“Cautious optimism.”

That’s how Hudson Jameson, developer relations for the Ethereum Foundation, described the mood in the run-up to ethereum’s fifth planned system-wide upgrade, Constantinople.

Expected to activate next Wednesday, Jan. 16, Constantinople is a type of upgrade known as a hard fork – which means it needs to be unilaterally installed across all nodes in the network to function as intended.

This approach is a process that comes with inherent risks. For example, if a sufficient number of users don’t agree with an upgrade, it could cause the network to split. Such an event took place in 2016 when a controversial hard fork following the collapse of the DAO led to the emergence of two distinct blockchains, ethereum and ethereum classic.

Still, Afri Schoedon, release manager for the Parity ethereum client, said that risk of a chain split is low because adoption of the upgrade by ethereum’s top mining pools – the parties most critical in avoiding a chain split – has been strong.

“Miners are prepared,” Schoedon said. “Only miners can split the chain.”

Currently, a tracking website ran by Peter Pratscher, the CEO of top ether mining pool Ethermine, tracks Constantinople adoption to be a mere 15.6 percent. Speaking to CoinDesk, Pratscher said that the statistics are flawed, and claimed the adoption to be closer to a majority.

“We expect most of the not-updated nodes to be updated by the time the fork block arrives,” Pratscher said.

Named after the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople forms part of a three-part upgrade called Metropolis. It combines a total of five ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs). And while the majority are non-controversial tweaks, one aspect of the upgrade has been the cause of some controversy.

In particular, Constantinople delays the “difficulty-bomb,” an algorithm in ethereum’s that increases mining difficulty over time. Because the upgrade will decrease the mining difficulty, it also takes steps to reduce the reward miners are given for securing the network – down from 3 ETH to 2 ETH per block.

This has led miners to express discontent with the upgrade. But at the same time, major mining pools have stepped up in support of the change.

“We expect a smooth upgrade without any issues,” Pratscher remarked.

Splits aside, there are also other risks to a system-wide network upgrade as well. Code bugs can cause networks to splinter, and algorithms can go awry, leading to unanticipated difficulties. But developers are confident that such risks are minimal in Constantinople, and in the months leading up to next week’s event, testing has sought to sniff out vulnerabilities in the software.

“We have testing and monitoring software such as our fork monitor and protocol fuzz tester that constantly monitor for issues before, during, and after hard forks,” Hudson Jameson said,

“We are very excited to be implementing these changes to the ethereum protocol. However, we put the safety and stability of the network first and foremost.”

Array of upgrades

Constantinople introduces five new upgrades to the network.

As previously detailed by CoinDesk, these include optimizations for developers that seek to make smart contract and decentralized application design more approachable.

Taylor Monahan, the CEO of ethereum wallet MyCrypto, described the overall thrust of the Constantinople upgrade as “simple quality-of-life improvements for contract development.”

According to core developer Nick Johnson, one such upgrade, EIP 1283, involves what is called “net gas metering.” Originally authored by Johnson, this element will improve one of ethereum’s ongoing usability issues – its rising gas costs.

“With it, we can reduce unnecessary gas overhead for contracts, as well as making new coding patterns cost-effective,” he said.

Another upgrade – cited by several developers as the most exciting of the Constantinople change – is EIP 1014. Also called Skinny CREATE2, the upgrade is expected to pave way for new kinds of layer two scaling solutions, such as state channels.

“It makes it possible to create new types of state channels that reduce or even eliminate onchain deployment costs, which improves scalability and reduces costs and hassle for users,” Johnson said.

According to Turbo Geth’s Alexey Akhunov, EIP 1014 could impact future ethereum changes, such as the potential implementation of rent or rolling costs for storing data on the ethereum platform. And it could lead to other, unanticipated new smart contract features as well.

“Another exciting (and potentially dangerous) thing that CREATE2 enables [is] recreating the contracts at the same address after they have been destroyed,” Akhunov said, explaining:

“This recreation can be done either with the same code, or (with a bit more trickery) with a different code – which basically leads to fully-upgradable contracts.”

Constantinople also includes 2 further upgrades – EIP 145 and EIP 1052 – which will improve ease-of-use for smart contract development and streamline certain operations…

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