We now know the name of the so-called “fix” to the Ethereum network’s recently pulled “Constantinople” upgrade. Mining clients Geth and Parity have respectively opted for “St. Petersburg” and “St. Petersfork,” in keeping with the Eurasian cities vibe.
The upgrade, detailed here, removes “Ethereum Improvement Proposal 1283,” from Constantinople, which sought to reduce certain operational costs. It’s scheduled to be deployed in February, following the discovery of an 11th-hour “reentrancy” vulnerability that would have exposed the network to hackers.
So what’s going on with all these names? The previous two, Byzantium and Constantinople, were chosen because they fit the “Metropolis” stage of the network’s roadmap, which will, eventually, introduce a “relatively full-featured user interface for non-technical users of Ethereum.” For the new release, the name “Istanbul”—the somewhat-obvious successor—would have been inappropriate, since Petersburg/Petersfork is a supplement to Constantinople and not an upgrade unto itself. What’s more, Istanbul as a name is a dead-end; devs would subsequently become “more and more clueless about subsequent fork names,” wrote Afri Schoeden, one of the coordinators of the hard fork on Reddit. It’s like Apple running out of majestic cats for its OS upgrades—the company needs a new conceit.
As such, there is now a competition for a new name that is easier to franchise. Titles will ideally be “extensible beyond three,” like this asteroid-related example: “Ceres, Eros, Vesta, CA-2216862, Pallas.” So were there any other good ideas? One person suggested “Ethereum Conneeeeeeeeeeeect,” a reference to this screaming egg. Another suggested using the titles of all the Batman films. The rather dull sequence of “Etimos,” “Matista,” and “Proseche,” based on language used in ancient Greek mythology, was also in the mix.
But we at Decrypt too have a maverick, devil-may-care suggestion of our own: “Metropolis 1.0, Metropolis 2.0, Metropolis 3.0.” Extensible beyond three? This one can go to four!
Extra fun part: Ethereum's lessons from history
Given the Ethereum upgrade names’ eerie tendency to recall history (see: nominative determinism), here’s a bonus round of Ethereum updates and their real-life historical counterparts--as well as a cautionary tale for anyone looking through the history books for possible franchises.
“Byzantium,” the name of the previous hard fork, was Constantinople the city’s (modern day Istanbul) predecessor, a shabby, unremarkable outpost that shifted variously between the Greek and Persian frontiers. Like the upgrade that shared its namesake, it lived in constant anticipation of a brighter, better future—”Constantinople.”
For what it's worth: “Byzantium” is also possibly a reference to “Byzantine Fault Tolerance,” the extent to which a distributed-computer configuration is resistant to the failure of certain components. This is itself named after the so-called “Byzantine Generals’ Problem,” a 1982 treatise on how nine Byzantine generals, separated physically and tasked with engineering either a coordinated retreat or a coordinated attack, would struggle—for fraud, incompetence, or negligence—to successfully cooperate.
“Constantinople,” the current upgrade, is named after the capital of the Eastern—”Byzantine”—Roman Empire, which was known for its labyrinthine fortifications. A massive breach in these walls, following a 53-day siege by the Ottomans, allowed the hostile army to spill through. Constantinople the upgrade, similarly, fell to a security breach following a prolonged delay. Spooky!
“St. Petersburg” and “St. Petersfork.” These two updates seek to repair Constantinople and preserve its purpose: to delay the so-called “difficulty bomb,” which vastly reduces the amount of solvable blocks available to miners. Failure to forestall the difficulty bomb would bring about the “ice age”—in which crypto-rewards are so few that miners are disincentivized—before devs have the chance to implement the still-in-progress Proof-of-Work alternative, “Proof-of-Stake.”
Now, St. Petersburg, when it was still called Leningrad, was famously starved at the hands of the Nazis/Finns. And what happened out there, in Russia’s cold North, when winter came? The lake froze over.
Let’s hope the Ethereum community doesn’t rally behind “The Titanic” as the name for its next upgrade.