Ethereum’s Long Awaited Constantinople Upgrade — What to Expect and What You Need to Know
Ethereum’s long awaited Constantinople upgrade was scheduled to occur at block #7080000. Hours before this long awaited upgrade was to occur, the Core Developers issued another postpone as a result from a potential security vulnerability related to one component of the upgrade.
As a token holder, there is nothing that needs to be done, both for the upgrade and also for the delay. Full node operators who have already upgraded will need to upgrade again to an emergency version of the Etherum software client or downgrade to the previous version.
No new announcement date has been made public for the fork. But this then begs the question, if this is a decentralized network, who then has the right to decide on a delay?
Ever since Blockchain became a reality, there have been hard forks. Sometimes, as a result of a vulnerability found in the code, other times as a response to an unresolved disagreement between stakeholders on progress updates, and even occasionally, due to a planned upgrade.
What is a fork?
As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is not a utensil user for eating, nor one for gathering hay. In this regard, a fork is essentially, a change in code for a blockchain; think of it similar to an upgrade on your Microsoft Office application.
There are two types of forks, hard and soft forks. In a nutshell, hard forks are upgrades to the blockchain code which are not backwards compatible, and as such, nodes which have not upgraded will be unable to validate blocks created by the upgraded nodes. A soft fork, is a backwards compatible upgrade to the code which accepts blocks from both upgraded and non-upgraded nodes. Whichever nodes reach majority, upgraded vs non-upgraded, will result in the change sticking or getting ‘washed away’.
Note: These forks are not to be confused with software forks where a new product is created by taking original code and adjusting it, such as was the case with the creation of Litecoin from the Bitcoin code.
In the case of the Ethereum Constantinople Upgrade, we are talking about a hard fork.
Notable forks from the past
Over the years there have been a few notable hard forks which resulted in a complete split in a coin due to there not being a clear enough majority of upgraded vs. non-upgraded.
Aug 2017 — BCH
Following the integration of the Controversial SegWit feature on the Bitcoin Chain, Bitcoin Cash was the Child of this and continues to this day with quite a strong following. Since then there have been 44 other forks, most resulting in poorly adopted coins that soon die off.
July 2016 — ETC
In June, 2016 3.6 Million Ether (~$50 million USD) was stolen from accounts in The DAO, exploiting one of the vulnerabilities that had been raised regarding the Ethereum network in May the same year. Following this, there was an intense debate from the DAO and Ethereum communities regarding how to resolve this theft of funds. A hard fork was decided upon, allowing a rollback to occur and the stolen funds to be moved back into the original owners accounts. A portion of the community rejected this fork on the premise that a blockchain cannot be changed and decided to keep the original blockchain version, resulting in Ethereum Classic.
Late 2018 — ETH
This upcoming fork was originally planned for the later part of 2018. But was called off by the Ethereum development team due to issues encountered in the Ropsten Testnet hard fork, resulting in a 3-way fork. Following this, a new Testnet fork was scheduled for Jan 9, 2019 on the Rinkeby Testnet. A successful split occurred, according to the announcedment by Ethereum Core Developer, Peter Szilagyi. Only a few hours before the fork was meant to occur, the Etherum Core Developers have put in yet another delay.
This time they stated another identified vulnerability to be the reason for this new delay. According to a statement, although they couldn’t find any cases of the vulnerability, they still could not guarantee a zero risk. The vulnerability is related to the EIP-1283, resulting in certain smart contracts being vulnerable to reentrancy attacks.
More details about this specific vulnerability is described by Chainsecurity, a blockchain security researcher.
What is this fork about?
This hard fork was scheduled to occur at block #7080000, estimated to occur around the 16th-17th of Jan, but with the delay there is no exact replacement block number or date. The upgrade will consist of five main implementations of new code adjustments, otherwise known as EIP’s (Ethereum Improvement Protocols).
EIP 145: Bitwise shifting instructions in EVM
- Written by: Alex Beregszaszi, and Paweł Bylica
- Effectively cuts the costs of certain activities on chain because native functionality added to the protocol.
EIP 1014: Skinny Create2
- Written by: Vitalik Buterin
- Allows interaction with addresses that do not exist on the chain yet.
EIP 1052: EXTCODEHASH opcode
- Written by Nick Johnson and Paweł Bylica
- Will ensure the return of keccak256 hash of a contract’s code. Decreases the cost of certain activities on the network.
EIP 1283: Net gas metering for SSTORE without dirty maps
- Written by Wei Tang
- Enables new usages for contract storage and reduces gas cost for SStore.
EIP 1234: Constantinople Difficulty Bomb Delay and Block Reward Adjustment
- Written by Afri Schoedon
- Reduces block reward from 3 ETH per block to 2 ETH per block [aka The Thirdening]. Delays difficulty bomb for another 12 months.
A key link to take note of is this Github page which will allow you to keep track of all progress related to the Constantinople Upgrade.
It is considered that EIP 1234 is one of (if not) the most important upgrade to occur, as this will reduce the total supply of new ETH by around one third, and as such, reducing the inflation rate of Ether from 7.7% to 4.8%.
After this fork, it is expected that block confirmation times will remain at 15 seconds. This time may improve when a separate fork, moving the Ethereum Consensus from PoW to PoS will occur in the future. There is some hope that the transaction fees associated with issuing smart contracts may be reduced by this fork, but this is yet unclear if it will and to what degree.
What needs to be done?
The most notably impacted will be exchanges like Binance, Coinbase, Kraken etc. were needing to update their nodes as well as other crypto related services, such as, Trust Wallet, MetaMask & Etherscan. In essence, any full node operator needed to upgrade their software to the latest version. However, due to the delay, they will now need to do another upgrade to emergency versions of their Ethereum software clients or downgrade to the previous version.
With saying this, Ethereum tholders will not be required to do anything in preparation for the fork nor is there anything needed now that there is a delay. In addition, once the upgrade occurs, it most likely will not have any noticeable affects post implementation of the hard fork. It is worth pointing out that often there can be high price fluctuations during this change. Often investors will buy into a coin, prior to a hard fork, with the hope of receiving equal amounts of both new coins that come out the other end. This is often followed by a large drop as all coin holders will sell off their unwanted coin from the version they will not support. But since this is common knowledge there are also other investors who try and capitalize on these anticipated price fluctuations and implement a ‘sell high, buy low’ process, resulting in an overall, unstable fluctuation prior and post upgrade.
It is often recommended to keep transactions of this coin to a minimum to ensure users do not get caught up in any potential mishaps, bugs or vulnerabilities during the hard fork process, as shown with this latest delay.
There is no new date announced for this fork to be rescheduled to.
As shown above, forks are not always bad and, many would argue are needed in order to progress blockchain technology into the next era. When considering it as a simple upgrade of software it is seemingly quite a natural occurrence for any software related network. In fact, many users are quite excited to see how this new upgrade will improve the overall functionality of the Ethereum network, paving the way for future improvements and implementations of this technology throughout other industries.
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