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Bitcoin Blockchain Forked By Backward-Compatibility Issue

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the blame-california dept.

Bitcoin 351

New submitter jhantin writes "The Bitcoin blockchain has forked due to a lurking backward-compatibility issue: versions older than 0.8 do not properly handle blocks larger than about 500k, and Slush's pool mined a 974k block today. The problem is that not all mining operations are on 0.8; blocks are being generated by a mix of several different versions of the daemon, each making its own decision as to which of the two forks is preferable to extend, and older versions refuse to honor or extend from a block of this size. The consensus on #bitcoin-dev is damage control: miners need to mine on pre-0.8 code so the backward-compatible fork will outgrow and thus dominate the compatibility-breaking one; merchants need to stop accepting transactions until the network re-converges on the backward-compatible fork of the chain; and average users can ignore the warning that they are out of sync and need to upgrade." Turns out there's an approximately 512K limit to atomic updates in Berkeley DB which were used by versions prior to 0.8. 0.8 uses a new database, allowing blockchains that old versions won't accept to be created.

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351 comments

Old news. (5, Funny)

NettiWelho (1147351) | about a year ago | (#43147519)

640K would have been enough for everyone.

Re:Old news. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147577)

Dont use Bill Gate's lines

Ooh, exciting! (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43147525)

Why achieve 'consensus' when we could let the fork fester, and have two virtual currencies floating wildly against one another as well as USD?

In fact, why not introduce Bitcoin-0 through Bitcoint-Aleph and let them fight it out? I'll bring popcorn!

Re:Ooh, exciting! (4, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about a year ago | (#43147593)

The nice thing about standards is there are so many to choose from.

How much time did this take? How much electricity was spent 'mining' ~$150 worth of BTC?

Re:Ooh, exciting! (1, Offtopic)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43148585)

Probably a lot less energy than banks spend shlepping around wads of checks and bills.

Criss-cross!

Peter, that doesn't fit there.

It's just been what she's having...

It's a Wonderful BitCoin! (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#43147609)

Why achieve 'consensus' when we could let the fork fester, and have two virtual currencies floating wildly against one another as well as USD?

In fact, why not introduce Bitcoin-0 through Bitcoint-Aleph and let them fight it out? I'll bring popcorn!

BitCoin Bailey: No, no, no, everybody remain calm. We'll get through this together. You're thinking of this virtual currency all wrong. As if I had the BitCoins back in a safe. The money's not here. Your money's on Bill's computer, and Fred's computer ...
Angry BitCoin User: Hey Fred, what the hell you doin' with my BitCoins?!
*a run on MtGox ensues [arstechnica.com] *

Re:Ooh, exciting! (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about a year ago | (#43147779)

...and have two virtual currencies floating wildly against one another as well as USD?

Are you implying that the USD isn't a virtual currency after all?

Re:Ooh, exciting! (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43147899)

I tend to think of fiat currencies as being on the 'lead standard', with their reality largely measured by how many guys with guns are available to uphold them. USD, among others, passes the test.

Re:Ooh, exciting! (3, Insightful)

Tridus (79566) | about a year ago | (#43147931)

Currencies are as real as your ability to spend them. By that standard, USD is very real and Bitcoin is not.

Re:Ooh, exciting! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148127)

For what definition of "spend"? I thought Steam accepted bitcoins. Does that not count, or did they remove that ability?

Re:Ooh, exciting! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148157)

No, Steam never accepted BitCoin; I don't know where you got that from.

There was some reseller that would sell Steam codes for BitCoin; you would pay him and he would buy a Steam game with dollars and then gift it to your account. I don't really know what the point of that was supposed to be, or if it's still a thing.

Re:Ooh, exciting! (0)

fatphil (181876) | about a year ago | (#43147897)

What I don't understand (not that I researched it much) is how someone can do the work, get the reward, and then have people take the reward away from him. If they can kill this leaf node, they can kill any leaf node. This surely makes it the most fragile fiat currency ever invented?

Re:Ooh, exciting! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147989)

Like all currencies, all it requires is consensus. If a large enough percentage of people stopped accepting the Euro tomorrow, it would be just as dead.

The operating difference here is that for a real currency, that would be infeasible. (In fact, you can go ahead and use that as a definition for "real currency" if you want: one in which it is infeasible to just decide not to believe in it). For Bitcoin, though, you can get a sizable percentage of the network together on one internet forum filled with paranoid libertarians.

Fiat money is backed by lame duck lead (1, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43148365)

If a large enough percentage of people stopped accepting the Euro tomorrow, it would be just as dead.

