What Is a Blockchain Hard Fork?

What Is a Blockchain Hard Fork?

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A hard fork in the context of cryptocurrency refers to a change in the underlying protocol of a blockchain network that makes previously invalid blocks or transactions valid, or vice-versa. This requires all nodes or users to upgrade to the new version of the protocol software. A hard fork can create a new cryptocurrency if the forked blockchain diverges from the original path.

A practical example of a hard fork would be the 2017 Bitcoin network split into Bitcoin (BTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH). The Bitcoin Cash network forked off from the Bitcoin blockchain and increased the block size limit from 1MB to 8MB, allowing more transactions to be processed per block. As a result, all Bitcoin holders received an equivalent amount of Bitcoin Cash.

How Are Hard Forks Implemented

Hard forks are typically implemented through a software update to the blockchain network’s protocol. The update must be made to all nodes in the network for the fork to be successful.

The process of implementing a hard fork typically involves several steps:

  1. Proposal: A proposal for a hard fork is made by the development team or a group of stakeholders. It includes details of the changes to be made to the protocol and the reasons for the fork.
  2. Community Discussion: The proposal is discussed within the community, and feedback and suggestions are collected.
  3. Testing: Once the proposal is finalized, the changes are implemented in a test environment to ensure they work as intended.
  4. Deployment: The new software version is then deployed to all the nodes in the network.
  5. Activation: The fork becomes active at a specific block number, known as the activation block. Once this block is mined, the new rules are implemented, and the network splits into two or more separate chains.

Hard Fork vs. Soft Fork

A hard fork and a soft fork are changes to a blockchain network’s underlying protocol. The key difference between the two is the level of compatibility between the old and new versions of the protocol.

A hard fork is a protocol change that is not backward-compatible, meaning that the protocol’s new version cannot process transactions and blocks created by the previous version. This requires all nodes in the network to upgrade to the new version or risk being left behind on an obsolete chain.

On the other hand, a soft fork is a protocol change that is backward-compatible, meaning that the new version of the protocol can still process transactions and blocks created by the previous version. This allows for a smoother transition, as not all nodes in the network need to upgrade to the new version.

For example, if a blockchain network has a block size limit of 1 MB and a hard fork is proposed to increase the limit to 2 MB, all nodes in the network would need to upgrade to the new version to validate blocks larger than 1 MB. However, if a soft fork is proposed instead, the new version of the protocol could still validate blocks up to 1 MB, allowing for a smoother transition as not all nodes would need to upgrade.


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Not all hard forks are proposed; some are accidental and happen due to bugs or vulnerabilities in the code. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in case of a chain split. Moreover, communities often don’t accept all hard forks; some may fail, and the chain may not split.

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