Adam Back and Gregory Maxwell were both interviewed by the Epicenter Bitcoin Podcast on Tuesday, and they were able to share a variety of interesting facts and updates on the sidechains project. Both Back and Maxwell are part of the development team at Blockstream, and the company released the sidechains white paper to much fanfare in late 2014. The interview gave the bitcoin community some insight into how sidechains will be rolled out to the public and when everyone will be able to test out a demo version of the two-way peg.
The white paper release was a success
During the end of Maxwell and Back’s conversation with Epicenter Bitcoin, they were asked when the bitcoin community can expect to see sidechains in the real world. In his response, Maxwell discussed the success of the release of the white paper as a first step towards adding sidechains to the bitcoin protocol:
“We published the initial white paper and gotten a sort of very widespread response to that, and I consider it a big success — not really because of the excitement it’s created, although there’s certainly been a bunch of that — but because lots of people have reviewed it and commented on it and haven’t surprised us with any sort of deep fundamental flaws that, you know, weren’t brought up in the paper.”
The demo version of sidechains
Now that the bitcoin community has had a chance to review the paper and understand how sidechains could work in theory, it seems that Blockstream is just about ready to release a demo version of sidechains for people to try. This demo version will be a federated model where users have to trust the creators of new sidechains not to steal their bitcoins. The reason that this kind of demo has been chosen is because it does not require bitcoin to be forked in any way to be implemented. As Maxwell explained:
“One of the things we came up during the development of sidechains is a way to do this sort of soft-launch of it where you can use all the sidechain technology but with a weaker security model — called the federated peg. So the idea is that instead of soft-forking the changes into bitcoin for a sidechain, you can create a sidechain like normal, and then there’s some federation of functionaries. These are parties that hold private keys, and they’ll sign transactions [stream cuts out] would have permitted the transaction to occur. So they’re sort of standing in as a protocol gateway adapter. Now, the tradeoff is that — if they want to — they could just steal the coins.”
Testing sidechains before the soft-fork
After explaining how this federated, demo version of sidechains would work, Maxwell went on to explain what happens after this version of sidechains has been tested in the wild:
“Beyond [federated sidechains], we have to see where it goes from there. It’ll take some time for the initial system to mature and for people to gain confidence enough to start saying, ‘OK. Well where can we start introducing the soft-forking, additional scrypt opcodes to make it so you can do it without the functionaries — without the federation.”
Demo sidechains available in a few months
It was at this point that Epicenter Bitcoin’s Brian Fabian Crain asked Maxwell and Back for a timeframe on this demo, federated model of sidechains. Maxwell quickly replied:
“Just a couple months. One month, two months. We have sort of like the — the people working on it have — privately, versions of it that run today. And we have for some time now. It’s just that it’s all immature and buggy, and not really ready to burn people’s review cycles on it.”
The point of review cycles is something that Maxwell brought up multiple times during the interview. It seems clear that he and the rest of the Blockstream team want to make sure that the first version of sidechains they release cannot easily be broken by testers. Either way, the bitcoin community is likely to be excited about the prospect of testing out the federated model of sidechains in the coming months.