Tell that to governments that use firearms to compel payment of tax in euros in the days between when "a large enough percentage of people stopped accepting the Euro" and when the people have a chance to elect legislators who will amend the tax statutes to reflect this. See fuzzyfuzzyfungus's post about the "lead standard" [slashdot.org] .

Re:Fiat money is backed by lame duck lead (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148443)

That just raises the bar of "large enough percentage".

Fact is, most people are okay with it.

Re:Ooh, exciting! (5, Funny)

DrXym (126579) | about a year ago | (#43148253)

Just to get the ball rolling...

Post 0.8 users - if you fuck over the people on the earlier bitcoin format, the value of your bitcoins effectively DOUBLES!

0.8 and prior users - if you fuck over the people on the later bitcoin format, the value of your bitcoins effectively DOUBLES!

Just ask yourself what Ayn Rand would do in the same situation.

Re:Ooh, exciting! (1)

bondsbw (888959) | about a year ago | (#43148327)

I don't see a problem with multiple virtual currencies. In fact, if virtual currencies ever come to dominate traditional currencies, I would not want a single virtual currency to exist.

Like anything that deals with economy, diversity brings strength. Relying completely on a currency that is a major exploit away from bringing down the global economy would be a disaster waiting to happen.

sorry, a bug eat your money! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147527)

OTOH, it was a really big bug

Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147549)

Three words in and you lost 99% of your readership. Can't you be arsed to make a proper summary??

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1, Insightful)

armanox (826486) | about a year ago | (#43147631)

Actually I think most of Slashdot's readership understands it perfectly. And if they don't, they probably don't care about the article anyway. This isn't a newspaper.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (5, Informative)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43147665)

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that works by "doing work" (a complicated mathematical "puzzle") on your computer. It becomes a currency by the difficulty of the puzzle, and that when you have solved it you tell other BitCoin users about your success and it goes into a "chain".

That chain is the history of EVERY transaction performed on the BitCoin network and the integrity of the system is given by every user relying on the same chain - so trying to create some extra BitCoins or a fake transaction requires compromising a lot of machines around the globe to believe it happened.

Because of a stupid bug that nobody knew about related to the size of a transaction in this chain, a transaction that's too big for older clients to handle was (legitimately) created. Older clients can't handle it, so they have no idea what to do when it comes into their chain updates. Newer clients can handle it, but can't synchronise their chains with older clients because of it (they can accept the transaction whereas older clients don't).

Because the chain is now effectively split into two chains, and that all the integrity of the system comes from the fact that everyone is using, verifying and updating the same chain, BitCoin is now in an "emergency" (quoted from the forum post in the summary) situation. New clients are generating coins that old clients can't see and vice-versa, so BitCoins are being generated and lost or transacted and forgotten about.

The fix is to go back to the old code, ignore the over-size transaction, and hope to fix the code in a more backward-compatible way. Unfortunately, that requires some people on newer clients to lose coins, revert transactions, and for exchanges to shut down (temporarily) until the issue is resolved.

Basically, someone really messed up by not checking that the database could handle transactions that could pop up in the real-world.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#43147707)

Nice explanation. Now can you explain why exactly is the preferred solution to revert to the old, flawed, code rather than updating everything to the newer code that can properly handle the larger transactions?

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (4, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43147743)

It's not the preferred solution.

The value of the currency is in the people who use it and most major exchanges have already reverted to 0.7, hence 0.7 blockchains are the de-facto standard at the moment. There was a bit of back-and-forth when the problem was discovered but all the large exchanges have settled on 0.7 as the standard for now.

It's like saying we're going to upgrade the dollar, and yet nobody moves to the "new dollar". The new dollar ends up valueless and everyone just stays on the old one.

The client fix is to accept large transactions but not create them - there's already code in a lot of BitCoin software to do that, but not all clients are running it - someone now has to force them to upgrade to a good version in order to stay compatible, and a lot of people might be generating coins that will later fail without knowing it.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (5, Funny)

fatphil (181876) | about a year ago | (#43147825)

> most major exchanges have already reverted to 0.7

Yet 0.7 is the version with the database bug.

These bitcoins certainly aren't a replacement for gold - they're far too irony.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (3, Insightful)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | about a year ago | (#43147987)

Yes. At some point everyone will have to upgrade to 0.8 and people who don't will effectively be disconnected from the system. However that needs some kind of co-ordination. The fact that there was a chain split is not the emergency, the fact that it came unexpectedly was the problem.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (2)

characterZer0 (138196) | about a year ago | (#43147907)

It's like saying we're going to upgrade the dollar, and yet nobody moves to the "new dollar". The new dollar ends up valueless and everyone just stays on the old one.

