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Electrum Developer Thomas Voegtlin: Soft Fork Preferable for Political Reasons

In part five of this series, Bitcoin Wallet developer and bitcoinj maintainer Andreas Schildbach talks about SegWit's future
Op-ed - Electrum Developer Thomas Voegtlin: Soft Fork Preferable for Political Reasons

The long-lasting block size dispute has catapulted into the center of attention again. One of the most talked-about developments is Segregated Witness, of which a public testnet iteration was launched last week. The innovation as recently proposed by Blockstream co-founder and Bitcoin Core developer Dr. Pieter Wuille is a centerpiece of a scalability “roadmap” set out by Bitcoin Core.

To find out where the broader development community stands on Segregated Witness, Bitcoin Magazine reached out to library and wallet developers, those who will need to do the heavy lifting in order to utilize the innovation once rolled out.

In part 5 of this series: Electrum developer Thomas Voegtlin.

Segregated Witness Highly Supportable

Electrum – a hybrid model of light clients for end users and full node servers run by hosts – is one of the most-used wallets in the Bitcoin ecosystem today; according to Voegtlin’s estimations, his software processes up to 10 percent of all Bitcoin transactions. The developer has started experimenting with the Segregated Witness testnet, and will try to integrate it into his wallet once rolled out on the Bitcoin network.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Voegtlin said:

“I like Segregated Witness because it makes Bitcoin cleaner, by separating transaction data from script data. That separation has the benefit of finally removing transaction malleability, which is much needed. It also opens the door for future extensions of the scripting language, enabling all sorts of new use cases. And of course, I’m favorable to an increase in the network capacity.”

The developer believes that the added effort to integrated Segregated Witness is within acceptable range.

“It will be very easy to support transacting to Segregated Witness addresses,” Voegtlin explained. “But to really support Segregated Witness, we need to change address generation in the wallet, and the way transactions are signed. The first step will be to update the Electrum servers, in order to index Segregated Witness scripts – then to update the client. I can combine the server work with a more general update which I planned to do anyway. All in all, that will probably keep me busy for a few months – but the added effort for Segregated Witness is manageable.”

Soft Fork Best Overall

The Bitcoin Core development team plans to roll out Segregated Witness as a soft fork in April of this year. Once a super-majority of miners agrees on this solution, wallets can utilize the benefits – including almost 1 megabyte of added block space for transactions.

But this strategy is now being contested by recently launched Bitcoin Core competitor Bitcoin Classic. Bitcoin Classic plans to deploy a 2-megabyte block size increase through a hard fork instead, meaning all full nodes on the network need to switch.

Voegtlin explained that he has no strong position on the preferred block size limit itself – though he regrets that technical discussion has taken a backseat lately.

“I am not in a position to tell what the best block size is,” Voegtlin said. “Unfortunately, the block size debate has been dominated by quasi-religious attitudes, conflicts of interest, struggles of power and very little scientific data. I wish it was merely a technical issue. However, when a group of people proposes to hard fork Bitcoin against the will of its core developers, it stops being a technical issue, it becomes political.”

As such, Voegtlin believes that a soft fork would be the best way to go, for now.

“If we lived in a perfect world, where all developers agree on the direction Bitcoin should take, then a hard fork would be better, because it would be cleaner,” he said. “However, after all the controversy we had, and the various attempts to impose a hard fork against the will of Bitcoin Core developers, I believe a soft fork is preferable. Not for technical reasons, but for political reasons.”

For more information on Segregated Witness, see Bitcoin Magazine’s three-partseries on the subject, or part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 of this development series.