In the realm of crypto, the term “fork” is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly widespread these days. But what exactly are they, and why precisely do they carry such a great deal of weight? There are two kinds of forks: hard and soft, and they vary in terms of the effect that they have on the blockchain that was first created.
In computer programming, the term “fork” refers to a change of the open-source code that might result in two “prongs” that are not mutually exclusive but instead coexist.
Forks may be put to use for testing a procedure, or in the case of cryptocurrencies, for implementing a fundamental modification or producing a new asset with attributes that are analogous to those of the original.
It is important to keep in mind that not all forks are carried out on purpose. Forks may occasionally take place unintentionally when nodes fail to reproduce the same information. The majority of times when a cryptocurrency splits, it’s because people disagree over some aspect of the coin’s underlying blockchain. There could be more reasons why forks happen too, though.
This guide would talk all about such Hard forks, what they are and why are they essential to the blockchain. If you are confused between a Soft fork and a Hard fork and want to learn how they differ in nature, this article would also clear this concept for you. Hence, keep reading!
What is a Hard Fork?
In the world of cryptocurrencies, the term “hard fork” refers to a permanent split in the blockchain that produces two distinct and incompatible copies of the ledger. Hard forks can only occur once. This may occur if there is a significant change in the network’s protocol or regulations that are not compatible with earlier versions of the software.
As a consequence of this, nodes or miners who do not update to the new version may continue to function on the old chain, but those who do upgrade will work on the new chain, thus resulting in the creation of two distinct cryptocurrencies.
This has the potential to have repercussions for the whole of the network, including the value of the cryptocurrency, the safety of the network, and the community of users and developers that make up the network.
During a hard fork, the currently active blockchain is essentially divided into two distinct and autonomous copies that continue to exist and operate independently from one another after the fork has taken place.
The new version of the blockchain includes a set of rules that are incompatible with the older version because these new rules are different from the rules included in the original version of the blockchain. This implies that nodes and miners who continue to follow the old rules will stay on the original chain, whilst nodes and miners that convert to the new rules will follow the new chain.
The original chain will remain unchanged though and this entire process has the potential to result in the establishment of a new cryptocurrency that works on the new chain and has its distinct user network as well as its history.
It is also possible for this to result in a community split, in which some participants in the network decide to support the new chain, while others decide to continue participating in the old chain.
Some hard forks are the result of purposeful planning and execution, while others are the result of disputes or conflicts within the community or the development team. Hard forks may occur in any of these two scenarios. The consequences of a hard fork are very variable and rely on the particular circumstances, as well as the size and importance of the networks that are involved.
The split that occurred in 2017 between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash is considered to be one of the first instances of a hard fork in the cryptocurrency industry. The Bitcoin community was divided on the most effective approach to increasing the size of the network, which led to the need for this hard split.
The resultant split produced two distinct forms of digital currency, Bitcoin (BTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH), each of which has its own set of governing laws and set of capabilities. A more recent instance of a hard fork happened in December 2020, when Ethereum went through a predetermined hard fork that was referred to as the Beacon Chain upgrade.
The Ethereum network had a hard split as part of its transition from a consensus algorithm based on proof-of-work (PoW) to a consensus method based on proof-of-stake (PoS). The Ethereum network has been updated with a new set of rules and features thanks to the Beacon Chain upgrade.
These additions are aimed to enhance the network’s security, scalability, and long-term viability.
Another recent instance of a hard fork took place in November 2021, when the “Infinite” update was implemented in Solana. This particular hard fork was aimed to fix several performance concerns and enhance the capacity of the network, letting it process more transactions per second.
This was accomplished by increasing the capacity of the network. The Solana blockchain has been updated to include a brand-new set of rules and capabilities as a direct consequence of the hard fork that took place.
Hence, you can see that Hard forks are necessary for blockchains because they offer a means for making large modifications and improvements to the network. This makes hard forks a vital component of blockchains. Because blockchains are meant to be decentralized and resistant to change, it may be difficult to apply updates or enhancements to the network.
However, Hard forks provide the community with the ability to propose and implement changes to the codebase or consensus mechanism of a blockchain. These changes can assist in the resolution of technical issues, the addition of new features, or the improvement of the network’s performance and security.
Hard forks can also be used to increase the capacity of the network. This makes it possible for the blockchain to develop over time and adapt to different use cases and obstacles as they arise.
Without hard forks, it would be difficult or impossible to make significant changes to the blockchain network without a centralized authority. This may potentially weaken the decentralized governance and trust model of the blockchain network.
Hard forks make it possible for developers to try out new concepts and strategies for the construction of decentralized networks, which is another way in which they foster innovation in the blockchain and cryptocurrency arena.
Why does Hard Fork Occur?
Hard forks in cryptocurrencies may occur for several reasons, but in most cases, they are the consequence of disputes or conflicts among members of the cryptocurrency community or the development team over how the cryptocurrency network should function. Hard forks may be caused by a variety of factors, the most prevalent of which are as follows:
A hard fork may be used to execute significant upgrades to the protocol, such as changes to the consensus method, block size, or transaction speed. This kind of upgrade may need a new version of the blockchain.
Disagreements over how the network ought to be managed, who ought to make decisions, and how changes ought to be executed may potentially result in hard forks. If members of the community are unable to reach an agreement on these matters, it is possible that it will be required to fork the blockchain in order to form a distinct network that is governed according to its own set of protocols.
