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Two long-anticipated upgrades appear to have officially activated on the ethereum blockchain, the world’s second-largest by market value, without incident.
At 19:57 (UTC), the sixth and seventh system-wide upgrades to the software, dubbed Constantinople and St. Petersburg, respectively, rolled out on the main network at block number 7,280,000. As seen on blockchain monitoring website Fork Monitor, there is so far no evidence of a chain split that would suggest a portion of ethereum users are still running an older ethereum software.
Past hard forks of the ethereum blockchain have encountered such setbacks, most notably in 2016 with ethereum classic, a group that continued running an older software instance when a controversial upgrade was introduced.
As background, before any system-wide upgrade, or hard fork, miners and node operators are required to install new client software that automatically updates at the exact same block number. This prevents two concurrent and incompatible versions of the same blockchain from splitting the wider network.
With the apparent activation, the St. Petersburg code has also disabled part of the Constantinople code deemed back in January to host security vulnerabilities that could be used by attackers to steal funds.
“With the blockchain, everyone has to upgrade in order for everyone to be able to use [the new] features,” explained Taylor Monahan – CEO of blockchain wallet tool MyCrypto.
“About two weeks before the fork, everyone upgrades the software but none of the new features are enabled,” said Monahan to CoinDesk. “Then, on that block number, everyone at the exact same time starts using the new features. So, that’s how we prevent differing states from existing simultaneously. It’s [also] called a consensus issue or a consensus bug.”
MyCrypto presently runs 10 to 15 computer servers also called nodes all running on the most updated version of the Parity ethereum client.
With today’s release of Constantinople and St. Petersberg, four different ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs) have been officially activated on the ethereum network – one of which does introduce a new “corner case” affecting smart contract immutability.
As of press time, the market price for ether – the main cryptocurrency of the network – has seen a small jump from $135.14 shortly prior to release. It presently sits at $136.99, according to CoinDesk data.
For more on the upgrades, read our full coverage here:
Railroad tracks image via Shutterstock
JPMorgan Chase’s blockchain team is increasing its firepower around a branch of mind-bending math called zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs).
These proofs, which allow someone to prove a statement is true about a set of data without revealing the data itself, are seen as a solution to the privacy issues that have made regulated companies wary of using shared digital ledgers. Previously, JPMorgan did pioneering work in this area with Quorum, its private version of the ethereum blockchain.
Now, the global bank is testing out another zero-knowledge privacy solution called AZTEC. Developed by a London startup of the same name, this protocol aims to allow encryption of blockchain data at a lower cost and more efficiently than previous versions of the technology.
Speaking of the technology, AZTEC CEO Tom Pocock told CoinDesk,
“It’s being tested by the most important bank in blockchain today. JPMorgan Quorum actually.”
A JPMorgan insider confirmed the bank’s Quorum team is looking at AZTEC and is “generally looking to industrialize zero-knowledge proofs for Quorum.”
JPMorgan and AZTEC would make an odd couple. To date, the bank has strictly limited its blockchain work to permissioned, or gated, systems. Even JPM Coin, the dollar-backed cryptocurrency it plans to launch, will run on Quorum and be available only to vetted institutional clients.
AZTEC, by contrast, sets out to bridge the gap between the public and private blockchain realms.
Pocock said AZTEC, which is exploring faster and more efficient forms of blockchain data encryption, wants the best of best of both worlds.
“AZTEC allows you to take what would normally be restricted to a private blockchain and to issue those assets, trade and clear them on a public blockchain, with all of the additional execution guarantees,” he said.
The AZTEC protocol is well known within the public ethereum community, where tests have been done to convert the Maker DAI stablecoin into a confidential form.
Dr. Zac Williamson, AZTEC’s CTO, explained that AZTEC uses a different approach to privacy than Quorum; the latter combines its own Constellation privacy system with zero-knowledge proofs.
“[Quorum] uses kind of permissioning to create a level of privacy,” noted Williamson, “We are public, so how do you do transactions when there is no special overseer or individual institution which has privileged access to data?”
