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Bitcoin Core 26.0rc2 was released a few days ago.

I've observed that several node operators have already installed this test release candidate version and are running it on the mainnet. Data from Bitnodes.io indicate that there are at least 12 such individuals (0.07% of all nodes).

Is it advisable to operate a full node using the Bitcoin Core test release candidate version on the mainnet?

Are there any benefits for the network, or could this practice potentially jeopardize the network in any way?

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Running release candidates poses little to no danger to the network. The node software is designed to be highly self-reliant, at worst a node would ignore incorrect information and disconnect another node that misbehaves. A release candidate node might be less useful to its operator, in case it’s unstable or has issues making connections, but that would not significantly impact other users.

So, it depends on what you are using your node for. If you e.g. run a node as a datasource for the backend of your business processes, for your personal wallet, or as the source of blockchain information for an active Lightning Node, you should wait for the final version before updating.

If you run a node that is not directly involved in managing funds or business processes and you could stomach it being unavailable for a few hours, then I’d encourage you to update and play around with the release candidate.

If you do rely on a node for your business, you might want to spin up another instance of your testing setup to try that the new version works out for you and e.g. you don’t rely on any API calls that may have changed.

If you do have any unexpected problems, please file an issue in the Bitcoin Core issue tracker.

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There is basically no risk to the network, as it's designed to resist even malicious actors, much less honest users just running untested software.

There is some risk to you as the user if you use the node as a wallet or to verify transactions, as any change to the code can introduce bugs, and you're one of the first people to run this new code. However, every change merged into Bitcoin Core's master branch needs to pass a lot of tests and (often many rounds of) code review, which should keep the bugs and their impact to a minimum.

I don't recall a bug that could result in a consensus split or loss of funds ever being caught during the release candidate phase, but there have been e.g. bugs that can cause a crash of the software in certain situations (I've discovered one such myself). So, only use a release candidate in such a way that new unexpected bugs wouldn't cause significant harm.

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    "There is basically no risk to the network, as it's designed to resist even malicious actors, much less honest users just running untested software." This is an important point that I have had to argue with people before. "If you're worried we might accidentally do X, remember that an attacker can freely do X on purpose at any time." Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 1:27
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As its name suggests, it is not recommended to run a release candidate in production if you are not sure what you are doing. However Bitcoin Core release candidates aim to meet high quality standards. Running a release candidate on mainnet for testing purpose should not cause any issue. And if it does, please do report it!

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