For years the debate has raged on how to move forward when it comes to upgrading and adding new functionality to the Bitcoin network. The core protocol is updated through a concencus mechanism, historically prioritizing security and reliability over “bells and whistles”. However, a number of projects designed to enhance or add functions to the Blockchain are in the works world-wide. Here are a few of the most interesting ones;
(These services are all in the “beta” stage so far, but they are all well worth a closer look.)
Blockstream develops the concept of “sidechains” to facilitate experimentation and new types of businesses built on top of the Bitcoin network.
A bitcoin can be “transferred” over to a sidechain (when this code is fully operational), where it can follow other rules than a bitcoin has to follow within the Bitcoin network (for instance to provide quick and cheap off-chain microtransactions). The sidechain is “pegged” to the Bitcoin network, meaning that when the bitcoin is transferred back to the backbone Bitcoin network it is still a bitcoin, it can’t inflate/deflate while bouncing around on the sidechain.
Stroem develops its own version of “payments channels”. This concept opens up a type of channels between Bitcoin users and merchants (using a “hub”). While these channels are “open” the transaction costs can be zero.
The Lightning Network is another take on the payments channels concept. Using this network transactions between designated users/merchants/hubs can also be free of charge, until all transactions settle on the Bitcoin Blockchain.Chains of blocks
This paper outlines a proposal for a change to the Bitcoin network called GHOST (The Greedy Heaviest-Observed Sub-Tree) where miners would search for and validate blockchains of 600 blocks at a time, reducing block times to 1 second (allowing for 600 MB of block content per 10 minutes, compared to today’s 1MB).
Blocknet is another proposed solution for “inter-operability” between blockchains, described as an “Internet Of Blockchains”.
Othercoin is another interesting solution to the problem with microtransactions on the main chain.
The above developments are all in the beta-stage, and the only real “extension” currently live on the Bitcoin network are the so-called merge-mining solutions, such as Namecoin (the new distributed name, title and domain database) which is merge-mined with the Bitcoin network, for security reasons.