Ethereum Classic (ETC): An Ideological Rift in the Ethereum Blockchain

Sometimes a hard fork is unavoidable in the life of a blockchain. Despite the fact that they are usually organic, they are rarely without controversy.


Ethereum Classic (ETC) sprang from an ideological and ethical schism in the Ethereum community, which continues to cause debate. A major hack of a third-party application running on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain occurred in 2016, resulting in the theft of millions of dollars in ether, or ETH.

As a result, the Ethereum blockchain underwent a hard fork, thereby erasing the hack from the official ledger and returning the stolen ETH to its rightful owners.

The second branch of this fork, on the other hand, retained the official ledger, which includes the hack, unmodified, in order to preserve a 100% immutable ledger. In other words, there was only one difference between the two blockchains that resulted: The record of the hack and the stolen ETH remained in one, while the other effectively turned back the clock as if the breach had never happened.

The Ethereum (ETH) designation was kept on the altered blockchain, whereas Ethereum Classic was given to the original/unchanged network (ETC).


The Origin of Ethereum Classic

There are a variety of reasons why blockchains hard fork and split into distinct blockchains.

Forks are sometimes the result of technological advancements. Other forks are the consequence of major community conflicts about planned protocol modifications, which split the project and its supporters into irreconcilable factions.

Such protocol changes can happen as a result of proactive efforts to improve current features, or as a result of damage caused by bugs and hacks. The Ethereum fork resulted in the development of the Ethereum Classic (ETC) blockchain in the latter case.

An Ethereum blockchain application (known as The DAO) was hacked in 2016, resulting in the theft of roughly 3.6 million ether (ETH) — valued around $50 million USD at the time — which has since grown to be worth billions of dollars. To put the gravity of the attack into perspective, there was around 72 million ETH in circulation at the time, meaning the hackers stole around 5% of all ETH in existence.

Ethereum core developers elected to conduct a hard fork to remove the hack from Ethereum’s ledger and refund the money to its rightful owners.

The freshly constructed ledger became the “primary” Ethereum blockchain (ETH), while the original version of the ledger was called Ethereum Classic (ETC) as a parallel network that was not compatible with the new main branch. The majority of users, particularly those who had been hacked, favored the version of Ethereum that fixed the problem.

Some users, however, who prioritized immutability, elected to stick with Ethereum Classic, the original ledger.

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Ethereum vs. Ethereum Classic

The argument between Ethereum and Ethereum Classic boils down to a philosophical debate between two opposing viewpoints:

  1. A distributed ledger’s revised blockchain which was altered in a way that erased a successful cybertheft. 
  2. A truly immutable blockchain with a permanent record of the network’s entire history, including a successful cybertheft.

Ethereum is still far more popular than its unaltered version, illustrating where the majority of the cryptocurrency community stands on this contentious subject.

Furthermore, Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum project’s principal creator, is widely considered as one of the most reputable and important personalities in the Ethereum community, as well as the whole blockchain industry.

Proponents of Ethereum Classic, on the other hand, say that the ETC hard fork facilitated the precise thing that blockchain technology was supposed to prevent: subjective human manipulation.

As a result, a large number of idealists support Ethereum Classic and its corresponding coin, ETC. Despite the revised ETH branch’s good intentions, ETC supporters categorically reject the reasoning that led to the hard fork in the first place.

Many of these people believe that any alterations to a blockchain ledger, no matter how well-intentioned, violate the “code is king” attitude that many people identify with blockchain in the first place.

Proponents of Ethereum Classic claim that immutable transactions are an indisputable aspect of blockchain technology that distinguishes it from the manipulations that many have complained about in the traditional global financial system, and that immutability should never be compromised.

Similar arguments have erupted over other cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin (BTC). The 2017 Bitcoin Cash (BCH) hard fork was a contentious issue.

In 2019, hackers stole approximately 7,000 BTC (valued around 41 million USD at the time) from the Binance crypto exchange, drawing a more direct parallel to the ETH vs. ETC debate.

Changpeng Zhao, the exchange’s founder, urged that the Bitcoin community roll back the Bitcoin blockchain, similar to what Ethereum did in 2016.

However, unlike Ethereum’s inventor Vitalik, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous originator Satoshi Nakamoto stopped publicly participating in the project in 2011, and his, her, or their identity is unknown. In other words, Bitcoin’s leadership is perhaps more decentralized by default than Ethereum’s due to Satoshi’s absence.

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Structure of Ethereum Classic

The Ethereum Classic protocol is a fork of the Ethereum protocol.

From a functional standpoint, Ethereum Classic and Ethereum are both smart contract platforms that allow users to create decentralized applications (dApps) on their respective blockchains. Until block 1,920,000, the chains are similar (where the attack occurred). They don’t diverge until after this block.

As a result, major Ethereum protocol upgrades beyond this time (such as Ethereum 2.0) are not reflected in the Ethereum Classic protocol, and vice versa.

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The Future of Ethereum Classic

Ethereum Classic has lately undergone multiple protocol improvements targeted at making the protocol more compatible with the Ethereum protocol, indicating a change of heart.

Atlantis (in 2019) and Agharta (in 2020) are two recent Ethereum Classic protocol improvements that highlight the Ethereum Classic community’s ambition to develop technological bridges between Ethereum Classic (ETC) and other communities, such as Ethereum (ETH).

These upgrades were implemented through hard forks that forced Ethereum Classic users to upgrade their software in order to comply with the Ethereum Classic network’s new regulations.

These changes could indicate a trend toward greater interoperability between the two blockchains. While some have been vocal in their opposition to the Ethereum ecosystem’s multiple splits and forks, others think that “forks are freedom,” allowing both blockchains to develop democratically as their respective communities see right.