July 13, 2023

What Is A Soft Fork & Hard Fork: A Beginner's Guide

By Sona Mathews

A soft fork and a hard fork are both changes in the protocol of a blockchain network, but they differ in compatibility and the level of disruption they cause.

A soft fork is a software upgrade that is backward compatible with older versions, allowing participants who have not upgraded to still participate in validating and verifying transactions.

On the other hand, a hard fork is a more disruptive event that creates a completely new version of the blockchain, causing a split in the network and requiring all participants to upgrade to the new software.

What are Forks & Why are Forks so Important?

What Is A Soft Fork & Hard Fork, A Beginner's Guide: eAskme
What Is A Soft Fork & Hard Fork, A Beginner's Guide: eAskme

Understanding soft forks and hard forks is essential for anyone interested in cryptocurrencies, especially when considering the potential impact on the value of assets like ETH price and other cryptocurrencies.

Forks are important in blockchain technology, as they represent changes to the blockchain network's protocol or rules.

There are two main types of forks: 

  • Foft forks
  • Hard forks.

Soft forks are backward-compatible protocol updates, meaning that nodes running older versions of the software can still participate in validating transactions.

On the other hand, hard forks are more disruptive and create a new version of the blockchain, splitting the network and requiring all participants to upgrade to the new software.

Forks are crucial because they allow for the evolution and improvement of blockchain networks.

They enable developers to implement new features, fix security vulnerabilities, and address issues that may arise as the technology matures.

Additionally, forks can serve as a mechanism for the community to express their opinions and preferences regarding the direction of a project.

Forks are important in the context of trading pairs as they can create new investment opportunities and affect the value of the original asset.

A hard fork can result in the creation of a new cryptocurrency, which can then be traded against the original cryptocurrency or other cryptocurrencies.

This can lead to new trading pairs, such as BTC to USDT, being introduced in the market, offering more options for traders and investors.

What is a Soft Fork?

A soft fork changes the Bitcoin protocol wherein only previously valid blocks/transactions are made invalid.

Soft forks don't require everyone to upgrade their software, but since old nodes will see new transactions as invalid (and vice versa), an upgrade will be required for all users if many miners adopt it.

When an entire network enforces new rules and rejects old ones, this is called "a hard fork."

Soft forks can be deployed as a backward-compatible way of introducing new features to Bitcoin by making them opt-in instead of requiring users who want them to upgrade their software immediately.

Why Do Soft Forks Happen??

A soft fork is a change to the protocol that is backward compatible. This means that old nodes will still recognize new blocks as valid and vice versa.

Soft forks can be rolled out without any downtime because there's no need for users to upgrade their software; however, if you want access to all features of a new soft fork (such as Bitcoin Cash), then it is recommended that you upgrade your node before its activation time.

Because soft forks don't require everyone in the network to update their software at once as hard forks do, so they're easier than hard forks for developers and businesses and less risky.

What is a Hard Fork?

A hard fork is a significant change to a blockchain network's protocol or rules.

It creates a new version of the blockchain incompatible with the previous version, resulting in a permanent divergence from the original one.

In a hard fork, all participants, including nodes, miners, and users, must upgrade to the new software to continue participating in the network.

A hard fork can occur for various reasons, such as implementing new features, addressing security vulnerabilities, or resolving disagreements within the community about the project's direction.

When a hard fork occurs, the blockchain splits into two separate chains, each with its own set of rules and transactions.

This can result in creating of a new cryptocurrency, as seen in the case of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.

Why Do Hard Forks Happen?

Hard forks happen for various reasons, including implementing important security fixes, adding new functionality, changing the size of the blocks, increasing security measures, or even reversing fraudulent transactions.

They can also occur when a group of developers or members of a crypto community become dissatisfied with certain characteristics of the blockchain.

In some cases, hard forks happen due to irreconcilable disagreements among crypto community members.

Who Determines a Fork Formation?

The formation of a fork in a blockchain network is determined by the developers and participants of the network, including miners and nodes.

A fork can be initiated by developers proposing changes to the protocol or rules governing the network.

The participants then implement these changes and decide whether to adopt the new rules or continue operating under the existing rules.

Nodes play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a fork, as they validate transactions and blocks based on the consensus rules they follow.

Suppose most nodes continue to validate and propagate blocks on the original blockchain.

In that case, it will remain the dominant chain, and the forked chain will be considered a separate, alternative blockchain.

Difference Between Hard Fork and Soft Fork:

The primary difference between a hard fork and a soft fork lies in their compatibility with previous versions of the blockchain protocol and their impact on the network.

Here's a comparison of the two:

Hard Fork:

A hard fork introduces a significant change to the blockchain protocol that is not backward-compatible.

This means nodes running the old software will not recognize or validate transactions on the new chain.

A hard fork creates a permanent blockchain split, creating two separate chains.

This can lead to the creation of a new cryptocurrency.

All participants, including nodes, miners, and users, must upgrade to the new software to continue participating in the network.

Hard forks can be more disruptive and contentious, as they may arise from disagreements within the community.

Soft Fork:

A soft fork introduces changes to the blockchain protocol that are backward-compatible.

The old software's nodes can still recognize and validate transactions on the updated chain.

Soft forks do not result in a permanent blockchain split, as the updated rules are a subset of the original rules. The network remains unified.

Only a majority of participants (miners or validators) need to upgrade to enforce the new rules.

Nodes running the old software can still participate in the network, although they may not fully utilize the new features.

Soft forks are generally less disruptive and more cooperative, allowing a smoother transition to new rules.

Examples of Bitcoin Forks:

  • SegWit: A soft fork implemented in the Bitcoin network, introducing a new transaction format to improve scalability.
  • Bitcoin Cash (BCH): A hard fork of Bitcoin, increasing the block size limit to enhance transaction capacity.
  • Bitcoin Gold: Another hard fork of Bitcoin, aiming to decentralize mining by introducing a new proof-of-work algorithm.
  • Bitcoin SV: A hard fork of Bitcoin Cash, standing for "Bitcoin Satoshi Vision," to preserve the original Bitcoin protocol and scale on-chain.

These examples illustrate the different approaches and outcomes of both soft and hard forks within the Bitcoin ecosystem.


In conclusion, a soft fork is a forward-compatible change to the rules of a blockchain, where the old blockchain is maintained by running on two lanes with different sets of rules.

It allows for backward compatibility, meaning everyone, including those using the older software, can see the new blocks and accepted transactions as valid.

On the other hand, a hard fork is a permanent change to the blockchain, creating a new, separate chain. This can be thought of as a 'divorce,' where the two chains part ways forever.

Soft and hard forks are methods of implementing changes to a blockchain project's code.

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