Forks are inevitable in a technology and community that tend to create constant variations and updates, taking into account that there are dissensions and different ways of covering the same technical problems of a system that was designed to renew itself through the community. That´s the Bitcoin´s case.The bitcoin and its blockchain chartered a path for further development since its technology was certainly upgradeable and the solutions and improvements that have been proposed have become new blockchain projects whether or not they emerged from the Bitcoin source code. No need to say that the bitcoin and its blockchain served as inspiration to create other different protocols, but in other cases separated Blockchain projects have been developed entirely from this BTC Open source protocol generating different branches from the common trunk. This is called a “BTC fork”.
Indeed, issuing altcoins from the BTC source code is not so difficult to do given the nature of Bitcoin as open source and on which it is relatively easy to upgrade to create a deviation from the original code called a “fork” to create a new Blockchain. This has happened countless times already, and a well-known case study is the “Bitcoin Cash Fork” in which an alternative blockchain was created from the Bitcoin Core Protocol and therefore a new cryptocurrency was launched called "Bitcoin Cash (BCH)" back in August 2017. With this fork, some improvements were achieved regarding the original bitcoin (called Bitcoin Core) in terms of speed and scalability above all.
From 2014-2015, when bitcoin became more and more popular getting started to be used and the system started to slow down and even with increasing transaction costs. One faction of the Bitcoin community didn't want to change anything, and another faction wanted to improve the system in terms of scalability and cost-efficiency. With these two factions, only consensus can be the solution, but it wasn't reached, the bitcoin blockchain was simply divided into two parts with different developments, and this way in August 2017 Bitcoin Cash was born as a different blockchain from the original bitcoin Core.
With the new Bitcoin Cash blockchain, the blocks can have a bigger size (at first it was 8 MB and now 32) and carry more transactions so each block can be 8 times faster on the BCH network than the BTC’s one but of course it's much less extensive network and carries far fewer transactions.
Having said that, we can define a Crypto Fork as:
"The division of a blockchain into two chains of blocks in which one of them follows a different succession of blocks from that moment on and therefore it can follows a different algorithm or protocol even though it has the same origin or source code."
In general terms there are two main types of forks: the "Soft Fork" and the "Hard Fork".
- Soft Fork occurs when an update takes place and the blockchain remains even valid after the update. An example is the SegWit soft fork of Bitcoin Core in which the wallet address is updated using the same but improved blockchain.
- A hard fork occurs when the old version of the blockchain remains valid but a new blockchain splits off from a common source block and creates new features and a new cryptocurrency, as examples of hard forks we have Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Bitcoin Gold (BTG) and SegWit2x.
Returning to the case study about the fork BTC - BCH, there was a lack of consensus and understanding between the two communities or factions and a great deal of controversy, although at the end the Bitcoin Blockchain protocol had to be improved anyway due to problems of saturation and lack of scalability. They could not agree on how to do this. It was after the split of the BCH that bitcoin made an update or Soft Fork anyway introducing the SegWit protocol to respond to the technical problems that were occurring.
As you can see in the pictures below, the year 2017 was very eventful for the Bitcoin Core blockchain, as there were 3 hard forks and 1 soft fork.
And in the following years, many more blockchains were split up, such as Bitcoin Cash, and many of them with the name bitcoin followed by a second denomination. There have also been new blockchains which, while not being properly Bitcoin forks they were created from the BTC source code, this is the case of the cryptocurrency Litecoin (LTC) which is one of the classic top 10 CoinMarketCap cryptos, what LTC provided was a decrease in mining time from 10 seconds to 2.5 seconds and a higher coin supply of up to 84 million in contrast with the 21 million of BTC supply. Even Bitcoin Cash had several forks such as Bitcoin SV and Bitcoin Cash ABC. (See diagram below).
Forks are inevitable in a technology and community that tend to create constant variations and updates, taking into account that there are dissensions and different ways of covering the same technical problems of a system that was designed to renew itself through the community. Many believe that "forks" help developers, miners and investors to get involved in the system trying to improve and update it even if this leads to discrepancies and controversies in the process.
Bitcoin has had its ups and downs because as mass adoption is achieved, problems arise that are difficult to solve in terms of achieving agreements even though they are technologically feasible and solvable since this type of technology enjoys flexibility as it is open source and decentralized. Both the bitcoin protocol route and the cryptocurrency are complex and always evolving so the risk of new forks or at least updates and improvements cannot be exclude as could not be otherwise.