The Upcoming Ethereum Merge

Ethereum developers have announced that they are deploying the Ethereum Merge on its blockchain on September 19, 2022 (based on transcript from a conference call). The news has been received positively by the market, which led to a rally in ETH market price. This has been a long awaited event, which will consolidate the beacon chain with the main network to transition Ethereum’s blockchain from PoW (Proof-of-Work) to PoS (Proof-of-Stake).

There have been doubts about the merge since it was first delayed in the summer of 2022. Ethereum has a known history of delaying projects, with market panic when the developers cannot deliver on time. The expectations are sometimes too high for even what the developers can accomplish. When the deliverables do arrive, it usually turns sentiment back to bullish as was the case with EIP1559.

Before the merge can become a success, there are still some hurdles to clear. Tests are underway on testnets (e.g. Ropsten) to make sure that the protocols work properly. There are still major tests that will be conducted on the Sepolia and Goerli test networks. Once these chains have been transitioned successfully without much issues to PoS, then the next step is the Ethereum mainnet. This aims to improve the network to scale the number of transactions and lower fees for users.

Although a date has been set for the merge, it is not final. If there are problems during testing that are serious enough to address, then this could lead to further delays. The hope from ETH HODLers and investors alike is for a successful merge to occur in order to increase Ethereum’s value.

Disclaimer: The information provided is for reference and educational purposes only, and is not financial advice. Always DYOR to verify information.

Ethereum Reaches A New Milestone As It Prepares For ETH 2.0

There have been plenty of great developments in the Ethereum blockchain. This has been good for its native currency ETH (Ether) and has restored confidence in holders toward the end of the first quarter of 2022. This has led to a rally in ETH price to above the $3K level, starting in March 22. Some analysts take this as an ominous sign that ETH has turned bullish once again, but what is really the motivation behind it?

Toward the end of 2021, Ethereum developers released the Kintsugi Merge test network. This is a more realistic approach to testing how the Ethereum network will be like post-merge (i.e. when the Beacon Chain merges with the mainnet). This allows developers to test the features of the network in an environment that supports PoS (Proof-of-Stake). This is where smart contracts can be tested without any additional costs to developers.

Ethereum developers have also released the Kiln public test network in March of 2022. This is the final test network before the transition to PoS. This is where developers can test their applications and tools before deploying on the mainnet. Node operators and stakers can also test on Kiln, to evaluate the performance on a simulated blockchain.

Toward the end of March 2022, the number of ETH 2.0 validators has reached 300,000+ with over $28 Billion TVL (Total Value Locked). That is based on the valuation of ETH (~$2900-$3,000 circa March 1, 2022). The total amount of ETH locked (requires 32 per validator) has reached 9.6 Million ETH. At the price of ETH in March 28, 2022 at $3,300.62 (10:46 PM EST), the total value locked would be $31.6 Billion. The value of ETH increases with the market, and any surge also brings up the TVL for the validators.

Ethereum is receiving not just retail support, but institutional as well. Macro guru Raoul Pal has become more bullish on his outlook of Ethereum. He believes it is on track to outperform Bitcoin based on its performance. Pal is looking at long term metrics that show that the market Ethereum is capturing covers a much larger base than Bitcoin. This includes the derivatives and money markets, where billions of dollars are sitting. Should even a small percentage of the money flow into the DeFi space, where ETH is a major currency, it can create network effects that can further drive ETH value higher.

Other reports are coming that banks are positive on Ethereum. It seems banks like JP Morgan had at one time been very critical of cryptocurrency. The sentiment has changed, and they now invest in projects that involve cryptocurrency like Ethereum. Perhaps the recent developments in how Ethereum will become more energy efficient and how it is a platform that facilitates a decentralized financial system opens opportunity for capital investments.

The transition to a new consensus mechanism can greatly impact Ethereum network performance. A faster and more energy efficient system gives it a positive outlook compared to Bitcoin and other energy intensive cryptocurrency that use PoW (Proof-of-Work). The more important matter that investors are keeping an eye on is how the move to ETH 2.0 will improve the network’s overall performance. This attempts to solve the problems of scaling, which Ethereum competitors (e.g. Solana, Harmony, Avalanche) have already been addressing. A more stable network with the capability to process more transactions will be huge for Ethereum, and can establish it as a dominant platform for years to come.

Ethereum Berlin Is Here, Next Stop Is London

The Ethereum blockchain has implemented the Berlin hard fork at block 12,244,000 this past Thursday (April 15, 2021). This was not the anticipated Optimism Rollout yet, but instead are a set of improvement proposals to help the network with gas costs and security.