The dollar has one significant difference: the government requires that you use it to pay taxes. This forces nearly everybody to value the new dollar, which forces everybody to move to it.

Whence comes the power of the IRS? (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43148401)

In your hypothetical scenario, the government requires payment of tax in a new currency. Who elected the legislators who decided to have the taxing authority switch to the new currency?

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year ago | (#43147759)

Complexity of moving the entire userbase to the new codebase? You are talking about mass migrating *everyone* as a reactionary measure, rather than doing a planned, tested migration through backward compatibility and progressive upgrade.

Its the same issue as IPv4 and IPv6.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

xiando (770382) | about a year ago | (#43147977)

Its the same issue as IPv4 and IPv6.

Except that with Bitcoin the developers are telling users and specially miners to stay with the older 0.7 version until there is a "good" 0.8 versions. People aren't telling us to say with IPv4 until a good version of IPv6 is ready.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | about a year ago | (#43147997)

No, they are not saying that. If you look at the announcements, people are being told to use 0.7 if they are miners, and for everyone else it doesn't matter what version they're on (so you might as well be on the latest version). At some point miners will need to switch to 0.8 too. It's a matter of co-ordination.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (2)

petermgreen (876956) | about a year ago | (#43148315)

At some point miners will need to switch to 0.8 too.

I don't think it's feasible to get everyone to upgrade at once and miners switching to 0.8 gradually would just cause a repeat of the problem we are having now.

What i'd think needs to happen is a new version be put out that says "big blocks are only valid after block x" and then all exchanges and a sufficient proportion of miners need to be persuaded to upgrade to that new version before block x hits.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43147769)

Nice explanation. Now can you explain why exactly is the preferred solution to revert to the old, flawed, code rather than updating everything to the newer code that can properly handle the larger transactions?

because then the guys suggesting that get a bigger share of the total bitcoins out there.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147799)

Because it's the only way to get things stabilized in the short term. Once that happens, things will move forward and miners using 0.7 will continue to suffer losses for not updating (rightfully so). It's not the end of the world and ironically exemplifies how robust bitcoin actually is. This post from the thread linked in the article lays it out:

Mike Hearn
Re: Alert: chain fork caused by pre-0.8 clients dealing badly with large blocks
Today at 08:09:33 AM

  #345
To be accurate, it wasn't "the lead developer" who suggested raising the block size limit, it was me. I am a Bitcoin developer, but Gavin is the lead. So you can blame me if you like.

Along with raising the size limit, I have also been strongly urging people to upgrade to 0.8 for some time now. In fact, I'm the one who originally benchmarked and wrote the code to use LevelDB - the mysterious problems we've had with bdb being one of my motivations (the other was performance).

Ultimately, this problem is an old bug that has already been resolved through a large effort to get us off bdb. It's unfortunate that so many miners have NOT heeded the call to upgrade and we had to learn another one of bdbs inadequacies the hard way, along with rolling back to keep those slow miners online. Every miner will have to upgrade sooner or later, that is just inevitable.

Atlas's post was not prescient or insightful. We knew when we made the switch to LevelDB that it introduced the risk of a hard fork. This is not something that had to be pointed out by a banned forum poster. However - as you can see - there was no alternative. BDB has serious, fundamental problems that cannot be fixed. Upgrading to LevelDB is the solution.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about a year ago | (#43147847)

That chain is the history of EVERY transaction performed on the BitCoin network and the integrity of the system is given by every user relying on the same chain

So every bitcoin user has a history list of every coin ever mined and EVERY TRANSACTION EVER DONE??!? So if I want to buy a chewing gum with BC, every BC user would neet to create a record of that transaction?

And now how is this supposed to scale into a real currency???

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43147945)

I'm not an advocate for BitCoin. I don't even use it myself.

But, yes, eventually every user ends up having to store every transaction in some way (there's shortcuts but pretty much that's true). A BitCoin client I just installed is synching 225,000 blocks of transaction history (more than one transaction in each block), the earliest generated a few years ago. It'll take about an hour to catch up from an empty wallet.

Once it's synched, you keep it running whenever is convenient and - after X amount of other BitCoin users have your transaction recorded - it's taken as verified that your transaction was successful. If you get out of sync, you have to wait for it to sync before you use it but - as I said - syncing from a new client only takes an hour to get all the BitCoin chain "history" from the first block created years ago.

Sure, that scales up if BitCoin becomes more popular but that's no different to anything else, and not EVERYONE has to sync to make the transactions verifiable. The current forum posts say that 11 confirmations from other clients is enough to ensure that a transaction was genuine and occurred, for example. That's 11 confirmations from ANYONE running BitCoin. Everyone else can catch up as time allows.

