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Crypto Explained

What Is The Ethereum Arrow Glacier Upgrade?

January 11, 2022

Christina

The Ethereum Arrow Glacier upgrade recently went live and made another change to the network by delaying Ethereum's "difficulty bomb" until June 2022. How will it effect you?

As Ethereum progresses to Eth2 and the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism, the network continues to push certain upgrades to optimize performance. The previous upgrade, dubbed the "London Hardfork," changed the transaction pricing mechanism to address fluctuating, high, and unpredictable fees. 

Delaying Ethereum's Difficulty Bomb

When miners secure a Proof-of-Work (PoW) network, they spend vast computing power to solve complex mathematical puzzles. The more complex the puzzle, the more energy the miner requires, placing a cost on creating consensus and making the network more resistant to attack from malicious actors. This is where the Ethereum difficulty bomb comes into play. 

The difficulty bomb gradually increases the difficulty of the puzzles that the miners have to solve, which serves to make mining new blocks more expensive. At some point in the future, the bomb is meant to explode and will make validating transactions and mining on the network almost impossible due to the high cost of computational power. 

Ethereum developers implemented this feature to increase the uptake of the PoS model and motivate the development of Eth2. It's also meant to ensure that Ethereum miners are forced to upgrade to the new PoS blockchain (the Beacon chain) when the transition is ready, as they will no longer be able to mine ether through PoW. All miners upgrading to the new network removes the possibility of two Ethereum networks emerging through a hard fork, as was the case with Ethereum Classic in 2016.

So, why the need to delay the difficulty bomb? In short, to give developers more time to roll out Eth2. As the largest blockchain ecosystem in the space with the most decentralized applications built on top of it, the move to Eth2 has been more complex than initially imagined, and many previous upgrades, including the London Hardfork, also extended the deadline of the difficulty bomb. 

Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs)

Upgrades to the Ethereum network are implemented through proposed changes reviewed and agreed upon by Ethereum developers, a board of editors, and the Ethereum community. These are called Etherereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs). Anyone can create an EIP to propose changes or improvements to the Ethereum network, but they must go through a strenuous approval process. 

Each EIP contains the detailed technical requirements needed for a particular change following a specific EIP format. The London Hardfork contained two EIPs. The first was to address transaction fees, and the second was to delay the difficulty bomb. The Arrow Glacier upgrade contains just one upgrade, EIP-4345, and focuses solely on the extension of the difficulty bomb. If all goes according to plan, EIP-4345 will be the last ever extension before the release of Ethereum 2.0.

Arrow Glacier won't directly affect the average user on the Ethereum network, but it's a crucial upgrade. Without it, the network could be rendered unusable before Eth2 is ready to launch. 

As its name suggests, Arrow Glacier is very similar to Ethereum's Muir Glacier upgrade in January 2020, which also delayed the difficulty bomb. Both upgrades contained just one EIP with the goal of delaying the onset of the Ethereum mining "ice age." Constantinople, Byzantium, and London upgrades also included extensions to the difficulty bomb.

Does Arrow Glacier Affect the Average Ethereum User?

The short answer is no, the Arrow Glacier upgrade hasn't had any immediate impact on the average Ethereum user, and there is no difference in transaction times or average fees in the network. Node operators and miners must upgrade their Ethereum clients to be compatible with the latest version and avoid continuing with the previous fork of Ethereum, which is no longer officially supported by the community.

While Arrow Glacier does nothing to tackle Ethereum's scaling issues or pricey gas fees, it's still an essential upgrade. Not only does it ensure that the network remains usable and avoids mass miner capitulation due to the high cost of mining, but it's also the last time that delaying the difficulty bomb will be necessary. 

Eth2 is inching closer to becoming a reality. Arrow Glacier postpones the time bomb until June 2022, making it plausible that Eth2 could be here as soon as quarter two.


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