Berlin was supposed to implemented in 2020, but as with most Ethereum projects it got pushed back. There were centralization concerns around the Geth client on which most Ethereum nodes operate. An important feature of Berlin is the live swapping of Ethereum from a proof-of-work to a proof-of-stake blockchain.

Other important features of Berlin are optimizations for smart contracts including gas efficiency, updates to EVM code and protection against DDOS attacks.

The upgrade implements the following:

  • EIP-2565, reduces gas cost for a specific transaction type that uses modular exponentiation.
  • EIP-2718, makes all transaction types “backwards compatible” using so-called “envelope transactions,” which allows the addition of new transaction logic into Ethereum.
  • EIP-2929, increases gas costs for “op code” transactions, a pain point for denial of service attacks on Ethereum in the past.
  • EIP-2930, a new transaction type (made possible by EIP-2718’s envelope transactions) which allows its users to create templates for future, complex transactions in a bid to lower gas costs.

The upgrades are in line with the bigger upgrade that will introduce EIP 1559 called London.

The Double-Spend That Never Was

On Thursday, January 21, 2021, news outlets began circulating reports of a Bitcoin double spend flaw which led to an 11% drop in the price of the digital asset. This would have been a major exposure of a flaw in the blockchain … except it never was. In fact, what happened or reportedly occurred would be a part of how Bitcoin is supposed to work. It is hard to explain the full details unless you get technical, but let us try to explain it in simpler terms.

First, what is a “double spend“? This was the problem Bitcoin’s creator Satoshi Nakamoto was able to solve for digital currency. Prior to that, it was a problem in computerized electronic payment systems that other developers had proposed solutions for. Since computers are digital, when currency is created it can be easily copied just like a file made in Excel or Word. If you have a file that represents your money in a computer, without any means of control a user can create infinite copies and spend it all they want. It is possible to use the same digital money to purchase two different items, so long as there is no system checking for it.

Nakamoto solves the problem by implementing a blockchain to support provenance and verification. That means that the amount of currency like Bitcoin (BTC) that a user holds, is determined by a mechanism that is verified through a consensus or agreement. In this case it is called Proof-of-Work (PoW) on the Bitcoin blockchain. You have nodes (computers) called miners that run software which run algorithms to try and solve a complex puzzle to discover a block for validation. The block contains transactions that are verified based on cryptographic hashes that can be traced back to what is called a genesis block. If it can be verified, then it is added to the blockchain.

Before a block is added, there is a competition among the miners to try and discover a number called the nonce. This is what is needed in order to validate a block. The miner who discovers it first will become the block validator and will receive a reward in return for their effort. The miners also collect fees for helping to validate transactions on the network. No transaction is ever allowed to pass unless it goes through a consensus among the miners on the network. Double-spends are prevented by the miners through this verification and validation process which also includes confirmations.

Bitmex Research first reported the incident in a tweet of a potential double-spend that occurred in the wild. They were the ones who also pointed out that it was a double-spend, but here is the problem. It was unconfirmed and the researcher who discovered it should have probably waited for what is called a chain reorganization, which is a part of the blockchain’s protocol. It is true that a BTC could appear to be spent two times on different transactions. It must undergo a series of confirmations, usually 6 but it could be more (depends on network activity). This was mentioned by Satoshi Nakamoto in the Bitcoin White Paper.

It is possible for two blocks to be mined simultaneously on the blockchain. This creates a temporary anomaly that can be observed by anyone who has access to the mempool of a Bitcoin node. There is a built-in feature in the code that corrects this problem. It is part of a chain reorganization in which the nodes must add the valid block to the longest chain, or the main network. You can see two transactions that appear to have spent the same BTC, but after the chain reorganization and block confirmation it is resolved. Only one of those blocks that contain the transaction will be valid and added to the blockchain. The other block will be orphaned and not validated.

Many cryptocurrency and blockchain experts like Andreas Antonopoulos, Bitfinex CTO Paolo Ardoino, Coin Metrics Bitcoin Network Data Analyst Lucas Nuzzi and later, even Bitmex Research all agree that it was not a double-spend that occurred. There are counter points though, especially from among the Bitcoin SV (BSV) camp who do have some thoughts of their own. What we know for sure is that only one of the transactions has been verified and validated on a block. The user tried to use a feature called Replace-By-Fee (RBF) in which you can speed up a transaction by paying a higher transaction fee which invalidates a previous transaction that was sent out. What happened here was the lower fee somehow made it to valid block first, perhaps because of the timing. The user had waited too long and by the time the higher paying transaction fee was sent the previous one had already been added to a block on the longer chain which validates it first.

Should we be worried that an actual double-spend can occur? It is always good to be alert and aware of what is happening. While the code does what it is supposed to do, there will be bad actors who may try to exploit these types of attacks to see if they can get past the logic. What will be proof or testament to Bitcoin’s legitimacy as a cryptocurrency is how these measures will stand against the test of time. As long as it is working, it will help the network to remain secure and operational. Until the next news, HODL.