In some circumstances, hard forks may be utilized to resolve security vulnerabilities or to rectify defects in the source code that governs the network. A hard fork can be needed if the required modifications to solve these problems are not compatible with previous versions of the software.
Forking as a Deliberate Strategy
Some cryptocurrency projects may intentionally plan to fork their blockchain as part of their development strategy. This may be done in order to create a new network that has a different set of features, or it may be done in order to give users more control over the network.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hard Forks
In the context of blockchain networks and cryptocurrencies, hard forks provide a number of benefits that should not be overlooked. Hard forks make it possible to make significant modifications and updates to a blockchain network, which may improve the network’s usability, speed, and safety.
By introducing modifications to the network’s codebase or consensus method, they may contribute to the resolution of technical flaws or vulnerabilities that have been discovered in the network. Hence, it can be said that Hard forks make blockchains stronger, smarter, and upgraded from time to time.
Furthermore, such procedures may also allow the inclusion of new features or use cases for the blockchain network. Some examples of this include the ability to perform new kinds of transactions or smart contracts.
Hard forks provide developers with the opportunity to test out novel concepts and strategies for the construction of decentralized systems, which may serve to foster innovation in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industries.
In the end, they may make it possible for the network to be governed in a decentralized manner, which means that modifications can be proposed and implemented based on the agreement of the community rather than under the supervision of a single authoritative body.
This reduces the hold of power in hands of a single ruling entity and rather divides it among all people in the blockchain community.
Now that you are well aware of the advantages of hard forks, let us learn a few cons they carry too so that you can get their complete picture. Though Hard forks provide blockchain networks the opportunity to execute big modifications and improvements, they also come with a few drawbacks that should be taken into consideration.
To begin, a hard fork has the potential to generate factions within the community of users and developers of a cryptocurrency, with some users and developers favoring the earlier version of the blockchain while others favor the more recent version. This may result in a schism within the community, which in turn may have an impact on the overall value and usage of the network.
In addition, when a hard fork takes place, the hashing power of the network is split between the older version of the blockchain and the newer version of the blockchain. Attackers may be able to take advantage of the reduced hash rates and conduct assaults as a result of this, which may lead to a loss in the security provided by both chains.
Hard forks may also be perplexing for users of cryptocurrencies, as they may not comprehend the repercussions of the changes or how to transition to the new version of the blockchain. Cryptocurrency users may not grasp the ramifications of the changes or may take a longer period of time to finally understand and begin working with the new features.
This may result in ambiguity and a lack of confidence in the network, both of which may have a negative impact on the network’s adoption and expansion. The implementation of a hard fork calls for a substantial amount of technical labor, including the update of nodes, wallets, and any other software that interacts with the network too.
The fact that this may be a difficult and time-consuming operation may cause the deployment of the new version of the blockchain to be delayed.
Hard forks, although they may be beneficial for making large changes and upgrades to a blockchain network, also have possible downsides that should be carefully addressed before moving forward with a fork.
Key Differences Between Hard and Soft Forks
The degree of backward compatibility that exists between the two distinct iterations of the blockchain is the primary distinction that exists between a hard fork and a soft fork in the realm of Bitcoin.
A blockchain may experience a hard fork when it experiences a permanent divergence that results in the creation of two distinct and incompatible copies of the blockchain. This happens if there is a significant change to the protocol or regulations of the network that is not backward-compatible with previous versions.
Those nodes or miners who do not update to the new version may continue to function on the old chain, whilst those that do upgrade will function on the new chain, thus establishing two distinct cryptocurrencies. As users, you can either choose to work with the new coin or the older one.
A soft fork, on the other hand, is a temporary split that is backward-compatible in nature. Those nodes or miners who do not update to the new version are allowed to continue operating on the older chain. On the other hand, those nodes or miners that do upgrade to the new version will continue to be able to function on both the older chain and the new chain.
As users, in the case of soft work, users can access both the new coin and the older one. Moreover, changes to the rules or features of the network that are implemented through soft forks are often less significant and do not need an extensive rewrite of the protocol that is already in place.
As a consequence of this, they are often simpler to put into action and cause far less disruption to the network than hard forks.
There are real-world uses for both soft forks and hard forks in the cryptocurrency sector; nevertheless, these two types of forks serve distinct functions in the industry. Soft forks are often used to make relatively modest modifications to the protocol, without necessitating a full rebuild of the blockchain that is already in place whereas hard forks are used to make major protocol upgrades.
Soft forks allow miners who haven’t updated to the most recent version of the cryptocurrency to continue participating in the validation of transactions, despite the fact that they may be an incentive to upgrade.
Both hard and soft forks are vital for the progression of the network since they make it possible to make adjustments and enhancements that are required without the need for centralized control.
A hard fork is a substantial modification made to a blockchain that forces all nodes in the network to migrate to the new version that supports the improved functionality or supports view of a particular part of the community. To put it another way, a hard fork is a network-wide upgrade, which is incompatible with prior versions of the blockchain.
In contrast, a soft fork is an upgrade that is compatible with older versions of the blockchain. Without having to depend on centralized servers, hard forks make it possible for blockchains and cryptocurrencies to incorporate newly created functions and improvements as they become available.