Time Running Out: What’s Left To Do Before Byzantium

In less than a week, the world’s second-largest chain by total value Ethereum, will make their next major upgrade. The first part of a multi-component upgrade named, Metropolis, is set to be enforced at block 4,370,000 or in four days according to certain tracking metrics. Byzantium will be implemented as a hard fork, which is a very common but controversial strategy requiring all Ethereum blockchain stakeholders to be on board. The platform has conducted four hard forks in the past and only one resulted in the creation of an alternative blockchain. With previous mixed results of this upgrading method in the past, there are mixed feelings across the board towards this mechanism. These updates have been on the Ethereum roadmap since back in 2015, for that reason Byzantium should run smoothly. This upgrade will introduce nine key Ethereum improvement protocols (EIPs) to its platform designed to substantially improve its performance. Byzantium is designed to make the platform lighter and faster which will improve transaction speed and also beef up the security. There is still work to be done on the upgrade, as various stakeholders are still closing in on the final stages of their preparations.  


The main focus in the days to come are entirely centered around ensuring the clients that offer software to the nodes are fully prepared for the update. The startup is accountable for supervising these clients and hold the responsibility of making sure their clients' software contains the updated protocols in order to enforce the Byzantium hard fork. A universal upgrade isn’t as easy as it sounds though. Each program is backed by different developing teams and written in different programming languages. Ethereum has wanted to keep “client diversity,” which allows for creative innovation while maintaining a fixed, unambiguous protocol. In order for the hard fork to occur steadily across the platform, all Ethereum clients software must contain the update that enforces the block number 4,370,000. The new EIPs are coded directly into each individual set of software alongside a block number. However, this upgrade is only relevant to those running the nodes directly and doesn’t impact the third-party services. The most pressing issue this week for Ethereum clients is releasing their own Byzantium upgrades, with enough time for their nodes to update. The blockchain will split and create different versions on the same platform if any of the nodes get left behind with the old software. Currently, most nodes appear ready for the hard fork. Geth, which holds roughly 69 percent of all nodes, released a Byzantium-ready upgrade last week. Although at press time, only about half of their nodes had been upgraded with this update. Ethereum’s second largest client, Parity, released a bugged upgrade yesterday and had to immediately retract it. They were able to locate the consensus bug by a fuzz test (a comprehensive process in which they fill a program with eclectic data waiting to see if any weaknesses appear). They are releasing a new bug-free update later today but parity takes up about 35 percent of all nodes and currently none of them have the Byzantium-ready software. Most of the other smaller nodes, like Ethereum J and EthereumJS, made their updates available this morning. Cpp-Ethereum developers are still working on their upgrade for the shift.


Currently, Ethereum’s proof-of-work consensus mechanism is being phased out for a more even-handed proof-of-stake method. This article explains the two methods in a little more detail. Byzantium, however, will not be ready for the shift but its upgrades are targeted to make the prospective change run smoothly. Byzantium is projected to make mining on the Ethereum blockchain much easier. With that being said, the transaction times will be much faster and the miners will be paid less for their efforts. Introducing other significant changes are the updates to the Ethereum clients.   As noted above, the update will make mining the Ethereum blockchain faster and, in order to compensate for this, miners rewards will be lowered by 2 ETH. The current metrics predict this to be about $604 but with the blockchain lighter and easier to mine, there is greater of a chance for more rewards. Every upgrade proposed has had some opposition but the current upgrades to the blockchain have been predominantly supported. Some parties opposing the new protocols have threatened to mine the pre-Byzantium Ethereum, a new norm for hard forks.


Startups should be unaffected by the hard fork, is everything goes as intended. Ethereum’s last hard fork did have some serious complications, causing developers to tread lightly. A decentralized application called the DAO caused the last hard Ethereum fork and ended up causing the creation of two competing ether cryptocurrencies. Ethereum Classic, was the project that branched out as a group of people rejected the last hard fork by mining on the old blockchain. Ethereum Classic is now valued at $11.31, as per the current metrics. Unless these “projects” gain enough traction, most controversies surrounding unpopular new protocols die off and become insignificant. One opposition, Etherite, has the intention of creating an alternative version of Byzantium, that does not lower the mining reward. As previously mentioned above, the miners post-Byzantium will be rewarded 2ETH less but have the opportunity to gain more rewards by a “lighter and faster” blockchain. If Etherite starts to gain some reasonable traction, it could put tension on exchanges. With the Byzantium block closing in, the chance of an alternative blockchain gaining enough traction is highly unlikely.

Application developers

The applications running on Ethereum are unlikely to run into complications. Mist is the Ethereum browser for decentralized applications (dapps). Once it has been restarted, it automatically upgrades to Byzantium and it applies to all dapps on Ethereum. The upgrades should automatically trigger after block number 4,370,000 consistently across all nodes. This go-around, they’ve implemented a major change that affects how developers interact with transactions on the blockchain. After the last hard fork, the method for detecting a failed transaction had changed, even for contracts that are already deployed. You can read in more detail about the new protocol here. Featured Image: unsplash/© urosjovicic96

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