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What is a Softfork for Cryptocurrency?
A softfork aims to improve the existing cryptocurrency network. It happens without users noticing the very moment of interference — they just take its consequences for granted.
A softfork does not require a major interference with the cryptocurrency’s master code, and all changes are backward-compatible. This is the main difference between a softfork and a hardfork, with the latter, roughly speaking, generating a new coin. A softfork happens within the existing network, and its objective is improving network operations without making significant changes.
It’s a sort of regular software update we all have to make by uploading updated versions of old software, e. g. word processing or image editing apps. Old versions accumulate too many non-critical mistakes, or users request some improvements to be made. It leads to the need for an update; in case of cryptocurrency — for a softfork.
How it happens
In the Bitcoin network, a softfork happens as follows: the system is “rolled back” in time, and new blocks replace the old blocks while the chain of blocks remains unchanged. New blocks are identical to the old blocks in terms of structure. After the softfork, “old” blocks are validated along with the new blocks. All transactions before and after the softfork remain equivalent in value.
A softfork is usually administered by a team of developers after they discuss the idea with the user community. Since, however, cryptocurrency has an open source code, a useful change may be implemented by any user if they approach the community with an idea and the community approves of it.
The most well-known softfork in the Bitcoin network is SegWit that was successfully implemented without a hardfork.