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Taproot signaling begins for Bitcoin, but immediate consensus may be out of reach

Quick Take

  • The signaling period for Bitcoin protocol upgrade Taproot has begun, but it’s far from reaching the needed consensus.
  • Many pools that previously said they were committed to deploying Taproot have yet to signal.
  • That’s likely because the first signaling period coincided with a Chinese holiday.
  • Some pools may also be sorting out firmware kinks related to signaling.
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The signaling period for Bitcoin protocol upgrade Taproot has begun.

Though the necessary consensus hasn't yet been reached in the first possible window, supporters are expecting it to come in the next month, which would still put the Taproot deployment ahead of schedule.

The privacy-focused modification will allow every use of the protocol to be encoded as a single public key and single signature, which allows for other actions to be hidden inside seemingly ordinary code. It also switches to the use of Schnorr signatures, which enable users to encode spending policies in individual public keys. These changes will hopefully elevate privacy and efficiency, developers and supporters say.

But getting there has been a long road. Though Taproot now has broad consensus, conversations surrounding the upgrade have been in progress for years. As of February, Bitcoin’s development community had established an activation timeline for the upgrade. The upgrade merged into Bitcoin Core late last year, and the node software allowing miners to signal support for the upgrade with hash power was released in March.

Now, miners have begun signaling.

Ninety percent of blocks have to signal for Taproot during a two-week period known as a difficulty epoch. At the end of each epoch, the Bitcoin protocol adjusts upwards or downwards to accommodate how fast or slow blocks are being produced. Consensus for an upgrade must occur within the period before this adjustment. In the case of Taproot, consensus must occur within 10 epochs or else developers will have to pursue a different activation strategy, potentially a user-activated soft fork.

So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s very unlikely that enough mining pools will signal during this first difficulty epoch, since only 30% of blocks are signaling at the moment. On the mining pool side of things, pools that collectively control 42% of the hash rate have started signaling.

But many pools that previously said they were committed to deploying Taproot have yet to signal. Alejandro De La Torre, vice president to mining pool Poolin, said the failure to activate in the early epoch is likely due to some inconvenient timing.

Miners could start signaling on May 1, but that coincided with China’s May Day celebration. The holiday is observed from May 1 to May 5 in China, meaning all the mining pools that had previously committed were essentially out of office on the first days of signaling. They’re also five days behind on fixing any hiccups that could come with signaling.

And there have been hiccups for some. De La Torre said Poolin has to upgrade firmware for some machines in its pool since the current firmware doesn’t allow signaling. After upgrading the firmware, it’ll then upgrade its nodes. Poolin, at the time of publication, was not signaling, though it remains committed to doing so. Others could be experiencing similar problems, which are easily fixable but take time. 

Even with roadblocks, De La Torre said he’s expecting the consensus to occur within the coming two difficulty epochs. That would be at most a month from now, putting the development community still a month ahead of its planned activation timeline of upgrading the majority by July 23. 

The slow road to signaling doesn’t mean mining pools have changed their mind. There’s no real contention with the software and sentiment remains positive, according to De La Torre.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with any change of sentiment,” said De La Torre. “It would be really unwise in my opinion.”


© 2021 The Block Crypto, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

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