To make this work in an efficient manner, AZTEC uses a special type of zero-knowledge proofs (ZKP) called range proofs that go easier on computational power than classical ZKPs, and these are combined with other types of cryptographic commitment schemes.
The system also differs from other privacy solutions on ethereum as values are represented much more like bitcoin’s unspent transaction output (UTXO) model, where inputs on a blockchain are deleted when a transaction occurs, whilst at the same time new outputs, or UTXOs, are created.
Using the AZTEC system, “the user sends a ZKP [proving] that the sum of the input notes is equal to the sum of the output notes,” said Williamson. “Once you know that, then you don’t need to know what’s inside each individual note. You know that the transaction is mathematically legitimate and there isn’t double spending going on.”
In terms of usability and performance, the AZTEC system allows for much lower transaction processing costs on ethereum than ZKPs currently do, the startup says. As for throughput, for the time being, AZTEC runs at about a tenth of ethereum’s 10-30 transactions per second, but this is set to improve with the next hard fork, said Williamson.
However, he pointed to use cases like syndicated loans with which his team has been conducting experiments, adding that, for now, the focus is not so much on scaling, but rather as a way of making ethereum work as a private settlement system.
Bridging the gap where legally or contractually it’s not possible to put data on a public blockchain is AZTEC’s aim, said Williamson, concluding,
“Then a lot of the reasons a private blockchain was really necessary go away.”
JPMorgan image via Shutterstock.
In less than 24 hours, the world’s second largest blockchain by market capitalization is expected to activate its sixth and seventh system-wide upgrades, at which point its global user base will be asked to make two near-simultaneous changes to its code.
Known as Constantinople and St. Petersburg, both upgrades will be implemented as “hard forks,” or upgrades that add new rules to the ethereum software that are incompatible with past versions. Both will also take place at the exact same block number – 7,280,000.
Should users decide to upgrade, St. Petersburg will effectively disable part of the Constantinople code discovered back in January to host a critical vulnerability affecting smart contract security. Further, four out of five planned ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs) – the majority of which, according to independent ethereum developer Lane Rettig, will not be noticeable to the average user.
Calling Constantinople primarily a “maintenance and optimization upgrade” in an interview with CoinDesk, Rettig highlighted in September that the only user group to experience a noticeable change would be miners, the specialized hardware operators who today assemble ethereum transactions into blocks and compete for network rewards.
Indeed, once activated, Constantinople and St. Petersburg will reduce block reward issuance from 3 to 2 ETH, similar to how the previous hard fork – called Byzantium – reduced issuance from 5 to 3 ETH.
“The reduction in ETH block rewards … will clearly have a big impact on miners,” said Rettig to CoinDesk via email.
As explained by Eric Conner, founder of information site ETHHub, the change is intended to be a temporary measure until miners on the blockchain are eventually replaced with new kinds of validators in ethereum’s next upgrade, Serenity.
Conner to CoinDesk back in September:
“[ETH supply] in late 2018 and 2019 is over what was initially assumed by the community. It’s at 7.5 percent inflation now … [We’re] reducing it to 2 ETH per block – roughly 4.5 percent inflation – as a stop gap until Casper is done.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s upgrade, here are some big takeaways from ethereum’s coming code change:
1. It’s a collection of updates
Outside of this reduction in block reward issuance, there’s a number of other technical upgrades also expected to improve operations on the ethereum blockchain before its larger Casper FFG upgrade is fully implemented.
These include EIP 145 “Bitwise shifting instructions in EVM,” EIP 1014 “Skinny CREATE2” and EIP 1052 “EXTCODEHASH opcode.”
On the matter of EIP 145, Stephen King – CEO of ethereum-based real estate marketplace Imbrex – explained to CoinDesk:
“Adding Bitwise shifting instructions will make it slightly cheaper to conduct certain functions on chain. This is a step in the right direction to making developing on ethereum more cost-effective for [decentralized application] developers.”
For a comprehensive round-up of each of the proposals in Constantinople – including the one to be deactivated through St. Petersburg, read our full coverage:
2. You can watch it live
At present, blockchain explorer site Amberdata is estimating an expected activation time for Constantinople and St. Petersburg tomorrow at 19:15 (UTC).