It's even better than, say, a worldwide torrent - the more people running it, the easier to pick up new transactions and confirm them. And torrents don't seem to suffer scalability issues. If anything, they are pushing hard on the ISP's to increase their capacities because they work so damn well.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

Hmmmnmnmnm (514893) | about a year ago | (#43147879)

It should be noted that nobody lost any coins, except for miners who lost their reward for mined blocks on the abandoned (v 0.8) chain.

Any transactions made on the 0.8 chain were automatically re-included on the 0.7 chain when it became the main chain.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (4, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43147981)

"except for miners who lost their reward for mined blocks on the abandoned (v 0.8) chain."

Which currently amounts to about $25,000 of BitCoins, last I heard. That's $25,000 of BitCoins that might have been spent, sent, transferred, etc. but never existed in the chosen chain and the knock-on effects on your own wallet if you're dealt with someone who dealt with someone who dealt with someone.... (ad infinitum) ... who dealt with one of those mined blocks.

Sure, it'll "catch up", but saying nobody lost out is plainly false. And isn't the point of BitCoin that everyone is a miner in some small way?

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (3, Insightful)

Hmmmnmnmnm (514893) | about a year ago | (#43148027)

Miners don't have access to their reward for 120 blocks, so they never had them in the first place. The rewards will instead go to the miners in the new chain. Again, no coins are lost.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | about a year ago | (#43148175)

Thanks for the explanation. Now, how about you ask your employer to pay me your last month's salary? It's OK, no money is lost.

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148281)

so, reading the comments above...

if everyone had upgraded to 0.8 then there would have been no problem. so the solution they chose was to punish the people that had actually upgraded by going with the previous version, and not to force the 0.7 people to update.

now tell me why anyone would ever have a incentive to upgrade their client?

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148079)

so why not have everybody upgrade to 0.8 instead?

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year ago | (#43148155)

So wouldn't forcing everyone to upgrade cause no loss of data? It sounds like old clients can handle 99% of blocks (all buy >= 500k) but the new clients can handle 100%. So forcing everyone to use the new client means no loss of data, right? Or did the older client seriously make an entirely new chain after the biggest block? Because I know blocks are formed based on the block before it but the majority of people are running the new version which means the old clients' chain would never get "approved."

Re:Gobble bobble wobblywob? (1)

Hmmmnmnmnm (514893) | about a year ago | (#43148009)

What? This is "news for nerds." The story is about an interesting technical development world's first decentralized all-digital currency. This is fascinating stuff. Any nerd worthy of the name should know all about this.

consensus should be put into specification (2)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#43147563)

The consensus on #bitcoin-dev is damage control: miners need to mine on pre-0.8 code so the backward-compatible fork will outgrow and thus dominate the compatibility-breaking one;

Either this should be put into the bitcoin specification or not accepting any size should be seen as a bug. There should not just be an unofficial consensus that "this is what should be done"

Re:consensus should be put into specification (3, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about a year ago | (#43147595)

Nobody said that anyone involved in Bitcoin actually knew what they were doing.

The concensus should be... (0)

Viol8 (599362) | about a year ago | (#43147763)

.... that bitcoin always was and always will be a toy currency - maybe of academic interest for the technical and economic theories behind it - but not something someone with any brains should ever invest in in a big way or rely on to purchase goods.

I think its fair to say that while forking code may be a good idea most of the time - when its code running a virtual currency its a very BAD idea. The fact that its been done demonstrates a complete lack of common sense amongst the people running this thing which should make any "investors" very VERY worried.

Re:The concensus should be... (4, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#43148035)

I think its fair to say that while forking code may be a good idea most of the time - when its code running a virtual currency its a very BAD idea.

This isn't a code fork, it's a block chain fork" [bitcoin.it] caused by an incompatible version update. That said, I agree with your assessment that it is not suitable for storing wealth unless you are prepared to take risks. To be fair bitcoin describes itself [bitcoin.it] as ".. an experimental, decentralized digital currency".

Re:consensus should be put into specification (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147991)

Me: Sadly, you don't understand anarchism. There's no hierarchy, no "official", no gods or kings, only men.

You: Don't tell me what anarchism means!

Me: That's my boy.

So what now? (1)

goose-incarnated (1145029) | about a year ago | (#43147579)

You need to stop buying stuff until the "currency" (and I use that term very loosely when talking about bitcoin) is valid again? Good thing it isn't used exclusively by anyone, else they'd now be starving.

