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There are only three maintainers left for Bitcoin Core, does its development tend to centralize?

The resignation Jonas Schnelli reduced to just three developers with privileged access to the Bitcoin Core Github, who work full-time as maintainers of the Bitcoin code. A fact like this could leave in the environment the feeling that the decisions to update and develop the main cryptocurrency would be being concentrated in very few hands. This could be concerning now that bitcoin is an asset that exceeds $1.1 billion. But is Bitcoin really centralizing?

In principle, it is necessary to be clear that the importance of Bitcoin Core lies in the fact that it is the software client that made the existence of Bitcoin possible. It is based on the original coding of the protocol, created by Satoshi Nakamoto. This has made it the most popular implementation for those who participate in the network, so much so that, according to CoinDance figuresalmost 99% of active Bitcoin nodes use it.

The Bitcoin Core client is updated and evolved using an open contributor model. That is, anyone can contribute to the development of the project, through peer reviews, tests and patches, as explained in its GitHub repository. However, a system of meritocratic hierarchy operates, in which maintainers play a fundamental role.

The repository maintainers are frequent contributors who have earned the trust and respect of the community, for the quantity and quality of their contributions to the Bitcoin code. They are entrusted with “commit access” to the project repository, so they are responsible for merging the updates to the code.

Malicious maintainers

Now, could it represent a risk for bitcoin that the permissions to add changes to the bitcoin code are in the hands of few people? In theory, it is perfectly possible for three people to conspire or be coerced into making changes not authorized by the community. However, the model that operates in the development of Bitcoin, can perfectly act as a containment against malicious actors , even if they are located in a privileged position within the structure.

It should be remembered that Bitcoin is an open source project. This has a couple of important implications. In principle, anyone can audit the code and note if a change does not correspond to those approved by the community, so that a malicious update can simply be rejected by most nodes. Then, if supposed “malicious” maintainers were to take over the Bitcoin Core repository, it would be resolved as easily as creating a new one, where these actors do not have privileges.

Earlier this year, developer Wladimir Van Der Laan, Bitcoin Core’s primary maintainer, announced that he was stepping away from such “stressful” work for a while. For the moment, Proof of Work creator Adam Back stated that some community members tend to overestimate the role of Bitcoin Core developers. “Even if all maintainers had a plane crash or a very unfortunate IT failure, a new Github can be created,” Back told a media outlet.

Satoshi’s heirs

According to a post posted on bitcointalk.org, some 15 people have had confirmation access on Bitcoin Core, including its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. From this list, 6 maintain their access credentials, including Hennadii Stepanov (hebasto), who was awarded in April of this year for his contributions to the user interface. This could mean that it possibly occupies the place recently abandoned by Jonas Schinelli, as responsible for the updates in that area.

The list of authorized also includes names such as Peter Wuille, who shares his contributions to the Bitcoin code with other projects and Wladimir J. van der Laan himself, who, as we discussed, took some time. Apparently Marco Falke (marcofalke), Samuel Dobson (MeshCollider) and Michael Ford (fanquake) continue as full-time maintainers.

Jonas Schnelli recently resigned from his position as maintainer of the Bitcoin user interface (GUI).
Jonas Schnelli recently resigned from his position as maintainer of the Bitcoin user interface (GUI).

Why are Bitcoin Core developers leaving

As Bitcoin grows, prominent participants in its community seem to be increasingly exposed. As reported by Cryptoreportage Jonas Schinelli alleged as one of the reasons for his resignation as maintainer of bitcoin, the “legal risks” to which the developers of the project are exposed. Although the developer was not specific on the subject, it is speculated on social media that Schinelli would be one of 16 developers subject to a legal proceeding launched by Craig Wright in May of this year.

Wright, who calls himself the creator of Bitcoin, authorized a lawsuit to demand from a group of developers of Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin ABC and Bitcoin SV, the return of $4 billion in BTC, allegedly stolen from one of their personal wallets.

Coincidentally, Wladimir J. van der Laan announced the distancing of his work on Bitcoin Core, amid the uproar caused by the removal of the Bitcoin White Paper from the project’s Github repository, in early 2021. In this case, the decision of The removal of the document was also due to pressure from Craig Wright, who was favored in a UK court in his claim for the copyright of the white paper.

Both van der Laan and Schinelli agreed that their work had become “stressful.” The latter even suggested that the work of the Bitcoin developers should be anonymous.

It should be noted that there are currently more than 350 developers who actively and frequently collaborate in the project in Bitcoin Core.

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