A hard fork, you recall, is basically a software update. Some upgrades — like a new version of Windows — are a massive undertaking. They change the whole way your computer looks and functions. Others are very much like those apps on your smartphone that always seem to be downloading and installing something. Largely unnoticeable to average users. Software updates are essential to ﬁx bugs, beef up security to meet new threats, and add new features. They are a key part of the regular maintenance required to keep computers and applications running at peak eﬃciency and functionality. Why can’t we just stick with what we’ve got and never upgrade? That might work for your old laptop running an outdated version of MS Word. But in cryptocurrencies, software updates are absolutely essential to ﬁx bugs, counter new security threats and add new features. Moreover, all cryptocurrencies live on distributed ledgers. By deﬁnition, those are shared databases, running with shared software that must be upgraded across the entire network.
Ethereum has many challenges, but scaling is currently the biggest among them. According to available data, the network currently runs at full capacity 24/7, with approximately 40,000-50,000 transactions unable to make it through traﬃc jams each day. This is a constant reminder of surplus demand that the network is unable to satisfy. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests these bottlenecks may be driving traﬃc from Ethereum to EOS, Tron and other distributed ledgers that can more readily handle the larger transaction volumes. But Ethereum is the home base of thousands of applications. It’s far more complex than Bitcoin. So, not only does it need an upgrade badly, the required changes are far too complex for a soft fork. For the Ethereum community, the only practical path forward is a hard fork. And that comes with risks, possibly big risks.
Although just ﬁve miners control the lion’s share of its computing resources, the Ethereum network actually has 9,101 functioning nodes. All of them must upgrade to any new software version before the launch date to avoid any risk of a network split. Trouble is, getting everybody to agree to almost anything is like herding cats.
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