Re:So what now? (2)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year ago | (#43147637)

I was wondering that - if there is now a fork in the blockchain, with some groups going in one direction and some in another, does that mean that if this isn't resolved very quickly then bitcoin holders now have twice the number of bitcoins, an initially identical set on each fork?

I guess one fork would become the accepted fork, and hte other one would wither - but until that point, people could conceivably spend both forks with whomever accepts either one?

Re: Was an issue for about four hours yesterday (3, Informative)

qubezz (520511) | about a year ago | (#43147673)

The forking was fixed within a few hours. Mining pools were notified of the issue and alerted to the recommendation to revert mining activity back to 0.7.x, which was a simple fix to grow a blockchain compatible with all mining pool Bitcoin versions. The majority of miners ignoring the incompatible fork (which caused a "Lock table is out of available lock entries" database error on Bitcoins compiled against certain BerkeleyDB libraries), let the new fork grow longer and all is fixed.

Almost all transactions are expected to be included in the new chain, so there is little opportunity for malfeasance. If you sent someone money for goods, your transaction sending money will likely be in both the new chain and the old.

Re: Was an issue for about four hours yesterday (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43147835)

Even an outage of a few hours is not acceptable for a currency.

The issue is not the fix, the issue is the poor planning that lead to the error to begin with. It hints that these folks do not know what they are doing. Which considering the deflationary design of bitcoin seems like something we should have all just assumed.

Re: Was an issue for about four hours yesterday (3, Insightful)

Urza9814 (883915) | about a year ago | (#43148431)

The very first words on their website state quite clearly that Bitcoin is an _experimental_ currency. If people choose to use it as more than that, that's their fault. Finding issues like this is exactly what Bitcoin's current purpose is.

Re: Was an issue for about four hours yesterday (2)

goose-incarnated (1145029) | about a year ago | (#43148163)

The forking was fixed within a few hours. Mining pools were notified of the issue and alerted to the recommendation to revert mining activity back to 0.7.x, which was a simple fix to grow a blockchain compatible with all mining pool Bitcoin versions. The majority of miners ignoring the incompatible fork (which caused a "Lock table is out of available lock entries" database error on Bitcoins compiled against certain BerkeleyDB libraries), let the new fork grow longer and all is fixed.

Almost all transactions are expected to be included in the new chain, so there is little opportunity for malfeasance. If you sent someone money for goods, your transaction sending money will likely be in both the new chain and the old.

(Emphasis mine)

  • "A few hours" outage fails the most basic test of a currency - ability to spend it. For a few hours, no merchant could accept bitcoins as payment.
  • "Incompatible fork[s]" causes bitcoin to fail yet another basic test of currency. The population should never be able to fork their currency into "new dollars", "old dollars" and "something which is most likely, in almost all cases, a mixture of both".
  • A technical error should not introduce "little opportunity" for malfeasance. When my bank has a glitch, the cash in my wallet does not turn worthless for "a few hours".
  • If I have already completed a transaction, with cash in hand, that transaction must not be "most likely" legitimate. It must be legitimate from the very moment that I verify the currency that I received as legitimate. It must not pass verification, then "most likely" have to pass verification again.

Good thing that bitcoin isn't actually a currency; if it was anything other than a mere item of barter, the consequences of people suddenly not knowing which cash is good and which is not would indeed be severe.

Oh look, my gamer rig has a monster GPU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147601)

That means I'm wealthy.

??

That's just backward (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147615)

The correct solution is for people to continue pushing the new version fork and for the people on .8 to update or lose all of their "money".

Re:That's just backward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147675)

Now that wouldn't make a very good pyramid scheme!

Re:That's just backward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147797)

So if a new dollar coin were to come out, and legacy vending machines did not accept it, then all the folks that can actually use the old vending machine with their old money should have the value of their old money reduced to nothing in order to force them to switch over and use the new coin?!?

WTF are you smoking?

Re:That's just backward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148341)

That is what happens with new notes. For a while the banks will accept both, then they stop and only the Bank of England accepts both, then it stops as well.

For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf? (1)

Looker_Device (2857489) | about a year ago | (#43147687)

For those who don't know the first fucking thing about what this summary means (hint to summary writers, if you're going to use jargon, please explain it to those of us who don't follow bitcoin or whatever-the-fuck), here is a much better article on the subject (written in plain English):

Major Glitch in Bitcoin [arstechnica.com]

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

kaizendojo (956951) | about a year ago | (#43147731)

Well, I read the article and still don't understand Bitcoin, the concept or the need for it. Just seems like a product without a real need other than the idea of being subversive. But perhaps I don't understand it at all. Of course that's why I come here.... So if any /.ers can explain this, I'm sure others would appreciate it as much as I would.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

Looker_Device (2857489) | about a year ago | (#43147789)

No one really understands bitcoin. I'm pretty sure that's part of its strange appeal (and, some would contend, an essential part of the scam).

