Vitalik Buterin Reflects on the Bitcoin Block Size War: Personal Insights and New Discoveries

Vitalik Buterin Reflects on the Bitcoin Block Size War: Personal Insights and New Discoveries
Table of Contents


  • Divergent Viewpoints: Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin revisits the Bitcoin block size debate, contrasting the small block caution against the big block push for Bitcoin to remain true to its original vision as digital cash.
  • Debate Dynamics: Buterin initially supported the “big blockers” who wanted to increase the block size to keep transaction fees low and maintain Bitcoin’s utility, while acknowledging the small blockers’ concerns about decentralization and governance.
  • Technological Solutions Overlooked: Both sides of the debate overlooked potential technological solutions like ZK-SNARKs that could have offered scalability and privacy, suggesting a missed opportunity for consensus rather than conflict.

In a thought-provoking blog post, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin delves into the contentious Bitcoin block size war that rocked the cryptocurrency community during the 2010s. The debate, which pitted proponents of small blocks against advocates for larger blocks, had far-reaching implications for Bitcoin’s future.

Buterin revisits this historical conflict through the lens of two influential books: “The Blocksize War” by Jonathan Bier and “Hijacking Bitcoin” by Roger Ver and Steve Patterson. These contrasting narratives shed light on the divergent viewpoints that shaped the discourse.

  • Small Blocks vs. Big Blocks: The heart of the debate revolved around whether Bitcoin should undergo a hard fork to increase the block size limit from 1 MB to 2 MB. While a larger block size would accommodate more transactions and reduce fees, it also posed challenges in terms of blockchain scalability and verification.

Buterin’s Initial Stance

Vitalik Buterin candidly admits that he initially aligned with the “big blockers.” His rationale? Advocating for a moderate bump in block size would preserve Bitcoin’s utility as digital cash. High transaction fees, he believed, could undermine this critical use case. Although layer-2 solutions like the Lightning Network were proposed, their practicality remained unproven.

The Small Blockers’ Caution

On the other side stood the small blockers, who favored a conservative approach. They championed infrequent hard forks and broader consensus among users. Their fear? Active governance and potential manipulation by powerful entities could jeopardize Bitcoin’s unique status as a decentralized currency.

Original Vision vs. Digital Gold

Vitalik Buterin Reflects on the Bitcoin Block Size War: Personal Insights and New Discoveries

The big blockers emphasized Bitcoin’s original vision as digital cash, as outlined in Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper. They criticized the shift toward perceiving Bitcoin primarily as digital gold—a store of value rather than a medium of exchange.

Reflections and Omissions

Buterin contemplates the bygone days, recognizing the intricacy of the Segregated Witness (SegWit) proposal from the small block faction. He also voices his disapproval of the social media censorship that tainted the discourse.

On the other hand, the big block proponents faltered in their technical implementation, leading to numerous divisions within the Bitcoin Cash community.

The Missing Piece: ZK-SNARKs

A significant omission unites both books: the absence of any reference to ZK-SNARKs. This groundbreaking technology, already gaining traction in the mid-2010s, has the potential to supercharge scalability and privacy. Buterin suggests that focusing on technological solutions like ZK-SNARKs could have paved the way to consensus rather than conflict.

In summary, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin challenges those opposing an increase in Bitcoin’s block size. By leveraging the insights from these contrasting narratives, he encourages a deeper understanding of Bitcoin’s technological trajectory and the choices that lie ahead.


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