πŸ¦ƒ Istanbul Sneak Peek β€” Issue No. 50

πŸ“° News

This past Friday marked the deadline for submitting Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) to have them considered for inclusion in the network's next upgrade. The hardfork, codenamed Istanbul, is expected to occur on mainnet in October of 2019. There's a long way to go to get there. At the time of this writing, there were 14 proposals accepted for consideration, with 10 or more pending as pull requests on GitHub, where the EIP process is managed. The proposed changes include lots of low-level enhancements to the network, such as new and improved op codes for the Ethereum Virtual Machine aimed at boosting smart contract performance and security. There are also some bigger, higher level ideas, such as changes to the way the network fee market functions. Link.

Of the many proposals, though, the one that is bound to garner the most attention is a change to the hashing algorithm used by miners. The proposed algorithm, called "ProgPoW" for Programmatic Proof-of-Work, is designed to narrow the advantage specialized mining hardware has over commodity graphics cards, which anyone can get their hands on. This idea has been tried many times before, including with Ethash, the Ethereum network's current hashing algorithm. In every case, hardware manufacturers have eventually found a way to gain a significant advantage over commodity cards, though each successive generation of hashing algorithm has given them less room for leverage. This proposal has been bouncing around the Ethereum community for some time, and has already proven controversial. Expect things to heat up significantly in the coming months. Link.

A change in network hashing algorithm comes with significant risks. Because of this, and because parts of the community are skeptical about the change, the Ethereum Core Developers have called for an audit of ProgPoW by an independent third party. The security firm Least Authority has been chosen for the task, and a GitCoin grant has raised 15,000 of the needed 50,000 dollars to pay for the audit. The audit would certainly weigh heavily in the ensuing discussions, but barring an unexpected finding, there's no reason to expect it to resolve the contention around this change. Link.

The months leading up to the Istanbul upgrade will be an important stretch for Ethereum, for a number of reasons. For one, the sheer number of proposals is daunting. Simply reviewing and discussing the twenty-some proposals, and whittling them down to the five or six likely to be included, will be no small task.

Additionally, this upgrade will be under more scrutiny than any the network has done before. The last upgrade, called Constantinople, was relatively small from a technical standpoint, but was delayed twice due to bugs and security flaws. Moreover, a number of so-called competitors, like Cosmos and Polkadot, have or will be launching this year. The pressure on the Ethereum Core Devs is at an all time high, and investors and other network participants will (fairly or not) look at the execution of this upgrade as a signal for how likely it is Ethereum 2.0 will be delivered successfully and on time.

Finally, it the odds seem high that the debate around ProgPoW will be very contentious. Some argue the upgrade offers little but a "bailout" to GPU miners, is too risky, and is unnecessary with a planned transition to Proof-of-Stake on the roadmap. Others believe the change is absolutely needed to protect the network from miner centralization and to ensure miners who've invested in specialized hardware don't sabotage the migration to ETH 2.0. Both sides seem likely to dig in, and things could get ugly.

All together, the Istanbul upgrade will be a major stress test for Ethereum governance. There's a small but real possibility we could even see a chain split. On the flip side, if things go smoother than expected, it would send a very positive signal. As usual, there is never a dull moment in crypto. Hodl on tight!
 

πŸ“ŠStatistics

1,038. The total capacity of Bitcoin's Layer 2 Lightning Network, denominated in BTC. After doubling during the first 3 months of 2019, that number has remained flat since mid-March. Personally, my enthusiasm for Lightning has cooled in recent months, because I think it's early in two ways. One, the tech itself is still early-- there is a lot that needs to be improved. This isn't too surprising, though. Perhaps more importantly, I think it's extremely early from an adoption standpoint. Simply put, I'm not sure anyone really wants to spend their Bitcoin, and I'm not sure thats going to change anytime soon. Link.