What is forking?

The world of Blockchain technology is a plethora of new concepts and technical terms. To get a clear overview of how certain aspects of Blockchain work, it is beneficial to know the basics correctly. Stressing on some commonly used blockchain terminology is the first step towards knowing it right. One such term is ‘forking’. If you have been a crypto enthusiast, you have surely come across the term ‘fork’. In this article, the phenomenon of forking will be discussed.

However, forking is not essentially a blockchain-specific word. It has its primary definition in software engineering. In blockchain merely a particular nature of activity resembles that of forking and hence its name. Let us first see what is forking in software engineering lingo:

In any software, there is something like a master plan or the parent copy. This is called the source code of that package. Now an instance of project fork takes place when a developer procures a model of the source code from a certain software package and begins developing on it independently. As a result, a different piece of software emerges from the existing one. This is the basic definition of forking, but how is it important in blockchain? We shall see.

Forking in the context of Blockchain technology

When a path of a blockchain deflects and takes two different potential courses, a fork is said to happen. Each blockchain might go through forking differently, as it depends on its design architecture and its varied use cases.

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Blockchain forks can happen when:

  • There is a new regulation that acts as a deciding factor of when a transaction becomes valid.
  • Developers voluntarily bring it into networks when they seek to switch rules regarding the working of a blockchain.
  • Two miners (those who create new crypto coins) discover a block at almost the same moment.
  • There is a unique situation where two or more than two blocks have the same block size or height.

Forks arise out of an anomaly in the regulation which says that all parties need to have a common set of rules to maintain the transactional history of that said blockchain. So, when these parties are of different opinions, other possible chains may arise. On one hand, while the result of forking is often short-lived because of lack of consensus, there are examples of permanent forks as well.

Long-lived forks are usually a result of changes in blockchain protocol and they help to introduce new attributes to a chain. For example, Bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency, has gone through permanent forks to give rise to Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold.

Forking is mainly of two types

  • Hard fork– it is like a new update to your software, but irreversible. This means that older versions will not be compatible with the fork and hence not identify transactions properly. Hard forks implement something like a new set of order for the network. In the case of a hard fork, it could be possible that the existing blockchain would be done away with, and all the parties involved starting from the miners, to traders, to the customers or users, have to upgrade to the new fork.
  • Soft fork– soft forks mainly arise out of a change in protocol in the blockchain. In the case of soft forks, the particular company works on the original blockchain. While hard fork gives rise to a completely new blockchain, soft forks are backward compatible.
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If you are into crypto trading and use software like the bitcoin wallets, you should be aware that post-fork, it depends on the market scenario whether you would be able to trade normally or not. Hard forks are tricky and it depends from case to case whether you will be credited with new forked cryptocurrencies. However, in the case of cryptocurrencies, there is no relief from the volatility part as new forks along with size differences, also differ in value.

Conclusion

Forking in the blockchain arena has mixed reviews. While orthodox crypto enthusiasts find it easier to remain on existing blockchains, new miners often want to branch out, explore and experiment.

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