Zcash Overwinter Hard Fork: Cryptocurrency Coin Upgrade?

Zcash is about to go through its first hard fork. The privacy-focused cryptocurrency is preparing for its “Overwinter” hard fork.

The developers hope the hard fork will lay the grounds for dramatic upgrades to their cryptocurrency in the future. The purpose of Overwinter isn’t to implement a bunch of changes overnight. Instead, the main goal of the hard fork is to get the team accustomed to performing network upgrades.

“The purpose of this is to get practice doing network upgrades,” explained Zooko Wilcox, co-founder and CEO of Zerocoin Electric Coin Company, which develops the cryptocurrency, in a statement to our friends at CoinDesk.

Right now, most of the Zcash development team is focused on making the Overwinter upgrade perfect.

The upgrade has been making headlines throughout March 2018, although Overwinter isn’t expected to go live until June.

After Overwinter, the next priority for the Zcash team will be to launch the Sapling hard fork upgrade. That upgrade could be even more significant. With Sapling, the team plans to speed up transaction times on the network while maintaining Zcash’s famous level of privacy already provided.

The team is officially calling Overwinter a “network upgrade” and not a hard fork:

“If I say ‘hard fork,’ immediately people ask me what the name of the new coin is and if there will be an airdrop,” Wilcox says, referring to the fact that many people have a different view on hard forks. Bitcoin Cash launched through a hard fork, for example, after bitcoin developers couldn’t agree on a scaling solution.

Today, Zcash is in the “sprout” development phase. The name “Overwinter” reflects the idea that if a sprout survives the winter, it becomes tougher. Zcash has survived the winter, and now the developers are preparing to expand their popular cryptocurrency.

Overwinter Changes and Features

What new features are being added to Zcash in Overwinter?

The most important feature is replay protection. This will prevent double spending problems on the Zcash blockchain: users who stay on the old chain and send transactions cannot repeat those transactions on the new chain. This is more of a protective mechanism than a feature, because Zcash expects all users to upgrade to the new system. However, this could become more important in the future when hard forks introduce more controversial upgrades to the Zcash network.

In terms of major features, Zcash will add “transaction expiry”, which will allow transactions to expire after one hour. This might sound unusual. However, without transaction expiry, some transactions can get “stuck” because users aren’t willing to pay high enough fees, while miners aren’t willing to process the transaction at a lower fee.

Some believe this will lead to security issues. However, Wilcox and the core Zcash development team believe it will prevent users from losing money if they accidentally send a transaction to the wrong chain.

Another major feature change is the addition of signature verification performance. This will solve a bug that Zcash inherited from bitcoin’s legacy code (Zcash was originally built on bitcoin’s code). This bug led to long verification times when verifying signatures with lots of unspent transaction outputs or UTXOs.

Zcash and Scaling

Zcash plans to introduce scaling upgrades in the future. The development team is exploring how to scale their blockchain upward. However, they haven’t decided on a specific solution.

Zcash is purportedly undergoing experimental research on scaling upgrades. However, details of that research have not been announced. The team is reportedly exploring things like sharding (used by Ethereum) and the Lightning Network (proposed as a scaling upgrade for BTC).

Zcash might also scale its blockchain through its own unique zk-snarks privacy system, which compresses blockchain data while maintaining privacy for all Zcash transaction participants. “We’re researching to see if using zk-proofs can make a fully scalable blockchain,” explained Wilcox to Coindesk.

Stay tuned for more information about Zcash’s Overwinter upgrade as it gets closer to launching in June 2018.

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