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One of the commonly cited advantages of bitcoin is that there's guaranteed to be only 21 million bitcoins.

However, my understanding is that the bitcoin protocol is patched by an opensource community, is it possible that the bitcoin miners could start using code that allows for more than 21m bitcoin?

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It's funny how the three answers seem to disagree entirely: Maybe, yes, no. Semantics, really, though –  Tim S. Apr 25 at 13:43
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3 Answers 3

Maybe. It would require a split in bitcoin users. Those who wanted the change could switch to a new version of the bitcoin software with the code changed to allow it. The problem comes from the fact that it would have to be a voluntary change. Some would want to change, others wouldn't, and this would split the bitcoin community. Any transactions that occur in the either chain wouldn't be reflected in the other. But any balance you had at the time of the split would be reflected in both chains.

It would be a matter of semantics on whether the new, modified bitcoin would even be considered the real 'bitcoin'. If the majority of the community thought it was an invalid change, then the new would take the role of just another altcoin and people probably wouldn't even call it bitcoin. If the majority liked the change, it's possible that the old bitcoin would lose value and be considered just another altcoin while the new version takes it's place (or even cease to be used at all). Or, it could be even and they could coexist, but that seems unlikely to me.

I don't think such a fork is something that the BTC developers would do to the community. Open source communities are generally afraid of forks anyway because they tend to kill projects by splitting the development team. Beyond that, doing so has the power to really lower the confidence in BTC as a currency. The people who already have coins would feel mistreated because the protocol change would mean the minimum value of their coins would be lower. It would essentially be equivalent to the gold conversion being lowered on the dollar during the gold standard.

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Yes, and then bitcoin blockchain will have fork. Then the old bitcoin wallet (I use only wallet here because miners or pools have to run the wallet software and it is both a server and a client) won't accept the block generated from the new wallet. New wallets also won't accept blocks generated from the old one. And if the protocol is not upgraded or changed, such that blocks continue to be broadcasted to all bitcoin clients, but each side does not accept the blocks generated from opposite side of wallets. The transaction to a address of different wallet of opposite side will become un-spendable. For example, when you send money from a old wallet to a new patched wallet, the designated BTC address is valid so the transaction is allowed. But in the new patched wallet, the receiver won't never get the money because his wallet does not accept the block which contains the transaction. Even < 51%, this also occurs and transactions are allowed only in the same side of wallets.

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No, because standard clients would reject these blocks, regardless of which chain is longest. Only miners and clients operating under these other rules would accept this blockchain. This is likely to never change with the standard Bitcoin client (and would have to be accepted, by clients upgrading to the new protocol), so the 21 million limit is secure against a 51% attack.

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If >51% of miners accept new changes to the protocol, "official" bitcoin client can either implement their changes (>21 mln coins) or cease to exist. –  Maciej Mączko Apr 24 at 19:21
    
@MaciejMączko not true. Those mining according to the old/"official" rules could continue with their own blockchain indefinitely. If only a few miners (say, 1%) stay on that chain, it could be terribly slow until the difficulty adjusts a few times, but it would not cease to exist. –  Tim S. Apr 24 at 19:27
    
Yes, I have exaggerated a little, but the official client will not be used anymore, since it will not be compatible with other clients in the network (majority rules, you know?) –  Maciej Mączko Apr 24 at 20:04
    
Is answer actually 'Yes, for those clients and miners that are using the new version.'? –  user1068446 Apr 24 at 20:35
    
Yes, it is. However, like my link says, if you made such a change, it'd be so different from Bitcoin as we know it that I wouldn't call it Bitcoin. –  Tim S. Apr 24 at 20:47
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