But because block mining speeds can vary from hour to hour, ethereum users, miners and developers will want to keep a close eye on the website for variations to this estimation as the block count increases. Once activated, users can monitor the progress of both hard forks in real time using a developer tool known as the “fork monitor,” which visualizes ethereum blockchain data into a time series graph.
For details on other useful metrics such as hashrate, market price and node count as the upgrade is rolled-out, check out CoinDesk’s article on “How to Watch Ethereum’s Fork as It Happens.”
(Disclaimer: As of press time, there is no livestream developer call scheduled to begin for the upgrade. Shortly following Thursday’s upgrade, there will be a meeting on Friday at 14:00 (UTC) between the developers to discuss how the hard fork went, among other topics.)
3. It’s been delayed before
As much as the ethereum community is hopeful the upgrade will go over smoothly, one can never really be too sure when it comes to hard forks. As seen with past ethereum updates, some user groups could continue running older instances of the code, should they so choose.
This is notable as ever since testing for the upgrade began as early back as July 2018, ethereum developers have faced multiple roadblocks causing delays to the activation of Constantinople. Expected to be released on mainnet for as early as October 2018, complications as the code was released on the ethereum test network Ropsten pushed back this estimation to January of this year.
Developers then announced in December main network release for Constantinople would occur on block number 7,080,000 – only to have this activation block number pushed back to 7,280,000 as a result of a last-minute security bug found in the code.
For a play-by-play on how the most recent security bug in Constantinople was found and what sorts of decisions came out of it, the following is a curated list of all major hard fork developments since January:
1. January 11, 2019 – A week before expected activation of Constantinople on mainnet, developers are cautiously optimistic the release will go smoothly.
2. January 15, 2019 – Not 48 hours before expected activation on block number 7,080,000, developer are notified of a critical security bug.
3. January 18, 2019 – Developers agree to delay activation of Constantinople on mainnet until late February and propose a new block number.
4. February 12, 2019 – Final software releases of Constantinople and St. Petersburg from major ethereum clients such as Geth and Parity are released and later compiled into a comprehensive blog post on the official ethereum website.
4. Let’s get it over with
Due to the prolonged timeline of this upgrade, the final and most important takeaway is the present community sentiment surrounding the impending release of Constantinople (and St. Petersburg.)
As Taylor Monahan – CEO of blockchain wallet tool MyCrypto – admits to CoinDesk:
“I’m eager to put Constantinople behind us because it’s been such a distraction for a lot of core developers, the community, [and] the entire ecosystem. What we need to be focusing on right now is the path forward for ethereum.”
Independent core developer Lane Rettig couldn’t agree more.
Saying that this planned hard fork has “dragged on long enough,” Rettig told CoinDesk that there is “so much other stuff that [developers] are focused on.”
“All the boxes are checked. All systems operational. Everything looks good, which is a good sign,” explained Rettig about Constantinople. “So, no lingering concerns… We need to move and get to our next milestones basically.”
These milestones according to Rettig include first and foremost, a proposed code change to alter the ethereum mining algorithm such that all miners in the ecosystem are operating on a more level playing field.
In addition, there is also a host of new proposed EIPs up for discussion collectively dubbed ethereum 1x paving the intermediary roadmap to Serenity. Last but not least, developers are also ever attentive to advancing research on the Serenity protocol itself.
“I think that once Constantinople is behind us hopefully the community, the educators, the developers [and] the researchers can really focus on understanding this path forward [and] communicating the path forward with people of all different technical abilities and education levels,” said Monahan to CoinDesk.
Patterned ceiling via Shutterstock
Ethereum’s Constantinople, St. Petersburg Upgrades Have Been Activated The Constantinople and St. Petersburg network upgrades for the world’s second largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum’s (ETH), occurred today Feb. 28, according to ethstats.net. Specifically, the updates went live on the main network at block 7,280,000, in accordance with previously released schedule. Although the upgrade has two names of two originally separated updates, they…
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