Finally activated last August after months of controversy, SegWit (Segregated Witness) is now pushing Bitcoin developers to create a more structured, “themed” release for the protocol. The latest Bitcoin code change is focused on scaling the network and it opens the way for a new layer for the tech that’s potentially faster and cheaper.
Usually when the Bitcoin Core developers introduce a change to the code, the group of volunteer developers combine disparate optimisations together. However, this upcoming code release, 0.16.0, the sixteenth “major release” since bitcoin began, is different.
SegWit Wallet Support Built-In
SegWit features have been added to both the command line set and the wallet user interface, so both programmers and non-programmers can use it. SegWit addresses will be the default, meaning that new addresses are automatically compatible with the scaling feature.
Chaincode Lab engineer and Bitcoin Core contributor Marco Falke noted that while it was possible to create SegWit addresses in prior wallet versions, the process was “rather hacky” and “mostly hidden.”
Version 0.16.0 is also the first release to support “native SegWit addresses,” also called bech32 addresses, a new address format pioneered by Bitcoin Core contributors Pieter Wuille and Greg Maxwell that’s more user-friendly than older addresses types and supports SegWit automatically.
“That is the most exciting part of the release.”
With SegWit addresses being created automatically, wallet users should soon experience lower fees. And progress there could have wider implications.
Bitcoin Core first introduced SegWit in November 2016, and the battle that followed prompted some software users to support a competing cryptocurrency that did away with it altogether. (Called Bitcoin Cash, commonly known as Bcash, the network’s supporters have long argued that bigger blocks, in which more space is allotted for transactions, is the key to lower fees.)
Bitcoin Core contributor Andrew Chow said:
“The primary change is the addition of SegWit in the wallet. This lets users to easily create SegWit addresses.”
And according to Chow, one advantage of the native SegWit address format is that fees are a bit lower, although he acknowledged that because the format is so new, most wallets don’t currently support it.
Chow said that other pieces of the release give users more flexibility over their Bitcoin Core wallet. For example, users can store their wallets, or private keys, in another data directory if they want to.
Check out the release notes on GitHub for more details.
SegWit Adoption Increasing
This release could also help with SegWit’s sometimes troubled messaging, as its adoption has been perhaps slower than anticipated by advocates. While updating the code of a global software program perhaps shouldn’t necessarily be a fast process, users have complained because even some major companies have yet to adopt it. In the case of Coinbase this probably due to political issues, rather then coding problems.
With this backdrop of user anticipation and impatience in mind, many might be surprised that it’s taken Bitcoin Core so long to add support in its wallet for the transaction type. However, developers countered that there are a couple of important reasons for the delay.
One, The team says it wanted to see how SegWit actually worked on the network for a bit before supporting it, in case there were security vulnerabilities or other concerns, said Chow. Second, politics were also a major issue with the infighting between the Bcash and Bitcoin camps.
Second, though the software release before this one, 0.15.1, was supposed to boost the wallet’s support of SegWit, developers claim a planned alternative bitcoin software launch, is partly blame for delaying the focus and redirecting efforts.
Set to launch in the coming days, the updates all revolve around SegWit – with most focusing on making it easier to send SegWit-style transactions from the software’s default wallet. So, while the first software rollout of SegWit was about making sure the network understood the new rules, 0.16.0 is all about making it possible for users to take advantage of their benefits.