Blockchain technology has come a long way since its inception and has continued to evolve over time. One of the key ways in which blockchain evolves is through forks. Forks are essentially changes made to the underlying code of a blockchain network. They can be categorized into two main types: hard forks and soft forks.

In this article, we will explore the differences between hard forks and soft forks, how they occur, and their impact on the blockchain ecosystem.

How are Changes Made to the Blockchain?

Within the cryptocurrency sphere, a "fork" denotes an alteration to the blockchain's underlying protocol. As cryptocurrencies function on decentralized networks, it is crucial for all users to adhere to identical rules and ensure consistency in order to safeguard the blockchain's historical record. In the event of inconsistencies, this can lead to the formation of two distinct blockchains operating across separate segments of the network, a phenomenon referred to as blockchain bifurcation.

What is a Hard Fork?

A hard fork represents a permanent deviation from the previous version of a blockchain. This occurs when nodes implement changes that conflict with established rules, resulting in the network dividing into two distinct chains. Each chain operates autonomously, but they share a common history of blocks and transactions.

Users with assets on the original blockchain before the hard fork will also have access to those assets on the new chain. For instance, if a person owned 5 BTC at block 600,000 prior to the hard fork, they would retain access to those 5 BTC at block 600,001 on the new chain, even if they had spent them on the old chain. Their private keys would also hold funds from the initial fork.

The 2017 split of Bitcoin into Bitcoin (BTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) serves as an example of a hard fork. This division arose from a dispute over the optimal scaling strategy, with Bitcoin Cash supporters advocating for a larger block size while Bitcoin backers opposed the alteration.

To increase the block size, the rules needed to be amended, leading to a permanent network split. Only nodes running the updated software could approve blocks exceeding 1 MB in size, rendering them incompatible with the original version. Consequently, only nodes with matching modifications could interact with one another.

The Challenges of the Hard Forks

There are some who contend that hard forks jeopardize the predictability and stability of networks, which are necessary for cryptocurrencies to become widely adopted for daily financial transactions. Heated debates that arise during contentious hard forks can cause confusion among users and potentially result in the loss of funds if sent to the wrong network.

However, hard forks can also provide networks with the opportunity to conduct self-audits and implement new features, such as scaling functionalities, that are crucial for adoption.

What is a Soft Fork?

A soft fork is a change in the blockchain protocol that allows for continued compatibility between updated and outdated nodes. Unlike a hard fork, soft forks introduce new rules that do not conflict with the existing ones.

One example of a soft fork is reducing the block size in a blockchain network. For instance, in Bitcoin, while there is a maximum block size limit, there is no minimum limit. To approve blocks that are smaller than a certain size, the network simply rejects larger blocks.

The soft fork update does not result in a network disconnection. Nodes that have undergone the soft fork can still communicate with nodes from the original blockchain, but they filter the information they receive.

A well-known example of a soft fork in crypto is the Segregated Witness (SegWit) cryptocurrency fork that happened after the split between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. The SegWit update altered the format of blocks and transactions, but the old nodes could still validate them as the format change did not violate any existing rules. However, to fully comprehend the changes, it was necessary to upgrade to the new software.

Even two years after the activation of SegWit, not all nodes have been updated. The update brings benefits, but there is no immediate urgency to do so as the changes do not have a negative impact on the network.


In conclusion, the evolution of blockchain technology is made possible through hard forks and soft forks. Crypto hard forks are drastic changes to the network protocol that result in a permanent split from the original blockchain, while soft forks are updates that maintain backward compatibility and allow for the addition of new rules without causing major disruptions.

Both types of forks are crucial for improving the technology and functionality of cryptocurrencies. While hard forks can cause project community conflict, soft forks are less disruptive and can be implemented more quickly. Understanding the distinctions between hard and soft forks is a fundamental aspect of comprehending the development of blockchain technology.

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