Jeff Garzik on Instant Confirmations: ‘Hope is the Denial of Reality’

Amid a spate of services promising instantaneous confirmation of Bitcoin transactions, core develop Jeff Garzik has spoken out against the concept, calling them “by definition not secure.”

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Jeff Garzik on Instant Confirmations: ‘Hope is the Denial of Reality’

Amid a spate of services promising instantaneous confirmation of Bitcoin transactions, core develop Jeff Garzik has spoken out against the concept, calling them “by definition not secure.”

Garzik made the comments while reiterating his stance on Peter Todd’s replace-by-fee protocol for the blockchain. Under replace-by-fee, an unconfirmed transaction would be able to be replaced by another with a higher fee.

“…it is acknowledged that Peter's scorched earth replace-by-fee proposal is aptly named, and would be widely anti-social on the current network,” Garzik wrote, adding that “hope is the denial of reality.”

Garzik subsequently explains what he meant by this latter statement. An alteration to the blockchain’s mechanism such as this, he argues, runs contrary to the way Bitcoin was designed to work, and as such falls foul of the principles of decentralization.

“Bitcoin is a settlement system, by design. The process of consensus ‘settles’ upon a timeline of transactions, and this process – by design – is necessarily far from instant.”

In addition to Garzik’s work on Bitcoin’s core infrastructure, fellow developer Mike Hearn has been vocal about the need to give it the maintenance and support it requires. He has also voiced concerns about the core network’s future stability under current conditions. In the face of widening reflection on how the currency’s framework will ultimately be able to handle widespread increases in the number of transactions, both may well be forced to consider alterations such as these.

In terms of the future, however, Garzik imagines a slightly different setup.

Core develop Jeff Garzik

“The world's citizens en masse will not speak to each other with bitcoin (IP packets), but rather with multiple layers (HTTP/TCP/IP) that enable safe and secure value transfer or added features such as instant transactions,” he continues.

“[…] It is foolish to think the entire world will connect directly to the P2P block network and broadcast all the morning coffees to all the miners.  That's not how the system works.  It is a settlement layer.”

Nonetheless, away from Bitcoin, altcoins are constantly trying to gain ground over the go-to currency, often by championing significantly reduced confirmation times as a major benefit. Most recently, Darkcoin released InstantX, a core update to its DarkSend mechanism which allows confirmations to be received in as little as five seconds. This, it would seem, would also fall short of the mark for Garzik, who took aim at altcoin strategies:

“Alt-coins that madly attempt 10-second block times etc. are simply a vain attempt to paper over this fundamental design attribute [that the consensus process is necessarily far from instant]: consensus takes time.”

The debate following his admissions now focuses on what Garzik sees as the correct alternative, “build[ing] decentralized layered solutions on top of bitcoin, rather than stuffing everything into bitcoin itself.” Whether innovations such as sidechains are implied by this is a source of contention on Reddit.

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