Forking dynamics and the scales of justice


Well-Known Member
Aug 28, 2015
I'm writing this post for my own benefit rather then anything else, because it's becoming clearer that almost anything can be achieved with a soft fork if you don't care about complexity. I'd appreciate any feedback on my assumptions from the game theory gurus, to see if i'm on the right track to understanding?

I was I was trying to conceptualise the philosophical differences between Hard and Soft Forks with respect to the expanding Bitcoin universe.

Since the invention of ASIC and the separation of full nodes from mining, we no longer live by Satoshi's Law 1CPU 1 Vote, instead it has become 1 Node 1 Vote. Having moved past the original period of inflation, now miners have become the gravity that holds everything else in place.

At first his seems like upside down thinking but perhaps it's like the thought experiment "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Miners can hash all they like, but if there are no nodes to validate and relay transactions are they really there?

With the above as the premise, can network decision making be graphically represented in a sort of phase diagram like this?

A soft fork ignores the vote of nodes from the end of the upgrade cycle who are in the minority or too apathetic. A hard fork evicts nodes at the middle of the upgrade cycle who are in the minority or object (Therefore objections to a BUIP are encountered sooner via Hard ?)

Is it morally equal to ignore the apathetic lagging half the network in a soft fork, compared to evicting the objecting half of the network in a hard fork?

Obviously with the symbiotic relationship between nodes and miners 51% of the hashing power can veto any change to the network. However assuming 51% of the miners are rational, as 'paid network security guards' they will support what the 51% majority of Bitcoin nodes propose. The Damocles sword hangs over this 50% inflexion point, where the network state is unknown, and as such is a very uncomfortable place to be.

The marked neutral zone between the 66% parallels could act as a moral convention, whereby honest acting nodes and miners voluntarily agree not to enforce network changes until this adoption level is breached.


edit: updated phase diagram for visual clarity.
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Staff member
Aug 22, 2015
Interesting perspective. Is the dynamic different when a mining supermajority is called for i.e. 75% proposed for an HF (plus a grace period) or 95% for the previous SFs seen. Assuming that a majority of non-miners have also changed before the activation date?


Well-Known Member
Aug 28, 2015
updated diagram for clarity

@solex The first thing I should mention.

As it's an attempt at a visual representation of the forking process, perhaps it's not immediately obvious that Soft and Hard forks are not in 'opposition to each other'. Their ~perpendicular vectors, represent the two different directional paths the 'decision to upgrade' can take. They appear to me to be the inverse of each other?

The next is a question. Ignoring code complexity. If it's possible to issue any change to the network as a SF, is the inverse true? Can any change to the network be made by a HF?

If the answer is yes, then the two decision paths come from the same origin. The paths vary due to code complexity and level of consent from the network.

So to answer your question, as you increase the % majority required for SF or HF activation, the green or blue dashed, vertical lines move from 66% to the left and to the right respectively. This has the effect of reducing in size, the zones of ignored/evicted nodes.

The important thing to note, is that the two processes are NOT equal. Soft Forks as @Erdogan colourfully points out, are not as consensual. Perhaps there is a decent case, they should be at different activation points %. ?

...... Soft Forks leave Zombie nodes, Hard forks leave Angry nodes.
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