Schnorr is coming… (Got Bitcoin?) Sponsored By: #SpyGadgetRentals
In fact, the bitcoin upgrade arguably took its most significant step yet toward implementation last week when influential developer Pieter Wuille unveiled a draft outlining its technical makeup. With the release, the idea, one that’s been in the works by bitcoin developers for years, is one step closer to improving the scaling and privacy of the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency.
Effectively, this sets up Schnorr as the next big change to bitcoin, meaning it will be the largest code change since Segregated Witness (SegWit), a pivotal bug fix that prompted a drawn-out battle in the bitcoin community last year before ultimately being adopted.
At a technical level, adding support for Schnorr, a digital signature scheme, would give bitcoin users a new way to generate the cryptographic keys they need to used to store and send bitcoin. By doing so, it also paves the way for a number of exciting benefits, including tackling privacy and scalability, arguably two of bitcoin’s most worrisome problems.
“It is a building block for a variety of improvements,” Wuille told CoinDesk, adding there are even some further-out improvements that haven’t gotten a lot of attention quite yet. And while Wuille hopes the change will ultimately be adopted, he added it’s “ultimately up to the users” if they want to adopt it – as was the case with SegWit.
Co-authored by several top bitcoin developers, including the likes of Bitcoin Core contributor Johnson Lau and Gregory Maxwell, the technical, math-ridden proposal outlines the exact signature scheme that could be coded in bitcoin.
And while it’s far from that final goal, it’s a necessary piece.
Blockstream engineer and co-author Jonas Nick told CoinDesk:
“Standardizing Schnorr for bitcoin is a big step towards using it in bitcoin.”
A way forward
For one, the BIP draft helps to avoid future confusion by proposing a standard that ensures that all developers and merchants eventually implement the Schnorr signature code in the same way.
Though the full description can be read in the highly-technical BIP, the main idea is it describes the math necessary to produce Schnorr signatures, offering an alternative to Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA), the sole algorithm used to produce keys and verify transactions in bitcoin today.
Schnorr will have one thing in common with the signature scheme it seeks to crowd out, though. If plan is accepted, it will use the same mathematical “curve” that ECDSA uses to produce the keys, called “secp256k1.”
It’s a lot of tricky math, so it’s no surprise the release sparked technical discussion on the bitcoin developer mailing list.
But nothing major has come up so far and developers are optimistic, especially since one of Schnorr’s key benefits is that, unlike ECDSA, Schnorr’s security can actually be proved mathematically.
While Schnorr offers a number of improvements on its own, developers are also excited that it will also pave the way for a range of changes that can be built on top of it, such new privacy techniques.
Right now, it’s obvious when users send so-called “multi-sig transactions,” which are a more advanced type of transaction where more than one person is required to sign off on a transaction, because of bitcoin’s public ledger. But Schnorr pave the way for a technique that will make these transactions look the same as every other transaction.
Nick noted Schnorr will also lead these advanced transactions will be cheaper as well, an important improvement since transactions can grow very expensive in times of congestion.
And it seems like new tech built on top of Schnorr are being proposed on a regular basis.
“Due to the wealth of new discoveries lately I believe these technologies should be developed in a step-by-step basis, and my focus for a first step is just Schnorr and Taproot,” Wuille said, referring to the bitcoin improvement “Taproot” proposed earlier this year by another influential bitcoin developer Greg Maxwell to further improve bitcoin’s privacy.
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