Bitcoin’s 2020 In Tech

by AARON VAN WIRDUM December 31, 2020

Seemingly undisturbed by 2020’s craziness, and largely unfazed by bitcoin’s wild price swings that concluded with new all-time highs in December, Bitcoin’s technical community continues to plow ahead. Bitcoin’s software and the many projects around it were gradually improved throughout the year, as software was optimized, bugs fixed and privacy leaks patched. The bulk of this work, as vital as much of it is, doesn’t attract headlines.

Yet, a bird’s-eye view on Bitcoin’s tech development over the span of a year helps highlight new milestones in Bitcoin’s ongoing technological march forward. In 2020, too, the consistently growing Bitcoin development community introduced a number of useful new features, several particularly important upgrades and some especially notable improvements.

As this volatile year is drawing to a close, these were some of Bitcoin’s most notable technical developments over the past 12 months…

New Privacy Tools With PayJoin And CoinSwap

On Bitcoin’s privacy front, the PayJoin and CoinSwap projects this year represented two promising advancements.

PayJoin, also known as Pay to Endpoint (P2EP), is a trick that lets recipients of a transaction partake in the transaction through a CoinJoin, to basically send funds to themselves while also receiving the actual payment from the real sender. If a snoop, conducting blockchain analysis, were to assume that all coins sent in a transaction belonged to the same person — as they normally would — they’d be wrong. This already benefits the privacy of both sender and receiver, as the snoop would confuse (past) coin ownership between them. Moreover, if enough people use PayJoin, it could render this important heuristic for blockchain analysis useless altogether, in turn benefiting even the privacy of those who didn’t make PayJoin transactions themselves.

The Lightning Network Became More Robust With Watchtowers (And More)

The Lightning Network, Bitcoin’s Layer 2 protocol for faster, cheaper and more private payments, continued to improve across the board in 2020. With Lightning implementations LND, Eclair, C-Lightning and — since July — Electrum rolling out a number of new software releases, and a growing number of projects building on top of the protocol, Lightning development was more active than ever. Among the more notable developments, Watchtowers resolved one of the Lightning Network’s remaining weaknesses, resulting in a more robust protocol.

After Miniscript, Bitcoin Programming Was Made Easier With Minsc

The code embedded in Bitcoin transactions that specifies what conditions must be met to spend the coins in a next transaction is written in a programming language specifically designed for Bitcoin, called Script. Script can be tricky to work with, however: in programmers jargon, Script is hard to “reason about.” This means that, especially as it becomes a bit more complex, it can be difficult to understand what a piece of script actually allows: a transaction may unintentionally include code that allows the coins to be spent under different conditions than originally intended. This is one reason why many Bitcoin software applications, like wallets, refrain from utilizing Script’s full potential.

Smart Contracts Became Smarter With DLCs

Whenever smart contracts depend on external data — data that doesn’t live on the blockchain — they rely on an external source for that data referred to as an “oracle.” If two users want to bet on the outcome of a sports match, for example, the oracle would have to use the result of the match to settle the bet in favor of whoever made the correct prediction (at least in case of a dispute).

Holding Is Getting Safer With Bitcoin Vaults

The long list of exchange hacks and other bitcoin heists are testament to the fact that securely storing private keys continues to be a challenge, especially where many coins are at stake. But more secure solutions to store coins are in development. Bitcoin vaults — a concept dating back to 2016 — are a type of smart contract that secure coins so that it takes several confirmed transactions and a time delay to really spend them. This gives potential victims the opportunity to revert a heist before it is too late. 2020 saw the release of two types of vault prototypes.

Taproot Is Now Good To Go, As Activation Is Under Consideration

Taproot is set to be the first Bitcoin protocol upgrade since Segregated Witness activated in August 2017. First proposed by Bitcoin Core contributor Gregory Maxwell in January 2018, Taproot lets users “hide” smart contracts in regular-looking Bitcoin transactions: complex multisig construction could be indistinguishable from a simple payment.

For an even more extensive and detailed summary of Bitcoin’s 2020 tech developments, also see the Bitcoin Optech 2020 Year-in-Review Special. Aaron’s full article is linked here.

Source: BITCOIN Magazine
Image: GettyImages

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