Ever seen the applications installed on your mobile auto-updating themselves the moment your phone is connected to the Wi-Fi? At times we might get pissed with this auto-updating feature of our applications but it’s a necessary process after all. If one does not install the latest version of the software, one is denied the use of the latest services.
However, with the adoption of Abstract programming where the lines of code need not be necessarily understood by common folks to use the technology, tech has become to every individual. Nevertheless, the blockchain industry which is still in its infant stage requires knowledge and possesses a challenge to implement new features. If you are wondering how a decentralized network gets upgraded without a central authority catering to it then you are thinking just in the right direction. To do these tasks in the Blockchain and crypto industry we need two different mechanisms like Hard Forks and Soft Forks. So, before we understand the difference between Hard Fork and Soft Fork, let us first understand what forking is?
What is Fork?
A software forking basically takes place when the software is first copied and then modified. Although the original project still exists it is different from the new one and has its own objective to follow. Suppose you and your friend host a website but due to some reasons, a disagreement arises. In that case, your friend might want to proceed alone with a different domain name but a similar site. However, the type of content being posted on the website by you and your friend shall be completely different.
In forking, the projects are built on common grounds but are moved forward with different agendas. These things are quite common in open-source projects and have been there even before the existence of cryptos. However, in the crypto space, there is Hard Fork and Soft Fork which is exclusive only to this industry. So let us understand what Soft Fork and Hard Fork is.
What is Hard Fork?
Hard Forks are incompatible software updates. These occur when new rules are added by the nodes that are conflicting with the existing rules. New nodes are able to communicate with only those nodes that operate on the new version. This leads to the splitting of the blockchain where one network works on the old rules while the other functions on the new rules.
After this hard forking, there exist two networks that run in parallel to each other and continue to propagate transactions and blocks; however, they no longer function on the same blockchain. One of the typical examples of hard fork occured in 2017 where Bitcoin was split into two separate chains , the first being Bitcoin and the other being Bitcoin Cash. This fork took place after a lot of discussion on scaling Bitcoin. While the proponents of Bitcoin Cash wanted increased block size, Bitcoin proponents opposed this case which led to the forking of Bitcoin.
What is Soft Fork?
A soft fork is a backward-compatible upgrade where the old and the new nodes can communicate with each other. In a soft fork, new rules are added that do not clash with the existing rules. Taking the example of Bitcoin, although we cannot increase the size of the block due to the existing rules, there is no rule which says the block size cannot be decreased. In that case, this would be a soft fork to Bitcoin. This would not disconnect the new block from the network and the communication between all the nodes remain un-hampered. A real-life example of the soft fork is Segregated Witness (SegWit) fork that was done right after Bitcoin Cash forking took place. SegWit was the update that changed the format of the blocks and their transactions.
Although the old nodes could validate the transactions they couldn’t understand them. Few information fields are only visible when the nodes switch to the latest software allowing them to parse additional data.
Hard Fork Vs Soft Fork: Which one is better?
Hard Fork and Soft Fork serve different objectives. Although Contentious hard forks often divide the community but well planned and clever ones can also lead to software modification with everyone in agreement.
Soft forks are the more gentle and diplomatic solution to hard forks. One does not need to worry about fragmenting in case the updates are crafted in a way that they do not conflict with the existing rules.
Additional Read: Which is the best crypto to invest in?
Summing it Up!
Every application needs updates and similarly, every blockchain network needs to be upgraded for the software to serve bigger and better purposes. Hard Forks and Soft Forks allow us to modify the software in a decentralized fashion without the intervention of any central authority. It is the forks that help the networks to integrate new features without which a centralized system would be required for complete control.