Litecoin Halving – Do Less Rewards Mean More Value To Miners?

The Litecoin blockchain halving was succesful at the block height of 1,680,000 at 10:16 UTC (Monday August 5, 2019). The halving reduces the Litecoin reward in half, from 25 LTC to 12.5 LTC per block mined. There was no immediate dramatic rise in the price of LTC, but it showed plenty of optimism in the market. Litecoin, like Bitcoin, has a limited supply which caps at 84 million LTC. The halving is an event that occurs on the Litecoin network every 840,000 blocks or approximately every 4 years. As the name implies, it is a 50% reduction of the miner’s rewards for every block they validate on the network. This is part of the Litecoin consensus mechanism called PoW (Proof-of-Work) which is also used in the Bitcoin blockchain.

The halving creates digital scarcity, and to some analysts this means the digital asset becomes more valuable. Whether it is due to the lower supply of LTC or the hype surrounding the event, prices have not increased at the levels some may have expected. Perhaps this is due to the halving being priced in with investors already having accumulated the digital asset ahead of time. If these transactions were done over the counter style, then it will not really affect the market prices on digital exchanges. Some analysts believe there should be more to expect in terms of the utility of the token rather than just anticipate the digital scarcity will increase prices. Perhaps the law of supply and demand doesn’t exactly equate to expectations in a volatile cryptocurrency market.

LTC is used mainly in making direct P2P online electronic payments. It functions like any other cryptocurrency, where the transactions are made transparent and immutable, allowing for greater accountability. In terms of speed, it isn’t any faster than traditional payment systems like VISA or Mastercard. However, LTC can instantly transfer value across any border because of its P2P feature. The transactions also have lower fees than money transfer agents or bank charges. When you don’t have intermediaries in the payment network, you can pretty much transfer value easily in a frictionless manner. All that is needed is an exchange that supports LTC that converts the cryptocurrency to fiat.

The problem is that regulatory clarity has not fully accepted cryptocurrency like LTC. Although it is being used by some people to make payments or transfer value, it is not happening on a large scale yet. Not all exchanges are available in all countries that support a fiat to LTC pairing. If any exchange has a Litecoin pairing then it would be easier to transact. This would be like how using the USD becomes viable because of currency exchanges that support it. Therefore it makes it accessible to everyone and it is the legal medium for exchange. LTC on the other hand is not readily available to be used to purchase items, unless the business supports it. So far there are very few establishments that will accept LTC as a payment for let us say a cup of coffee or breakfast sandwich. How easy it is to use fiat to pay for those items.

There is more concern among the mining community though. Since block rewards have been cut in half, operations will be affected due to decrease in profitability among miners. It would be fine if the price of LTC greatly increases, but if not then the miners will have to absorb net losses. The issue here is related to the electricity costs to cover producing LTC from mining blocks. What this can result to is an exit among miners who cannot absorb the costs, while established miners will continue mining and making profit. The bigger mining pools can survive because they have the resources to do so. The hash rate of the overall network could also decrease, making the difficulty target easier and block mining just as profitable for the miners who remain in the game. 

Let’s look at how blocks are mined on Litecoin’s blockchain. The block production time, on average, is 1 block every 2.5 minutes, which is 576 blocks are produced every 24 hours. Due to the halving, each block mined now rewards miners 12.5 LTC. That means that every day or every 24 hour period 7,200 LTC is created. This will go on for the next 840,000 blocks which will be the next halving. With a total supply cap of 84 million LTC, the halving leads to less and less rewards for miners. The incentive here is to produce blocks, but with less rewards there may be less miners providing hash power to the network. The idea is that demand will exceed supply, so miners will still be incentivized to validate and mine blocks so the value of LTC will increase. The point here is that the lower amount of LTC is not going to stop miners if the price of LTC increases due to the demand. Fees should also be reasonable enough that people will use LTC to make payments. So far it seems current fees are low enough in terms of LTC/KB with 3 priority levels (the highest level costing more than the rest). This is what the Litecoin team refers to as “near-zero cost payments” i.e. cheap fees.

The only thing that has not been determined is whether LTC will continue. The LTC is only valuable if it is being used, but if it is just speculation fueling the prices then there is really no utility behind it. The developments in Litecoin need to catch up to the demand which is what is creating it in the first place. There has been encouraging news about new ways to bring privacy to transactions on the Litecoin blockchain. Developers will need to make sure that the value of LTC doesn’t rely on pure hype and speculation alone. Instead it must demonstrate that the technology is capable of providing the features of a decentralized instant electronic payment system for the world.