If you are well a cryptocurrency enthusiast, you have probably come across the terms hard fork vs. soft fork. Blockchains, which is the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies, are distributed ledgers comprising of ever-growing blocks of data to form a chain of blocks. Since cryptocurrencies are mostly decentralized, participants must agree of a set of rules for validating the transactions so that consensus can be achieved.
A fork occurs in instances when blockchains are split into two due to a split in consensus or a change in the essential rules of a protocol. The occurrence of forks due to a split in consensus often arises when miners stumble upon one block at the same time thus resulting in dual split chains.When a split occurs due to a change in the rules of the protocol, it symbolizes a modification of the fundamental codes by developers. Such splits are permanent.
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What are the Differences between Hard Fork vs Soft Fork?
A hard fork represents a permanent divergence in a blockchain. It typically occurs when non-upgraded nodes fail to validate codes that have been created by an upgraded node, which often adhere to newer consensus rules. On the other hand, a soft fork is a short-lived divergence in the blockchain and usually occurs when non-upgraded nodes fail to follow new consensus rules.
Soft forks are backward yet compatible methods of upgrading blockchains. Simply put, a soft fork can be a software upgrade, which is backward-compatible with older versions of the software. A soft fork doesn’t require any nodes within the network to upgrade or maintain consensus. This is because all blocks found within the soft-forked blockchain follow both a previous set of consensus rules in addition to the new ones.
When a soft fork occurs, blocks that are produced by nodes and conform to an older set of consensus rules tend to violate the newer set of consensus rules. These blocks are likely to be rendered useless by the mining majority which is upgrading. For a soft fork to work, most miners within the network must not only recognize the newer set of consensus rules but also enforce it. Once this majority is reached, the old network is rendered useless.
Unlike soft forks, hard forks are characterized by a permanent change from earlier versions of blockchains. As a result, a new set of rules that isn’t compatible with the previous network is introduced. A hard fork can be described as a software upgrade, which isn’t compatible with older versions of the software. Therefore, all network participants must upgrade to newer versions of the software so that they can keep verifying and validating all new blocks of transactions.
Since blockchain technology is characterized by decentralization, participants must always reach a consensus when it comes to the state of their blockchain. If you are a cryptocurrency enthusiast and you wish to invest, you must learn about hard fork vs soft fork since this will help you find your way around.