The last time a leading altcoin forked it sent bitcoin into a downward spiral and created weeks of market volatility. That was early November, when Bitcoin Cash split to Bitcoin SV and Bitcoin ABC. Bitcoin had been holding steady throughout 2018 at a reasonably constant $6,500, but the BCH hard fork appeared to trigger a volume chasm that sent BTC plunging. A hard fork occurs when a radical change needs to be made to a cryptocurrency’s underlying technology – blockchain.
It is a permanent deviation from the previous blockchain meaning that anything on the old version cannot be accepted by the new.
In short, the blockchain takes two paths. One is a new and upgraded offering, while the other outdated version continues on the original path.
Any hard fork is always deemed to be critical to the development of a crypto, but the result can be unsettling.
The market movement in the build-up and aftermath of a fork is often unpredictable and erratic, causing some currencies to rise and others to fall steeply.
Ethereum’s figurehead – 24-year-old multi-millionaire Vitalik Buterin – has already made several attempts to urge calm before the potential disruption of the Constantinople fork.
He tweeted last week: “IMO the Ethereum community should consider adopting @zcashco’s terminology of calling things like Constantinople ‘network upgrades’ and reserve ‘fork’ for splits that leave 2+ viable chains.
“Too many people asking me lately where they can dump their non-Constantinople coins.”
Although many reasons are cited for making the Ethereum Constantinople fork necessary, one inescapable need may be the security issue over the recent 51 percent attack on Ethereum Classic.
The “network upgrade” will allow Ethereum to move away from the proof of work protocol, which is deemed more susceptible to cybercrime attacks than proof of stake.
Responding to a tweet about the reasons for the Constantinople fork, Buterin said: “And a security argument!
“PoS is better able to facilitate recovery from successful 51 percent attacks.”
The move, and his response, unveils a genuine concern from Buterin and the hierarchy with Ethereum about security.
Few other cryptocurrencies are as keen to push their entire systems from proof of work to proof of stake.
They will, however, no doubt be watching very closely to see how successful the fork is or whether it creates the market chaos witnessed in November.
It may be that investors will see Constantinople through Buterin’s rose-tinted spectacles and nothing more than an upgrade occurs.
But, the lesson from recent history would suggest an unsettled market over the next 48 hours, followed by a series of unpleasant aftershocks.
Coin Rivet is a website bringing news, information, analysis, opinion and insight from the fast-moving blockchain world.