Ethereum core devs decide to suspend implementation of ProgPow

  • After a meeting yesterday, the Ethereum core devs have decided to suspend the replacement of the Ethash mining algorithm with ProgPow.
  • The developers will evaluate other proposals and assess improvements that can be made to the ProgPow.

In a session lasting about three hours, the Ethereum core developers have put a full stop to the replacement of the Ethash algorithm with the Programmatic Proof of Work (ProgPow). The meeting was attended by Tim Beiko, product manager for PegaSysEng, and developers who are pro and contra ProgPow. Although only two topics were on the agenda, two hours of discussion were dedicated to ProgPow. It was agreed to leave ProgPoW in “approved” status, but to cancel the activation in a hard fork for the time being.

The proposal of the Programmatic Proof of Work (ProgPow) mining algorithm has been discussed controversial over the last week. ProgPow is intended to close the efficiency gap between GPU miners and ASIC hardware. The algorithm was designed by the IfDefElse development group and published under EIP 1057. About two weeks ago, the Ethereum core developers decided to approve it, reviving a debate that has separated the Ethereum community for years.

The last session was attended by Kristy Leigh Minehan, part of the IfDefElse team, one of the creators of ProgPow and BitsBeTrippin from the ProgPow side. On the other hand, Gnosis co-founder Martin Köppelmann and Matt Luongo were present. Also invited was the CEO of Spankchain, Ameen Soleimani, one of the most critical voices towards ProgPow. The most neutral developer on this point was Benjamin Di Francesco, whose proposal to keep ProgPow in approved status but not to activate it was finally accepted.

Flaw in ProgPow algorithm for Ethereum discovered

The meeting occurred two days after community member Kik published the discovery of a bug in ProgPow. The error revealed that the ProgPow algorithm is in fact more vulnerable to ASIC mining than Ethash. As described by Kik, ASICs are able to take advantage of a ProgPow vulnerability to mine without memory access. The vulnerability is caused by the size of the 64-bit seed in the ProgPow hashing function.

The discovery was confirmed by Kristy Leigh Minehan. At the meeting, Minehan recounted the audits which were conducted for ProgPow. She stated that the bug found is technically simple to fix. Although one of the meeting members praised the work of bug detection, opponents of ProgPow highlighted the risks that other undetected failures could bring to the Ethereum network.

The developers then discussed the implications of a potential drop in Ethereum hash rate in April. During this month:

(…) EthHash’s DAG will increase from 4GB, and that should cause a drop in the hash rate on the network, potentially up to 40%.

Minehan noted two concerns. First that a drop in the hash rate will impact the block times and cause issues. Second, the introduction of new GPU mining equipment to replace the old ones. According to Minehan, 40% of Ethereum’s network is made up of 4 GB ASIC equipment and a replacement of this equipment could bring the aforementioned problems. A ProgPow implementation with this potential risk nearby could negatively affect the network by creating discontent in the community. The developers will wait for a detailed report to be released soon to take action.

Speaking about the sentiment in the community regarding ProgPow, Martin Köppelmann explained that his opposition to the algorithm was never a technical issue. Köppelmann said that the most important thing is to reduce risks on the Ethereum platform. He added that there are changes to be made that will affect users, but that these changes should only be implemented if the security of the network is not at risk:

(…) it is not clear that ASICs are a bad thing on the network, and it is not certain that ProgPow will achieve ASIC resistance. If we had ASICs under ProgPow (which might have been possible given the possible exploitation mentioned above), then we would be in an even worse situation because the incentives for secrecy would be even greater.

Köppelmann also noted that there are no projects on Ethereum that are based on ProgPow and that the community accepts the decisions of the governance process 95% of the time. He stated that in the remaining 5% of cases, when the community opposes a change it must be rejected.

Minehan agreed and stated that it is important to avoid a chain split and protect mining investments in Eth1. She stated that although Ethereum is in the process of adopting a Proof of Stake (PoS), the PoW chain will not leave in the next 6 months. Furthermore, she agreed to rename ProgPow to Ethash 2.0.

Ameen Soleimani said that the flaws in ProgPow are not trivial and that the proposal is just about lobbying the developers to bring about change. He added that the transition to PoS should be the priority. Tim Beiko gave a brief summary of the meeting and noted the following:

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About Author

Reynaldo Marquez has closely followed the growth of Bitcoin and blockchain technology since 2016. He has since worked as a columnist on crypto coins covering advances, falls and rises in the market, bifurcations and developments. He believes that crypto coins and blockchain technology will have a great positive impact on people's lives.

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