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

Yebyen (59663) | about a year ago | (#43147855)

How can you deny that there is a value to having a Paypal with no 'central authority' or any 'One trusted third party'?

Do you use Paypal? Have you ever been robbed by Paypal? I guess you could deny it, if the answers to both of those questions are not both 'yes'. For many people though, I am sure, there needs to be a way to have your money 'on the wire' without putting it into the hands of someone who can seize it when their authority or government of favor decides it's time to do so.

For people who don't use Paypal every day, it will take 10 days to move money using Paypal. At that kind of break-neck speed, you might as well write a check and put a stamp on it.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148023)

You can still get robbed when the money transmission service has no central authority, it just works in the other direction. PayPal has the ability to reverse charges that it shouldn't reverse, whereas BitCoin does not have the ability to reverse charges that it should reverse.

Customers like the ability to reverse charges under appropriate circumstances.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148545)

Yep, as of right now you are forced to pay for it whether you need it or not though.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

pipatron (966506) | about a year ago | (#43147913)

The point with bitcoins is that in 30-40 years when anonymous payments are outlawed due to terrorists (read: control), there will be a reliable way to still do this on a global scale. These types of news are great, because it means that, as bitcoin grows, the bugs are ironed out before bitcoin is actually needed.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (3, Informative)

Hmmmnmnmnm (514893) | about a year ago | (#43147959)

Well, I read the article and still don't understand Bitcoin, the concept or the need for it. Just seems like a product without a real need other than the idea of being subversive. But perhaps I don't understand it at all. Of course that's why I come here.... So if any /.ers can explain this, I'm sure others would appreciate it as much as I would.

It's a decentralized, trustless value storage and transfer protocol that allows you to send or receive value to anyone on the internet without the need of a third party. It has the potential to do to banking what email did to the post office.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

theskipper (461997) | about a year ago | (#43148025)

Regarding the need, imvho it has the potential to solve the micropayments problem. At this point it's almost impossible to charge for anything less than a dollar unless you're processing a large number of transactions. The fees and discount rate of credit card transactions is simply too high. With bitcoins there can be a transaction fee, but the "friction" is essentially zero. Meaning that if you want to send the equivalent of a penny for access to an article, it's as simple as clicking a few buttons in the bitcoin client or sending an email (see coinapult).

Beyond that I don't see being used as a basis for large value transactions like mortgages. Even when adoption becomes widespread enough and the exchange rate stabilizes. But for sites that rely on advertising, it's a really interesting idea to try charging for content then converting to fiat cash at the end of the day (or simply paying for overhead costs directly in bitcoins, no dollars involved).

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (3, Interesting)

jimicus (737525) | about a year ago | (#43148151)

It's a new fiat currency (ie. it exists because someone says it exists).

There's no reason why you, I and a bunch of our friends can't get together and say "Right, we'll use this new currency called DollarPounds, we'll use a spreadsheet to keep track of who has how many and they're exchangeable for US$ at a rate of US$1 = $£1" but the only way a fiat currency can possibly work is if you have enough people who will use it.

The idea of Bitcoin is it's a currency that doesn't require a central bank to produce more money. Instead, Bitcoins are "mined" (ie. brought into existence) through means of a mathematical algorithm that generates a verifiable block of numbers. The algorithm is designed to get harder as more bitcoins are mined. Meaning that the rate at which Bitcoins can be mined slows down eventually reaching the point where no more can be mined.

On the one hand, this resolves the "Leaves as currency" inflation problem in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe by creating artificial scarcity. On the other, they've done too good a job - as soon as it becomes impossible - or even impractical - to mine further bitcoins, the currency is likely to become subject to massive deflation. We know what happens when a currency undergoes massive deflation - Germany in the 1930's or, more recently, Zimbabwe happens.

FWIW, my view is it's probably best viewed from a distance with an air of morbid curiosity.

Re:For those, like me, reading this and saying wtf (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148389)

[blockqoute] We know what happens when a currency undergoes massive deflation - Germany in the 1930's or, more recently, Zimbabwe happens.[/blockqoute]

What events is this referring to? Usually when those countries are mentioned together it is referring to inflation, not deflation. But you have the decade wrong for Germany.

There was deflation during the great depression and that was possibly related to hitler's rise to power. Perhaps that is what you are referring to? Bitcoin deflation will lead to the next hitler?

