🎬 Constantinople Take 2 — Issue No. 29

🗞️ News

Ethereum core devs have scheduled the Constantinople upgrade hardfork to activate in the first few weeks of 2019. Best estimates place the date at 1/16/2019. The new schedule comes after the upgrade was delayed in October, when a release on the Ropsten test network led to the revelation of a chain split bug. In the post-mortem of that incident, the developers estimated a go-live of no later than January 2019, a deadline they've seemingly been able to keep. Link.

I covered the contents of the upgrade in issue 19 of this newsletter, but heres a quick refresher. First, the hardfork includes several new low-level instructions in the Ethereum EVM. These are designed to improve smart contract performance, enable new use cases, and decrease gas costs. Second, and more controversially, the hardfork reduces the block reward to miners from 3 ETH to 2 ETH. Link.

As one upgrade is finally on the verge of deployment, enormous amounts of work and research continue towards future upgrades. For one, the discussion is ongoing about a recently proposed smart contract rent system to help curb state growth. It remains worrisome to me that the state growth problem was barely commented on by core devs until it became a big problem, one seemingly worthy of a dramatic breaking change. Link.

Finally, beyond upgrades to the current Ethereum chain, work continues on Ethereum 2.0. This write up by Danny Ryan details the state of the spec for the sake of would-be implementers. The TL;DR here is that there is progress, but there is also still much up in the air. Link.

Though only a few months behind its original date, the Constantinople upgrade will go-live in a much different climate than it would have then. As the market has plummeted, increased scrutiny has come on the plans to upgrade the Ethereum network in the coming years. The work being done represents a huge opportunity, but executing on it carries an enormous amount of technical risk. By comparison, this hardfork is relatively minor-- which is why there is no room for error. Any issues with this upgrade would send a terrible signal (to an already skittish market) about the ability of the Ethereum core devs to execute on the grand vision.

Furthermore, the issuance reduction will now come at a time when miners are reeling. The reduction was always going to be a kick to miners, but now its a kick while they're already down. I'm honestly not sure the security impacts of an issuance reduction, in the face of an already falling hashrate, have been properly considered. While I still see a mining attack on Ethereum as very low probability event, its effect could be devastating if it were to happen. Ultimately what may protect Ethereum is the low-hanging fruit available to attackers in the form of other much weaker networks.

📊 Statistics

40%. The drop in the Ethereum network's hashrate since the core team made the decision to reduce issuance by 33% on August 24th, 2018. At the time of the decision, many expected the issuance reduction to result in a corresponding 33% drop in hashrate. Should that play out, the total network hashrate would be down 62% from its all time high. Link.