Slimming the blockchain

Wednesday 09 December 2015

BTC’s blockchain has become too large for ordinary users to keep a full copy - but there might now be a solution.

Bitcoin is built on ideals of decentralisation. The protocol doesn’t belong to anyone: it belongs to everyone.

Whilst that may have been the case in its early days, unfortunately the sheer size of the blockchain now means that only a small proportion of users can download the whole thing and run a full node. Most people use third-party wallets like blockchain.info, or ‘thin’ clients like Mycelium. Whilst these make bitcoin accessible to more people, the security of the network ultimately rests on full copies of the blockchain. Unless you have the hard drive space and bandwidth, you probably won’t want to bother with that.

 Slimming

Losing two-thirds of its weight will give bitcoin's blockchain a new lease of life

Looking ahead, as bitcoin scales (assuming the block size debate gets straightened out), the growing size of the blockchain means that the network will necessarily become ever more centralised around those with the resources to run a full node.

A while back I wrote about Ramchains, a new development from SuperNET developer jl777. These are essentially a light, ultra-fast distillation of the blockchain, containing all the information needed to run a full node.

Bitcoin’s blockchain is already approaching 50GB, and it will continue to grow. With a ramchains implementation, this can be reduced to 15GB - once again putting it within reach of the average user, without dedicated hardware. Information required is delivered using memory mapped files, which allows for extremely fast, random-access queries to each blockchain data with a very light performance footprint. Not only are ramchains smaller, they are more agile too.

The beta client is set to be released in the coming weeks. It will come as part of the BitcoinDark client, which will offer new functionality with subsequent updates, based on ramchains and other technology. For example, running more than one blockchain in the same client raises the possibility of cross-chain transfers.

The first and most attractive function, though, is that it will allow anyone to run a full node again, re-democratising and re-decentralising bitcoin. And that's pretty cool.


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