Bitcoin Controversy: Why Are Several Developers Opposing BIP-119?

Bitcoin Controversy: Why Are Several Developers Opposing BIP-119?

Key facts:
  • Jeremy Rubin, creator of BIP-119, published a controversial activation pathway.

  • Reaching a consensus in Bitcoin is more difficult than it is supposed to be.

The Bitcoin community and its developers are in the midst of a debate the likes of which has not been seen for several years. The Bitcoin Improvement Proposal 119 or BIP 119 worries some and excites others alike, without at the moment a clear consensus on whether or not to implement this update in the protocol.

The Bitcoin Improvement Proposal or BIP 119 is the brainchild of developer Jeremy Rubin, who aims with it to introduce advanced parameters for the transactions of Bitcoin, For example, that some bitcoins can only be sent to a specific address and not to another.

But also, and importantly, also can condition the spending of those bitcoins in the futureso that once they are sent to an initial address, from there they can only be sent to other specified addresses.

So far so good but Why does this proposal arouse such dissimilar opinions in the community? There are several arguments for and against from a technical point of view, but also from a political point of view about the Bitcoin consensus and the mechanisms to implement this type of update.

The political argument: Jeremy Rubin wants to force the activation of a soft fork

Arguably, those who oppose the activation of BIP-119 do so not primarily because it is entirely a poorly designed solution from a technical point of view, but rather because oppose Jeremy Rubin’s persistence to introduce it to Bitcoin.

Last April 17 Jeremy Rubin posted on his blog their plans to activate BIP-119, appealing for a speedy trial or speedy trials like the one made with Taproot, by Bitcoin miners during 2021.

This aroused strong criticism, including that of Andreas Antonopoulos, who opposed the activation of BIP-119 when it has not received overwhelming support to form a consensus that favors its safe and controlled implementation.

In fact Jeremy Rubin challenged Antonopoulos to debate BIP 119inviting him to discuss his ideas at the MIT Bitcoin Expo on May 7, but the well-known promoter has not responded to this proposal.

For his part, Michael Folkson, another Bitcoin developer, also wrote in an email on April 20 that he did not intend to discuss the BIP-119 issue. But the imminence of a soft fork powered by Jeremy Rubin was too risky enough not to issue an opinion on the matter and invite the rest of the community to establish a position as soon as possible.

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Bitcoin Controversy: Why Are Several Developers Opposing BIP-119?

The saddest thing of all is that if Jeremy’s attempt [Rubin] by activating a soft fork causes uncertainty and confusion, I fear that it could make those soft forks that have overwhelming community support more difficult to implement in the future.

There are a number of soft forks that I’m excited about. […] that in the long term we could obtain with a sensitive approach regarding activating soft forks with the consent of the community. But the more uncertainty and confusion we create about contentious soft forks, the more and more dangerous soft forks will appear in any form.

The main focus should be on resisting soft forks that do not have community consensus and ensuring that Bitcoin is not split into a larger number of assets and blockchains with a different number of active soft forks..

Michael Folkson, developer.

Bitcoin cannot have features that no one has asked for

One of the points against BIP-119 is that its functionalities they do not seem to be demanded by the market. According to John Carvalho, CEO of Synonym, the changes made to Bitcoin “should fix obvious problems and provide optimization, security and privacy benefits in a simple way.”

John Carvalho
John Carvalho, CEO of Synony, believes that resistance to change is the main characteristic of Bitcoin. Source: Synonym_to / Twitter.

This was explained by the also developer in a email addressed to Jeremy Rubin dated May 2, 2022:

The consensus route is to propose things that everyone needs. The demand comes from the market, not from designers. Engineers solve problems with their designs, but when they speculate and lead the process, they create problems instead. Bitcoin is not a place for speculative updates. Bitcoin cannot sustain a culture of features that no one is asking for. Bitcoin is sustained in the culture of “NO”. Resistance to change is the main characteristic of Bitcoin.

John Carvalho, CEO of Synonym.

Carvalho goes on to say that there is no chance that most Bitcoin users will be able to audit changes made to the protocol, or measure the consequences, and developers tend to ignore this. “The public already trusts Bitcoin Core developers more than they should, and it’s unwise to lean into it,” he says.

Jimmy Song, another Bitcoin developer and popularizer, has an opinion similar in this sense:

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. What is alarming to me about the proposal is that I keep hearing people say that ‘there is a broad consensus among developers’ that covenants are desirable. Perhaps for developers, they are. But what about users? Ultimately, they are the ones in control because they run the nodes [de Bitcoin].

Jimmy Song, Developer

A chance at redemption for Jeremy Rubin

In the same email, Carvalho acknowledges the freedom of each user and developer to propose the changes they deem necessary for Bitcoin. Jeremy Rubin seems to have taken hold of this principle to have proposed an activation route and his own client that implements BIP-119, although now he has retracted from following what he had announced.

Yesterday May 2 Jeremy Rubin sent a message to the Bitcoin developers mailing list where he accepted his responsibility and he promised to continue listening to the opinions of the rest of the developers to assess the feasibility of BIP-119.

Since I published my blog, vague claims have surfaced on various platforms that I would be trying to bypass consensus mechanisms, force miners to do a speedy trial, force users to accept something they don’t want; statements that offer me to face repercussions, that attack my character and more.

Everyone is free to read the material that I have communicated and evaluate said statements of my alleged bad faith. I accept the responsibility that lately I have not communicated clearly. Now, I’ve kept my word to listen to what they have to say before I make any releases: I haven’t released the speedy trial software on a CTV client. [BIP-119] and I have kept my promise not to go through a soft fork process.

Jeremy Rubin.

Jeremy Rush.
Jeremy Rubin is the developer of BIP-119. Source: rubin.io.

At the same time, Rubin considers that many of the opinions coming from respected voices in the community have been misinformationand that “they represent a dangerous precedent for all Bitcoin developers.”

While Jeremy Rubin seems to understand that going down the BIP-119 activation route without community support is not the best course of action, you could still rearrange your thoughtsas he is convinced that CTV is a desirable functionality for Bitcoin.

In a future installment we will analyze the arguments for and against from the technical point of view to implement or not the BIP-119 in Bitcoin.

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