Ethereum style smart contracts are coming to Bitcoin in June

Ethereum has gained a lot of attention over the past year or two as it became the second most valuable cryptocurrency by market cap. The platform enables the execution of smart contracts, a feature coming to Bitcoin in the form of RSK.

On a recent episode of Coin Interview, RSK’s co-founder, Gabriel Kurman, claimed that RSK’s private testnet will turn into a public testnet on May 22nd at the 2017 Consensus conference. RSK will then be launched on Bitcoin’s mainnet approximately a month later.

- RSK

A smart contract is simply a computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract. According to the Elements Project, smart contracting platforms with more expressive scripting systems, such as Ethereum and RSK, are attractive to developers as Bitcoin’s scripting system is limited by design for security reasons.

Ethereum is in essence a programmable blockchain. Rather than giving users a set of predefined operations, such as bitcoin transactions, the platform allows users to create their own operations, of any complexity. In this way, it serves as a platform for many different types of decentralized blockchain applications, including but not limited to cryptocurrencies. “Ethereum allows us to move much faster than building on Bitcoin due to its turing complete script,” explains Augur co-founder Joey Krug.

The team behind RSK has done everything they can to make it easy for Ethereum developers to move to their platform. According to the original RSK white paper, the platforms virtual machine is backwards compatible with the Ethereum virtual machine (EVM), which “gives the opportunity to developers working on Ethereum to benefit from the robustness of the BItcoin blockchain.” The EVM allows developers to create applications using programming languages modelled on existing languages like JavaScript and Python.

Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson has hypothesized that the smart contracts written on top of these kinds of systems will be released on multiple platforms. The process would look similar to releasing mobile applications for both iOS and Android, developers may decide to release their applications on Ethereum, RSK, and Ethereum Classic.

In addition to RSK’s advanced smart contract capabilities, the sidechain also has the potential to decrease the transaction burden on the main Bitcoin blockchain. “We have the Lumino Transaction Compression Protocol (LTCP), which allows 2,000 transactions per second on chain and the Lumino Network which will allow up to 20,000 transactions per second off chain,” said Kurman. “Every single developer is going to be able to plug in, and run their contracts. It’s going to operate against the Bitcoin testnet for a month approximately, and then we’re going to apply [it] to the Bitcoin mainnet.”

- Gabriel Kurman RSK co-founder

The initial version of the RSK sidechain will not require any changes to the underlying Bitcoin protocol to implement the necessary 2-way peg (2WP) to work with Bitcoin. The 2WP allows the transfer of bitcoins from the Bitcoin blockchain to a secondary blockchain and vice-versa. The “transfer” is in fact an illusion: bitcoins are not transferred, but temporarily locked on the Bitcoin blockchain while the same amount of equivalent tokens are unlocked in a secondary blockchain. The original bitcoins can be unlocked when the equivalent amount of tokens on the second blockchain are locked again in the secondary blockchain.

In the short term a federation will manage the multisign keys to release the bitcoin on the way back from the peg, Kurman explains. According to the RSK website, well-known Bitcoin companies, such as Xapo and Bitpay, have signed up to be notaries for the sidechain. According to Kurman, these notaries will participate in the governance of the federation, and provide more services to RSK. “The federation will provide multiple services in the future on top of the peg such as security checkpoints in each block, oracle services, and providing liquidity,” he said.

According to Kurman, miners already have the ability to merge mine the private RSK testnet. “Bitcoin India is already merge-mining with 100% of it's hashing power. Most other major pools are testing the plugin,” said Kurman. “Once a separate soft fork is implemented in Bitcoin, the release [of bitcoins on the sidechain] will be done by a combination of miners and federation — hence a hybrid 2-way peg.”

RSK currently has 30 partners building on the platform from multiple different industries. “Once the source code becomes public and the platform open on May 22, we expect a lot of use cases being ported to RSK given its full compatibility with Ethereum,” Kurman stated.