Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have a number of unique characteristics. Blockchains are, by definition, resistant to tampering thanks to their distributed, decentralized nature. Despite this, changes can and are made to blockchain ledgers all the time. In fact, the Bitcoin blockchain undergoes changes all the time.
The process behind these changes referred to as undergoing a “hard fork”, and their consequences can sometimes be game-changing. Here’s what you need to know about how hard forks have changed the Bitcoin blockchain in the past and how new hard forks this year will change it even further.
How Hard Forks Work
There’s more to learn about cryptocurrency besides knowing how to trade crypto assets. Understanding how blockchain tech works, at least on a theoretical level, is important if you want to understand hard forks. When you get right down to brass tacks, blockchain ledgers consist of complex bits of code that control the rules for a particular cryptocurrency. Changing that code means that there are, technically, two versions of the blockchain in existence: the old one that contains the original code, or a new one that diverges like a fork in the road – hence the name “hard fork.”
In many cases, the community that uses a cryptocurrency abandons the old blockchain and begins using the new, forked version of that same blockchain instead. However, if the community is split, then this means the original blockchain continues to be used alongside the new blockchain. In this instance, a hard fork creates a brand new cryptocurrency — and in the case of Bitcoin hard forks, these new currencies have been positioned as direct competitors to BTC.
Previous Bitcoin Hard Forks
Bitcoin’s gone through a few hard forks of its own. These hard forks were undertaken in order to provide users new capabilities that the original Bitcoin blockchain lacked, but none of these hard forked blockchains have reached the popularity of the original quite yet despite these improvements.
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The first Bitcoin hard forks began in 2017 with Bitcoin Cash (BCH), which split from the core ledger in August. Bitcoin Cash was quite similar to its predecessor in many ways, but it differed in that it was designed to support a higher number of transactions per second, which made it more scalable and less prone to bottlenecking than Bitcoin. At the time of this writing, BCH is routinely ranked within the top five cryptocurrencies for market capitalization, with Bitcoin (BTC) firmly in the top spot.
Another notable Bitcoin hard fork that created a rival cryptocurrency in 2017 was Bitcoin Gold (BTG), which occurred in October of that year. Originally conceived as a version of the Bitcoin blockchain that was more advantageous to miners, controversies related to user security have plagued BTG and limited its success, keeping it currently out of the top 20 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization. Its valuation is also much lower than BTC or even BCH, much likely due to these controversies as well.
Forks on the Horizon
2017 might have seen the first few Bitcoin hard forks come down the pike, but there’s many more on the way in 2018. Some have already arrived, while others are expected to hit as the year goes on. Here’s a list of some of the most interesting.
Squeaking in under the wire by launching in December of 2017, Super Bitcoin (SBTC) features the ability to handle more transactions per second, much like Bitcoin Cash. However, SBTC also expands the Bitcoin blockchain’s original capabilities even further by instituting smart contracts, much in the same way the Ethereum blockchain does.
Another last-minute December 2017 hard fork, Lightning Bitcoin (LBTC) helped usher in the 2018 New Year by providing “lightning” fast payments. The dev team claims that LBTC will be able to handle between 1000 and 10,000 transactions per second. Additionally, smart contract support will be added sometime in 2018 as well.
Forking in January of 2018, Bitcoin God (GOD) has an ambitious name and boasts an ambitious suite of capabilities. GOD is coded to support smart contracts, higher transaction speeds, mining using an alternative proof-of-stake system, and support for third-party overlays like the Lightning Network (which has no connection to Lightning Bitcoin).
Slated to have gone live in January as well, this hard fork with yet another precious metal in its name seems to have been back burnered for now. Bitcoin Uranium (BUM) was originally conceived to be a cryptocurrency that would focus on decentralization, making it easier to mine by hobbyists instead of massive mining rigs. However, considering that the last communication from BUM’s dev team was a tweet in February 2018 of a single-worded vulgarity, it’s a safe bet this hard fork has been cancelled.
Bitcoin Cash Plus
Bitcoin Cash Plus went live in the middle of February 2017. This hard fork altered the core Bitcoin blockchain in ways that resemble Bitcoin Cash, hence the addition of “Plus” to its name. The core conceit behind BCP, however, are not to use it for speculative gain but as a peer-to-peer payment system instead.
Bitcoin Silver is a good example of “just because it’s got Bitcoin in the name doesn’t mean it’s good.” This supposed hard fork, after some research, turned out to be a pre-mined coin that the Bitcoin Silver team is offering in an ICO — and is accepting Ether in return. This differs from traditional Bitcoin hard forks, where anyone holding BTC gets an equal amount of the new forked currency automatically.
Further in the Future
Thanks to the success of hard forks like Bitcoin Cash, these half-a-dozen new Bitcoin hard forks are unlikely to be the last of their kind. New and enterprising dev teams are going to continue to design alternatives to the core Bitcoin blockchain ledger for the rest of 2018 and, likely, for many more years to come.
Will any of these hard forks ever achieve as much success as the original? Time will tell, but we don’t recommending holding your breath.
About the Author:
Catherine Tims is the owner of at Ivy League Content. After receiving her Master’s degree in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Arizona, she taught writing to graduate students at the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana. She has her own writing business, and freelances full time for business clients who need highly-researched articles. You can follow her on twitter @ivyleaguewriter