some estimates showing the IoT market will reach $3 trillion annually by 2026.
Blockchain-enabled IoT devices would operate faster and more securely for both users and businesses─enabling less centralized control over the financial industry, internet usage, and ownership rights.
- Helium uses a decentralized machine network to simplify connecting anything to the internet through a blockchain, wireless network, and open-source software.
A Blockchain-enabled Future
Blockchain technology promises to be the next major tidal wave of innovation. While still in its infancy, practical blockchain applications are becoming more mainstream.
As blockchain adoption spreads, it can become a driving force for promoting equitable societies, solving complex economic issues, and transforming how we live and work every day.
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