As mistakes do ‘happen,’ Ethereum (ETH) is now forced to have another hard fork in January, less than a month after the Istanbul upgrade.
During the Istanbul update earlier this month, the developers have made a mistake in estimating when the feature known as the difficulty bomb which slows down blocks, aka Ice Age, would become a threat, expecting it wouldn’t become noticeable until mid-2020, says a blog post posted by Pooja Ranjan, founder of blockchain-based company Avarch and its project EtherWorld. As the bomb will go off earlier than originally presumed another hard fork is necessary to delay it.
At the Ethereum Core Devs Meeting #77 four days ago, it was agreed that a new hard fork, Muir Glacier, will be activated at block number 9,200,000, likely on January 1-4, 2020. This will delay Ice Age by 4 million blocks (c. 611 days).
Ethereum is planned to eventually go from the Proof of Work (PoW) consensus algorithm, used also by Bitcoin (BTC), to Proof of Stake (PoS) algorithm on its way to Ethereum 2.0. In the meantime, to lead to it, developers came up with a difficulty bomb or Ice Age, which is a mechanism that artificially and gradually makes generating new blocks more difficult and mining unprofitable.
“The ice age increments every 100,000 blocks. It at first is barely noticeable, but once it is visible, there is a drastic effect on block-times in the network,” explains Ethereum developer James Hancock. Hancock proposed the hard fork called Muir Glacier, meant to push back Ice Age so the developers would have time to see whether they want to update it with predictable behavior or remove it. EIPs 2387 and the upgrade’s only improvement proposal 2384 currently still have the ‘last call’ status.
Not everybody thinks it’s a miscalculation or that the issue is that simple. The loudest critic so far has been developer and Bitcoin supporter Udi Wertheimer, who claims that "Ethereum devs, and the entire ecosystem really, FORGOT to take care of an issue which caused an unplanned reduction of TWENTY (20) PERCENT in inflation rate and security," adding that "it’s an EPIC OVERSIGHT, but according to ETH proponents I’m just being hyperbolic."
Wertheimer warned in his Twitter thread about the mistake, saying that "the genius Ethereum devs didn’t even know their own system well enough to notice that blocks are getting slower." He added that it’s something more people should be talking about and that the stakeholders need to be aware of it, though some ETH supporters claim that many stakeholders were indeed aware of it. The developer also raised a point that some ETH service providers may not realize it’s a new update at all since it follows Istanbul so closely, thus seeing no need to update the nodes again, and that more and better communication is necessary – which is a sentiment also expressed in a comment on Ranjan’s blog post.
Well let me be the bearer of this news then: multiple stakeholders had no idea. I know this because many ETH holders have approached me since tweeting this asking for more information. Clearly technical discussions on github and some subreddits aren’t enough to reach everyone
— Udi Wertheimer (@udiWertheimer) December 16, 2019
Ethereum developer Péter Szilágyi admitted that Wertheimer has a point, adding that Ethereum and developers are not perfect, and that mistakes are made in the learning process. “Still, better admit you miscalculated something and fix it, than wait for crypto Jesus’ second coming,” says Szilágyi.
Other people, such as the founder of Bitcoin alpha hedge fund Adamant Capital, Tuur Demeester, also commented on Ice Age:
My take on ethereum's Ice Age difficulty bombs: it's the equivalent of the Senate writing in the constitution "this country will transition to communism in XX days" in order to ensure that the constitution be regularly "updated", thus conveniently turning senators into oligarchs.
— Tuur Demeester (@TuurDemeester) December 6, 2019
Meanwhile, Ethereum developer Griffin Ichiba Hotchkiss said in a recent blog post that ETH 2.0 aka “Serenity” will not be ready as early as hoped, and that it’ll likely take another 3-5 years. Eric Conner, a product researcher at blockchain startup Gnosis and Ethereum advocate, believes that a delay in Ice Age is not a delay in Ethereum 2.0, which Szilágyi said in the developers meeting too.
ETH is currently (12:55 UTC) trading at USD 132, having dropped 6.42% in a day and 10.12% in a week.