We are just a few days away from the May 15 Bitcoin Cash fork, which will both tighten security and add new features to the coin. Among the new features, are a change to the maximum block limit (which will be set to 32 Megabytes), Op-codes (or operational codes) which have been dormant in Bitcoin’s system for years will get activated, and its data storage capabilities will also be increased greatly allowing for many different types of data to be stored (not just transactional data).
These are the main reasons why the community is excited, but there is one issue which needs to be discussed: what should we call these changes? Some are referring to it as a hard fork, whereas others seem to prefer the term ‘upgrade’. To understand why this is a talking point we need to understand what these terms actually mean.
What is a hard fork?
A hard fork is where developers copy the protocol (or rules) of a specific coin, make changes to it, and then choose to split the blockchain so that the chain they support will facilitate the new rules. This can create a new cryptocurrency, but it doesn’t necessarily destroy the original one. For instance, Bitcoin Cash is a hard fork of Bitcoin (Core), but both coexist. This is because hard forks are essentially updates which conflict with the current code.
However, this does not mean that every hard fork will create new coins— Monero is known to organise hard forks somewhat regularly as a means of updating its system and adding new features. The only times when a hard fork creates a viable new coin is when there are not enough people to support the fork. For instance, if a new fork was created to change a specific feature, but only 10% of miners could agree on it, then it will create a new coin with 10% of miners taking part in it and the other 90% still supporting the original coin.
What is a soft fork?
A soft fork is an update to a coin’s code, which does not conflict with the pre-existing code. This means that the blockchain does not split, which makes it backwards compatible. Backwards compatibility means that newer blocks on the chain can sit alongside older blocks without there being any problems. If miners choose not to enforce a soft fork they will create invalid blocks, but unlike a hard fork, they have no alternatives. They cannot choose to adopt only the older rules because everything is still on the same chain.
Sometimes people mistake hard forks which do not create new coins as soft forks. This is because many people’s introduction to the concept of forks was during the Bitcoin fork which created Bitcoin Cash, leading people to assume that all hard forks create new coins.
Is the Bitcoin Cash fork hard or soft?
The upcoming Bitcoin Cash fork is a hard fork. This is because some of the changes being made must have their own designated chain because their code does not allow them to be compatible with the current chain. However, this does not mean that a new cryptocurrency will be created from the fork. Bitcoin Cash is using this fork merely as a way to add new features and changes, it is not happening due to any disagreements within the community.
With that said, it is possible that this hard fork could result in another coin, purely because it is common for groups of developers to use current code to make new coins. For instance, many developers take advantage of Monero’s regular hard forks and use it as an excuse to make a different coin. Bitcoin (Core) is also taken advantage of. For example, Bitcoin Diamond was a hard fork which was created with a small minority of miners supporting it. It did not split the community in the same way Bitcoin Cash did, but because there were enough miners who wanted a new coin and a fork, it happened.
When Bitcoin Cash hard forks there will be two separate chains, but only one chain will have any economic value (the new chain). The old chain (which could be referred to as ‘Bitcoin Cash Classic’) will not have any value to it, will no longer be accepted by exchanges, and will be obsolete. In technical terms, you could call this a separate coin, but from an ideological standpoint, a currency must have value, and if a currency has no value then it cannot be a coin. Currency is an agreement to pass wealth to another individual, but if the old chain has no wealth, then there is no agreement.
Why is the Bitcoin Cash community calling this an upgrade?
The Bitcoin Cash community is distancing itself from the term ‘hard fork’. The reason for this is because of how politically charged the phrase is. Hard forks are often viewed as a drastic decision born from a fundamental disagreement (such as how Bitcoin Cash was initially created). The Bitcoin Cash miners are all in agreement of the new hard fork, so there are no complications. To avoid confusion and misinterpretation, they are calling it an upgrade instead. Essentially, they are right— it is an upgrade. The fork is not changing much, but rather adding new features and tightening its durability.
Hopefully, this explains the differences between hard forks and soft forks, as well as explains the reasons for calling the new Bitcoin Cash fork an ‘upgrade’. More details about how the upgrade performs on the world stage will likely be revealed after it takes place on May 15.
Kai is a cryptocurrency copywriter and professional trader. He can often be found investigating various cryptocurrencies, whitepapers, and blockchain technologies. Kai has been a professional writer for 5+ years, and has invested in 50+ different coins and tokens. He also currently studies Law and Philosophy at university.