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Difficulty Time Bomb Meaning

Dec 27, 2023 | Updated Dec 27, 2023
The Difficulty Time Bomb describes the growing difficulty in mining Ethereum as the network transitions from a Proof of Work to a Proof of Stake blockchain.

What is the Difficulty Time Bomb?  

The Ethereum network uses a proof of work consensus mechanism to validate transactions. In the proof of work system, miners solve puzzles to validate transactions. These puzzles take a fixed amount (10 – 20 secs) of time to solve. As more miners participate in the Ethereum network, the puzzles may be solved in a shorter time. To maintain the time it takes to validate transactions, the network makes the puzzles more difficult to solve. The difficulty time bomb is the increasing difficulty of the puzzles required for mining on the Ethereum blockchain.

As the difficulty level increases, miners will be able to create fewer blocks, and will therefore earn less Ether. This will make mining on the network less attractive and unprofitable, which would lead to an Ethereum ‘Ice Age’ where mining activities on the network are frozen. 

The difficulty time bomb was introduced into Ethereum’s code in August 2015, beginning from block 200,000. This addition to the blockchain will lead to longer processing times for solving puzzles, which in turn leads to fewer ETH rewards. The goal is to discourage miners from continuing to operate the PoW model on the old chain as the network plan is migrating to the Proof of State (POS) consensus model as part of its roadmap. 

Miners will not be allowed to continue creating blocks on the old chain once this migration happens, because it would lead to the blockchain disintegrating into two separate forks. 

Timing of Difficulty Bomb Updates

It was introduced in August 2015 and went into effect in November 2016. This caused the block resolution time to go up and increase significantly in difficulty. The initial timeline suggested that difficulty levels would ramp up within a month of the launch till the difficulty time bomb detonated i.e. stop miners from creating new blocks. 

However, there have been a number of delays to roll out the difficulty time bomb. There have been five updates since the difficulty bomb was introduced, with the last one happening in June 2022, to push back the difficulty time bomb. Ethereum developers have suggested that that upgrade known as the Gray Glacier Upgrade may be the last setback to the detonation.   

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