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Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ license.

The bitcoin scalability problem refers to the limits on the amount of transactions the bitcoin network can process. It is a consequence of the fact that records (known as blocks) in the bitcoin blockchain are limited in size and frequency. Bitcoin’s blocks include the transactions on the bitcoin network.:ch. 2 The transaction processing capacity of the bitcoin network is limited by the average block creation time of 10 minutes and the block size limit. These jointly constrain the network’s throughput. The transaction processing capacity maximum is estimated between 3.3 and 7 transactions per second. There are various proposed and activated solutions to address this issue.

The one-megabyte limit has created a bottleneck in bitcoin, resulting in increasing transaction fees and delayed processing of transactions that cannot be fit into a block. Various proposals have come forth on how to scale bitcoin, and a contentious debate has resulted. Business Insider in 2017 characterized this debate as an “ideological battle over bitcoin’s future.”

Dealing with scalability problems requires making changes to the technical workings of bitcoin, in a process known as a fork. Forks can be grouped into two types:

1. Hard fork!

A hard fork occurs when a blockchain splits into two incompatible separate chains. This is a consequence of the use of two incompatible sets of rules trying to govern the system. For example, Ethereum has hard-forked to “make whole” the investors in The DAO, which had been hacked by exploiting a vulnerability in its code. In 2014 the Nxt community was asked to consider a hard fork that would have led to a rollback of the blockchain records to mitigate the effects of a theft of 50 million NXT from a major cryptocurrency exchange. The hard fork proposal was rejected, and some of the funds were recovered after negotiations and ransom payment.

Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold are examples of hard forks of bitcoin. Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Classic both supported an increase to the maximum block size through a hard fork. Bitcoin Unlimited supports a variable block size limit, which may result in a hard fork.

2. Soft fork!

In contrast to a hard fork, a soft fork is a change of rules that creates blocks recognized as valid by the old software, i.e. it is backwards-compatible. A soft fork can also split the network when non-upgraded software creates blocks not considered valid by the new rules. A user-activated soft fork (UASF) is a controversial idea that explores how to perform a blockchain upgrade that is not supported by those who provide the network’s hashing power.

Segregated Witness is an example of a soft fork.

Various proposals for scaling bitcoin have been presented. In 2015, BIP 100 by Jeff Garzik and BIP 101 by Gavin Andresen were introduced. By mid-2015, some developers were supporting a block size limit of as high as eight megabytes.

Bitcoin XT was proposed in 2015 to increase the transaction processing capacity of bitcoin by increasing the block size limit.
Bitcoin Classic was proposed in 2016 to increase the transaction processing capacity of bitcoin by increasing the block size limit.
“The Hong Kong Agreement” was a 2016 agreement of some miners and developers, colloquially termed “The Hong Kong Agreement,” that contained a timetable that would see both the activation of the Segregated Witness (SegWit) proposal established in December 2015 by Bitcoin Core developers, and the development of a block size limit increased to 2 MB. However, both timelines were missed.
SegWit2x was a proposed hard fork of the cryptocurrency bitcoin. The implementation of Segregated Witness in August 2017 was only the first half of the so-called “New York Agreement” by which those who wanted to increase effective block size by SegWit compromised with those who wanted to increase block size by a hard fork to a larger block size. The second half of SegWit2x involved a hard fork in November 2017 to increase the blocksize to 2 megabytes. On November 8, 2017 the developers of SegWit2x announced that the hard fork planned for around November 16, 2017 was canceled for the time being due to a lack of consensus….

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