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What is a ‘hard/soft’ fork?

In software development, a fork is a new branch of code going off in its own direction. Often, it also often represents (in open-source software developed outside of a company) a disagreement in the community that built and maintained the original code.

In crypto, a fork is a disagreement between nodes. The disagreement can be about different things, for example, which blocks are included in the blockchain or what code is being run. A disagreement of this sort causes the blockchain to split into two different parallel chains. There are two types of forks: a ‘soft’ fork and a ‘hard’ fork.

A soft fork often occurs during software upgrades to the protocol. This type of soft fork does not result in a permanent split of the network. A soft fork is a change to the software protocol where only previously valid transaction blocks are made invalid. A soft fork is backwards-compatible, the reason being that the old nodes will recognise the new blocks as being valid. 

A hard fork happens when nodes in the network fail to reach consensus. When this happens, the blockchain will split into two or more branches at the last point of agreement, and then new valid blocks accepted on one fork will be rejected by the other one.

Hard forks should be supported by all members of the crypto community, otherwise it can lead to blockchain replication.



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