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How could the bitcoin protocol be changed? Has this ever occurred?

Given Bitcoin is a system based on consensus, is it possible and under what situations would the Bitcoin community consider changing some of it's underlying 'hard-coded' laws. Things such as the number of Bitcoins in circulation the rate of Bitcoin production or the number of confirmations before a transaction is confirmed?


The number of Bitcoins in circulation

That would be almost impossible to change and would drastically undermine confidence in the Bitcoin system. I think we're stuck with this forever, or until Bitcoin becomes obsolete.

The rate of Bitcoin production

Again, almost impossible to change.

Or the number of confirmations before a transaction is confirmed?

Anyone is welcome to consider a transaction confirmed after as many or as few confirmations as they like. There is no reason this requires any kind of agreement.

  • 2
    Yup. The rules are changeable if supported by the economic majority. en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Economic_majority Any change that decreases the value of previously acquired coins is not likely to be supported. Oct 30 '12 at 16:23
  • @David, Is there any way Bitcoin can have faster than 10 minute confirmation time in future updates? E.g. as fast as LTC/FTC/worldcoin/fastcoin
    – Pacerier
    Mar 20 '14 at 17:08
  • @Pacerier There's no advantage. Faster confirmations just means weaker confirmations. It still takes the same amount of time to reach the same level of confidence. Mar 20 '14 at 18:09
  • @DavidSchwartz, There's an advantage when we are looking at small numbers. If a coin confirms in 3 seconds, after 3 seconds we would have 1 confirmation (non-zero confidence). Contrast this with a coin that confirms in 10 minutes. Before the first confirmation, we have zero confidence. Further elaborated by DeathAndTaxes on bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=98841.0#subject_1081896 . Don't you agree that faster confirmation can be extremely useful for merchants and payment processors?
    – Pacerier
    Mar 20 '14 at 18:39
  • @Pacerier We can have a lot more than zero confidence before the first confirmation. I'm not convinced that faster confirmation times provide any speed benefit that outweighs their costs. (They do increase the maximum possible transaction rate for a given maximum block size.) Mar 20 '14 at 18:41

The easiest way to introduce changes to Bitcoin is almost certainly through creation of an alternative currency with a new name. This has been done already quite a number of times, such as with:

  1. Litecoin, probably the most successful alternative, which uses a CPU friendly mining algorithm instead of a GPU friendly one. Unfortunately this property allows botnets to mine coins more easily.
  2. SolidCoin, which when I last read about it was partially centalised and closed source.
  3. Ixcoin
  4. I0coin
  5. Geist geld
  6. PPCoin
  7. Freicoin

Litecoin seems reasonably mature and is still growing (at least, in hash rate). PPCoin is very new, and I don't understand its mechanism. I'm not sure what's happening with Freicoin. All the others listed above are essentially dead or dying as I understand it.

There is also NameCoin which is designed to provide a decentralised domain registration system.

It historically hasn't taken long for exchanges to become available for new cryptocurrencies, which allows for easy conversion from Bitcoin to the new currency. Other supporting tools like automatic payment systems tend to be developed later.

However, so far nothing has even come close to Bitcoin's popularity. If there was some amazing new feature provided by a new alt-coin that Bitcoin couldn't provide, I could imagine the switchover from Bitcoin being quite rapid. It's just that nothing has provided an adequate point of difference yet.

  • Last I heard SolidCoin was a scam...
    – o0'.
    Oct 30 '12 at 13:46
  • @Lohoris, I didn't follow it in detail. I'm pretty sure Ixcoin, and I0coin were essentially scams too, though in those cases I think the code was at least open source. Oct 30 '12 at 18:18

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