Monero’s October Forking – Bulletproofs and Keeping the ASICs at Bay

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Tick tock. Tick tock. The countdown to Monero’s protocol upgrade is over and the highly anticipated software updates have been rolled out as block 1685555 came and went.

The Beryllium Bullet update is meant to bring about a handful of changes, but the excitement in the community is circling around two key updates in particular: Proof-of-Work (PoW) tweaks and Bulletproofing.

Updates of this nature are not uncommon with Monero, as the project regularly forks to push new upgrades and improvements. Hardforks are pre-scheduled twice a year and most notably do not create new coins as they are non-contentious forks supported and instigated by the core team and community.

Quick Recap – What Is Monero?

A fork from Bytecoin, Monero is a leading cryptocurrency with a keen focus on security, privacy, and decentralization. The Monero blockchain leverages Cryptonote software to implement and maintain a fully anonymous and private blockchain.

From the Monero Website:

Security – Users must be able to trust Monero with their transactions, without risk of error or attack.
Privacy – Monero takes privacy seriously. Monero needs to be able to protect users in a court of law and, in extreme cases, from the death penalty.
Decentralization – Monero is committed to providing the maximum amount of decentralization.

What’s the Buzz All About?

Firstly, Monero’s updates to their Proof-of-Work consensus is a continuation of the community’s opposition to ASIC mining. A post from February 11th formalized Monero’s position on ASIC mining and the threat it poses to decentralization.

Monero, built as an improvement over Bitcoin, saw the involvement of specialized mining in Bitcoin as a major threat to claims of decentralization. Currently, the pattern of ASIC mining is seen to erode away decentralization as hashing power becomes overwhelming concentrated among a handful of miners.

Frontrunning the ASIC miners, however, is a cat and mouse game. The Monero community has committed to anti-ASIC PoW tweaks twice yearly but these code updates can still be cracked by ASIC developers. Monero has also said they are willing and ready to “swiftly [react] to any potential threat from ASICs” if needed between scheduled forks.

The Monero community can do their best to continue to stay ahead of ASIC hardware devs with new software updates. However, the group does recognize that ASIC mining may be inevitable for the coin.

Protecting Monero’s decentralization means controlling the dialogue surrounding the integration of ASICs and carefully assessing how they can be used in a decentralized ecosystem.

“ASICs may be inevitable, but we feel that any transition to an ASIC-dominated network needs to be as egalitarian as possible in order to foster decentralization”.

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The Main Event: Bulletproofs

The most exciting development in the October 18th fork is the optimization of range proofs used in Monero’s Ring Confidential Transactions (RingCT). The software update, Bulletproof, sizably reduces individual transaction sizes and thus transaction fees on the Monero Network.

The reduction in transaction sizes comes from an improvement to how transaction details are anonymized and confirmed. RingCTs are responsible for obscuring transaction details such as the amount of XMR sent or received. However, to anonymously confirm a value like the amount of XMR in a transaction, Monero uses a form of Zero-Knowledge Proofs, specifically Range Proofs.

Range Proofs can bloat a transaction size since they’re chalk full of fancy cryptographic math to keep things private. Bulletproof reduces the size of a transaction by consolidating and optimizing the cryptographic data stored in each transaction. Transactions with Bulletproofs instead of Range Proofs are expected to save upwards of 80% of transactions sizes, translating into similar reductions in transaction fees.

Monero is the first cryptocurrency of its size to implement Bulletproofs and is actively experimenting with other technologies to enable scaling without compromising security, privacy or decentralization.

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