I'm not sure if any significant deflation has occurred in zimbabwe though. There is this story:

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/02/02/zimbabwe.dollars/index.html

Re: For those, like me, reading this and saying wt (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about a year ago | (#43148519)

I generally avoid bitcoin news, but if you have any knowledge of distributed crypto the summary here makes perfect sense. I got it and I haven't touched any of that sort of stuff since highschool.

Of course not everyone is familiar with every field, but this is Slashdot not the New York Times. I think the assumption is and should be that if you care you either already have some very basic knowledge of the field or can do your own research -- which I see you did, and I thank you for posting the link for others -- but I don't think it's the editor's job to make sure every article is explained so well it could be understood by a liberal arts major. I thought they actually did a damn good job on this one.

Also, remember that it's a one paragraph summary. They don't have room to explain everything.

Scaling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147703)

Makes you wonder how Bitcoin can scale when there are versions of the software which impose a limit of 500K limit on block size. The size of a block is driven by how many transactions are in in it, and 500K (or so) of transaction is not really a lot. A block can only be mined every 10 minutes, so this amounts to a maximum of 50K transactions per minute. These are the old versions, but how many transactions per minute can be verified (i.e. "mined") by the current version before another limit is reached?

Uh oh... Bitcoin is having growing pains (1)

leonbev (111395) | about a year ago | (#43147709)

It seems that good ol' Bitcoin is having problems scaling up to meet the new demand for cryptocurrency. Perhaps we should start looking into alternate cryptocurrencies like Litecoin instead?

Re:Uh oh... Bitcoin is having growing pains (1)

pipatron (966506) | about a year ago | (#43147967)

Actually it doesn't have a problem, since it's already solved.

Now, please tell me how some users switching to a completely different cryptocurrency would solve your perceived problem with forked bitcoins?

Re:Uh oh... Bitcoin is having growing pains (1)

Hmmmnmnmnm (514893) | about a year ago | (#43147979)

Litecoin will have the same problems. It's simply of fork of the reference bitcoin code with a few tweaks (more frequent block generation, use of scrypt instead of sha256).

So much for being based on crypto (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year ago | (#43147713)

So the currency that is supposedly based on crypto winds up forking into two different currencies because of a database update? Nice job guys.

Re:So much for being based on crypto (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43147791)

No because the morons who created it did not understand what they were doing. If you don't know the limits of the DB you use why would I trust you to create a digital currency?

Re:So much for being based on crypto (3, Insightful)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | about a year ago | (#43148011)

It's worth noting, that Berkeley DB (the one with the weird limits) was already replaced. The problem is that not enough users have upgraded to the replacement yet, and it's better to match their brokenness than diverge unexpectedly. They'll have to upgrade sooner or later though.

Re:So much for being based on crypto (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148373)

Yes, but you're missing the point. There was nothing wrong with having weird limits. The currency system could function perfectly fine with a weird limit. The problem arose when they removed the weird limit for only some of the clients. They either should have continued the weird limit for everyone or removed it for everyone.

The short term solution is to revert to the old client with the weird limit. This fixes the immediate problem, although they still have to figure out how to handle the side effects. Could they simply award the original miner two smaller chunks and move forward again from there? Or downsize the existing chunk to 500k?

The medium term solution in this case would be to make a new version of the client with the weird limit restored. Presumably they can simply add code to the mining algorithm that will enforce the limit rather than doing so at the database level. This would also allow them to write a meaningful unit test so that this doesn't get accidentally broken again. It seems possible that they could make it so that large mines automatically break themselves down into chunks small enough to fit under the limit, but I don't know if there is another weird limit that would prevent that.

A longer term solution would be to make a new currency without the weird limit. The Bitcoin system already understands the concept of multiple currencies. It should be trivial to have two Bitcoin currencies. Then upgrading would involve a currency switch.

Re:So much for being based on crypto (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year ago | (#43148165)

They knew about the flaw and fixed it a long ass time ago. They just didn't realize the old clients wouldn't work 100% with the new database style, although it seems really obvious to me.

Re:So much for being based on crypto (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148235)

Yes, they didn't know of this limit, but to be fair, this limit was a completely undocumented and unknown bug in the database software, a platform the developers have been keen to get away from for a very long time.

The newer version of Bitcoin Core was tested but not as thoroughly as one might hope. Fortunately, what the dev team lack in resources they more than make up for in dedication/cooperation.

