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A wise man once compared Bitcoin to the Model T Ford. The ancestor of the modern day automobile, the Model T lacked any safety features, was difficult to navigate, got horrible mileage and offered far less comfort than its modern day counterpart.
And just as the subsequent automobile models aimed to improve upon the flaws of the Model T, so do the various forks improve upon those of Bitcoin. A Bitcoin fork doesn’t need to have a lot in common with the original protocol. In fact, some forks can deviate greatly from Bitcoin and some can be merge-forks with other cryptocurrencies.
There are over two dozen or so Bitcoin forks to date, with more to come this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Frankly, not every single Bitcoin fork is worth writing about. Some will be only briefly mentioned. And the ones that are based on extraordinary projects or mass market adoption will be described in length.
Since the forking of Bitcoin Cash (BCH) last year, by far the most well-known of all the Bitcoin forks, roughly 20 forks have been created. Though BCH is not trading anywhere near BTC, the comparison between the two coins is interesting, as illustrated at TX Highway, a live side-by-side representation of the two networks.
The runner up for most well-known fork is Bitcoin Gold (BTG) has been designed with the little guy in mind. BTG employs the Equihash algorithm instead of Bitcoin’s SHA-256, This lowers the barrier to entry for mining because the algorithm is ASIC-resistant, meaning that specialized equipment like ASIC miners will not be able to mine the coin faster than the average laptop.. Their development team is also working on integrating smart contracts and the beta version of BTGPay, an e-commerce platform and debit card centered around the cryptocurrency.
Next down the line is Bitcoin Diamond (BCD). Though its name suggests the exact opposite, Bitcoin Diamond is neither rare or expensive, as it has a supply cap ten times that of Bitcoin and only trades for less than $10 each. The BCD Foundation insists that the larger max supply of BCD is intended to make mining it easier, thus lowering the bar to entry for small-time miners.
As the Bitcoin network becomes more congested with increasing trade volume, its 1MB block size limit and its block interval time of 10 minutes (that is, the average amount of time it takes for a new block to be found), creates a very obvious bottleneck resulting in higher transaction fees and longer confirmation times, bringing confirmation times to a grinding halt..
The skyrocketing network traffic led to confirmation times last year that took weeks and cost between $30 and $40 in miners fees.. Many of these forks have come into existence to offer a solution of their own to the sluggish design of the Bitcoin network.
It’s also important to consider the rate of emergency difficulty adjustment (EDA) in respect to the overall speed of a cryptocurrency. If hash power decreases significantly for a network and the difficulty for mining is based on when the network previously had more hash power, then it will take longer for the blocks to be mined, thus contributing to the speed or lack thereof for confirmation times. Bitcoin is designed to change its difficulty rate every two weeks, which can be a severe drag on speed if the rate of hash power fluctuates every day or even in a few hours. Interestingly enough, almost all of the forks will integrate or already integrated the Lightning Network.
Bitcoin SegWit 2X X11 (B2X) has a block time of 2.5 minutes and a block limit of 4MB. Oil Bitcoin (OBTC) has a block time of 90 seconds, has a block size of 2MB and performs an EDA after every block. Bitcoin Silver (BTCS) has a block time of 30 seconds and an EDA after every block. Not to be outdone, Lightning Bitcoin (LBTC) has a block time of 3 seconds, a block size limit of 2 MB and no EDA.
The public viewability of all Bitcoin transactions have raised concerns among privacy advocates for some time. Several forks like Bitcoin Private (BTCP), which is technically a merge fork between Z Classic and Bitcoin, attempt to address this flaw. Bitcoin Private employs zk-SNARK or zero-knowledge proofs to ensure that transactions can be fully encrypted on the blockchain, yet still be verified as valid. Otherwise, Bitcoin Private has all the other familiar aspects of the original protocol.
Super Bitcoin (SBTC) and BitcoinX are two forks that have integrated zero-knowledge proofs in their protocols. Bitcoin Faith (BTF) is in the process of implementing zero-knowledge proofs proofs to shield their transactions from prying eyes. There’s even a debate currently going on whether or not to add zero-knowledge proofs to BCH.
A few Bitcoin forks are built around proposed innovations which, if successful could revolutionize cryptocurrency. One such fork is Bitcoin Atom (BCA), whose underlying technology is based on the theory of atomic swaps. This allows for the swapping of cryptocurrencies without the use of a trusted third party.
This proposed technology involves the use of smart contracts to make the exchange. The development team is working on BCA to be able to make atomic swaps with ten major cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, DASH and Litecoin with future implementations for all other ERC20 tokens.
Bitcoin Interest (BCI) offers users a sort of interest-bearing savings account for “parking” their coins in a specific wallet for a period of time and slowly accruing interest. Described as their “savings technology”,BCI blocks offer two rewards when mined, one reward for the miners and another smaller reward for users who hold their BCI in wallets they call “interest pools”. The theory is that crypto that is sitting in one place as opposed to being traded back and forth will reduce the overall volatility of the crypto market. If this technical innovation turns out to work, we just might be looking at the beginning of the end for traditional banking.
BitcoinFile (BIFI) bills itself as a blockchain-based point-to-point distributed file system. It integrates the Bitcoin protocol with that of the Interplanetary File system (IPFS), a file system The coin’s blockchain should be fully integrated with the IPFS protocol by fall. Imagine cryptocurrency being transferred without access to the Internet! It would be akin to the first mammal crawling out of the ocean.
As the Bitcoin code base continues to evolve, one might wonder which forks will survive, which ones will wither away and perhaps even, which one will replace Bitcoin. It’s anyone’s guess at this point. The forking of Bitcoin may lead to something as revolutionary and groundbreaking as the invention of the blockchain itself.