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MultiBit's Jim Burton: Satoshi's Vision of a Peer-to-Peer Currency Needs Bigger Blocks

Op-ed - MultiBit's Jim Burton: Satoshi's Vision of a Peer-to-Peer Currency Needs Bigger Blocks

Jim Burton, the British lead developer of “lightweight” Bitcoin client MultiBit, favors a rapid block-size increase in order to allow for more transactions on the network, rather than focusing on layers built on top of Bitcoin.

“Philosophically, we think that Satoshi's vision of a peer-to-peer currency needs bigger blocks,” Burton told Bitcoin Magazine. We want people to be able to transact person-to-person 'on-chain'. We are starting to see large transaction backlogs, for instance recently on Black Friday, so the need for bigger blocks is clear.”

The block-size dispute – which represents a trade-off between the number of transactions the Bitcoin network can handle and its decentralization – seems to be reaching decisive weeks. A large segment of Bitcoin's academic and engineering community will discuss the question of how best to scale Bitcoin at the upcoming Scaling Bitcoin workshop in Hong Kong on the 6th and 7th of this month, while several prominent Bitcoin companies have stated they intend to change their code to allow for bigger blocks within the next weeks.

Burton acknowledged that bigger blocks might add centralization risk to Bitcoin’s network, but he said he believes these are manageable. Additionally, the MultiBit developer hopes that the Scaling Bitcoin workshop in Hong Kong might help establish solutions for moving forward.

“As for the cost of running a full node, any company running a Bitcoin-based service will probably want to run at least one Bitcoin Core or XT node to ensure the data they are using is accurate,” Burton said. “And while bigger blocks need software engineering to improve propagation, this is the focus of the two 'Scaling Bitcoin' conferences.

“We will not be attending the conference in Hong Kong ourselves, but will be following the event closely,’ he added. “Most people I have spoken to about the block-size limit want to see action rather than a prolonged debate, so I am hoping we will see a clear path forward in the next couple of months.”

Currently, there are several proposals and ideas to increase Bitcoin's block-size limit. The solution to increase the block size designed by Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Core developer Gavin Andresen, BIP 101, was implemented into alternative Bitcoin implementation Bitcoin XT last summer, and is programmed to increase the maximum block size to 8 megabytes if a threshold of 75 percent of mining power accepts the change. Once activated, this limit is set to double every two years for 20 years, ultimately leading to an 8-gigabyte block-size limit.

Another idea that has been gathering support is Blockstream CEO and Hashcash inventor Dr. Adam Back's “2-4-8” quick fix, which would incrementally increase to the limit to 8 megabytes in three steps over four years time.

Other proposals – both regarding the block-size limit and concerning alternative scaling solutions – will be discussed in Hong Kong this week as well.

While Burton, whose MultiBit was launched more than four years ago, believes the block-size should limit should be increased soon, he did not give a clear preference for the type of solution.

“We are fortunate that the architecture of both MultiBit Classic and MultiBit HD is agnostic to the block size. Both versions will happily connect to either Bitcoin Core or XT, and should work without change for any of the proposed block sizes,” Burton said. “We would be very pleased to see BIP 101 implemented, but if the consensus is that increasing it '2-4-8' is a safer procedure we would be happy to see that, too.”

Lastly, Burton indicated he is in favor of additional scaling solutions, such as layers built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, as long as the scalability doesn’t solely rely on it.

“Additional layers on top of Bitcoin such as the Lightning Network will also be needed to scale Bitcoin,” he said. “But it is not an 'either/or' situation. We can do both.”