Re:So much for being based on crypto (1)

pipatron (966506) | about a year ago | (#43147943)

What the hell does this rambling even mean? Do you even know what "crypto" means? How is that in any way related to the database chosen in the implementation? Did you know that it's possible to base a program on both "crypto" and a database?

Re:So much for being based on crypto (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year ago | (#43148581)

Do you even know what "crypto" means? How is that in any way related to the database chosen in the implementation?

Usually, cryptosystems do not rely on things like the maximum size of atomic transactions in a database to work or to be secure in the abstract sense; it seems that in the case of Bitcoin, that is exactly what happened. This bug is not some kind of side channel attack (e.g. as you saw with Skype, where the cryptosystem was theoretically secure but where the implementation had an easily exploited side channel), it is not an implementation that leaves a secret key in some publicly accessible place, it is not a failure to properly implement the abstract cryptosystem. This is a cryptosystem whose security depends on specific implementation details.

To put it another way, imagine if instead of the database implementation, it was the CPU architecture that determined the security of the system. As long as everyone uses x86, it is fine, but if a few people start using ARM or PowerPC the system "forks." Would you trust such a system? What differentiates that hypothetical scenario from the database issue?

Oh, brilliant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147721)

Wasn't it obvious that anything that imposed limits on block size would break the chain once the blocksize limit was lifted (e.g. through using a different database engine, as v0.8 of the satoshi client did)?

Berkeley DB is a nuisance and a piece of shit, something that everyone has known for years - this is just an object lesson demonstrating it.

Re:Oh, brilliant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148361)

Wasn't it obvious that anything that imposed limits on block size would break the chain once the blocksize limit was lifted (e.g. through using a different database engine, as v0.8 of the satoshi client did)?

Berkeley DB is a nuisance and a piece of shit, something that everyone has known for years - this is just an object lesson demonstrating it.

Yet it was chosen by a four year old project by apparently not the brightest bunch of developers. Also give thanks to the Satoshi Dice crowd for their blockchain bloating site that enabled this to happen.

Re:Oh, brilliant (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43148467)

Berkeley DB is a nuisance and a piece of shit

Which key-value store would you recommend using instead?

Stonehenge (3, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year ago | (#43147877)

The Bitcoin blockchain has forked due to a lurking backward-compatibility issue: versions older than 0.8 do not properly handle blocks larger than about 500k, and Slush's pool mined a 974k block today.

Someday, someone in some future generation will read that sentence and think, "No wonder they almost caused the extinction of the species".

What does it mean when a currency "forks"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147889)

I thought Bitcoins were a currency... what does it mean when a currency "forks"? As an average user of other currencies, I've never been given a warning I needed to ignore *about my money*...

SELL!!! SELL!!! SELL!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43147901)

OMG!! THIS IS THE ENDZ!!!

Everybody needs to get rid of their bitcoin. With this news, it is official - bitcoin is WORTHLESS!!! If you have any, you need to SELL! Get rid of it all while you still can!

There are plenty of SUCKERS out there still willing to purchase (out of ignorance) these worthless non-existent fantasy moneys. The US Dollar is real. Bitcoin is not.

It's only a matter of time before the inevitable disastrous plummet. In fact, they are practically already worthless, so why not just send them to my bitcoin address?

Send your worthless, fake bits of so-called "currency" here, so you don't have to worry about it anymore : 12p7uyzjzSvjRK2MWBB4FUim5aSz8nXLRS

You're welcome.

Best to figure this out now ... (1, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | about a year ago | (#43147923)

Just wait until countries start pulling out of the EU.

Then we'll have a real currency backwards-compatibility problem!

This blockchain wasn't meant to take off (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43148417)

This is far from the first bug that was found. This version of bitcoin wasn't meant to take off and be used yet. You'll notice that they are at version 0.8 and not 1.0 yet. That is why there are a lot of lost coins, mined early on and the encryption keys deleted.

This type of problem was solved a long time ago (2, Insightful)

ilsaloving (1534307) | about a year ago | (#43148557)

This sort of thing was solved a long time ago, but because it's "old", people just dismiss it out of hand.

It's called versioning the protocol and having compatibility lists. When two clients connect, they exchange version numbers and if one is too old then the newer one performs additional checks to verify compatibility. If the issue is reconcilable then it aborts the connection with an error. Or programatically enforce that the older version is discontinued and that anyone who is using it can no longer participate in the chain.

I apologize if I sound exasperated and holier than thou... actually, no, I don't. How the hell do people design a system that they intend to be the backbone of a major financial system but fail to accommodate for such things? It is nothing short of stupidity and incompetence.

If a major bank tried to pull this sort of nonsense, they'd be bankrupt so fast that the stockholders would have whiplash.

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