Hard Fork vs Soft Fork
Blockchains are often used as a public and permissionless network in which there is no central authority controlling its operation. While this concept of decentralization sounds great, it also comes with drawbacks. Blockchain has a limitation as there is no such thing as a “could I?”, but always a “you have to”. So, what do we do if a problem comes up? What if it doesn’t suit a specific need or there is a flaw in the code? Even in those cases, we are still able to upgrade the network but only with the consent of the majority of users.
Understanding a Hard Fork
Hard forks are backward-incompatible software updates. Typically, this occurs when nodes of the newest version of a blockchain no longer accept the previous version; which creates a permanent divergence from the previous version of the blockchain. Adding a new rule to the code essentially creates a fork in the blockchain: one path follows the new, upgraded blockchain, and the other path continues the old path. So, there would be two networks running in parallel. They’ll both continue to propagate blocks and transactions, but their chain data and state are different. Usually, after a short time, those on the old chain will realize that their version of the blockchain is outdated or irrelevant and quickly upgrade to the latest version.
What is Soft Fork?
A soft fork is a backward-compatible upgrade, meaning that the upgraded nodes can still communicate with the non-upgraded ones. What you typically see in a soft fork is the addition of new improvements that don’t clash with the current protocol. Soft forks do not lead to network splits. All nodes still accept and communicate with other nodes that aren’t implementing those rules, but may filter out some of the information they pass.
Hard Forks vs Soft Forks
Hard forks and soft forks are essentially the same in the sense that when a cryptocurrency platform’s existing code is changed, an old version remains on the network while the new version is created.
Contentious hard forks can divide a community, but planned ones allow the freedom to modify the software with everybody in agreement (community and user consensus).
Soft forks are a gentler option. Generally speaking, non-upgraded nodes may have less features or lower security (outdated software) but they can operate normally, as there is no clash with the network. As well as, soft forks are not obligatory, users can keep the same client and still join the blockchain.