The Block Size War: Ethereum Founder Shares His Hot Take on Bitcoin’s Infamous Feud

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The Block Size War: Ethereum Founder Shares His Hot Take on Bitcoin's Infamous Feud
  • Vitalik Buterin revisits the infamous Bitcoin block size war dating back to 2010.
  • Buterin critiques the pro-small-block viewpoint and pro-big-block perspective.
  • He cited the overlooked potential of ZK-SNARKs technology in consensus-building solutions.

In a blog post, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin shared his take on the infamous Bitcoin block size war, a heated debate that tore apart the Bitcoin community in the 2010s.

Buterin revisited the conflict through the lens of two contrasting books: “The Blocksize War” by Jonathan Bier and “Hijacking Bitcoin” by Roger Ver and Steve Patterson. Bier’s book presented a pro-small-block viewpoint, while Ver and Patterson argued from a pro-big-block perspective.

For context, the debate centered around whether Bitcoin should undergo a hard fork to increase the block size limit from 1 MB to 2 MB. This allowed more transactions and lower fees but made the blockchain more challenging to run and verify.

Buterin stated he initially sided with the “big blockers,” advocating for a moderate bump in block size to maintain Bitcoin’s utility as digital cash. He expressed that high transaction fees could hobble this use case, and while layer-2 solutions like the Lightning Network were proposed, their practicality was unproven.

Small blockers favored a conservative approach to keep node operation easy. They advocated for infrequent hard forks and broader consensus among users. Buterin underscored the small blockers’ fear that active governance and potential manipulation by powerful entities could wreck Bitcoin’s unique status as a decentralized currency.

At the other end, the big blockers stressed on Bitcoin’s original vision as digital cash, as outlined in the whitepaper, and criticized the shift towards perceiving it as digital gold.

Reflecting on the past, Buterin acknowledged the complexity of the small block camp’s Segregated Witness (SegWit) proposal and criticized the social media censorship during the debate. He also noted the lack of technical execution on the big block side, which led to multiple splits in the Bitcoin Cash community.

Meanwhile, Buterin highlighted a significant omission in both books: the lack of any reference to ZK-SNARKs, a technology with the potential to supercharge scalability and privacy, which was already gaining traction in the mid-2010s. He proposed that focusing on technological solutions like ZK-SNARKs could have paved the way to consensus rather than conflict.

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