The Debate on Renumbering Inscriptions: Code & Culture

The Debate on Renumbering Inscriptions: Code & Culture

The Evolution of Blockchain: Insights into Ordinals and the Debate over Inscription Numbering

The blockchain industry has come a long way since the early days of Bitcoin. However, it is important to remember that even visionaries and pioneers in this field were not infallible. Early oversights and unresolved disagreements resulted in cumbersome idiosyncrasies that define our sacred blockchain today.

If you want to get a taste of what it was like in the early days of Bitcoin, you should join the discussion in Ordinals land, where they are speedrunning Bitcoin Consensus. Ordinal Theory is a concept that describes how to serialize and track satoshis, the smallest unit of Bitcoin. These serialized satoshis, called “ordinals,” are associated with chunks of data called “inscriptions,” creating a form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the Bitcoin blockchain.

The concept of Ordinals started as a passion project but quickly gained popularity, leading to the discovery of bugs and idiosyncrasies in the client implementation. One notable idiosyncrasy is the numbering of inscriptions, which initially served as a way to track and count them. However, this numbering system has created undesirable consequences and hampered further protocol development.

The debate in Ordinals land revolves around whether to maintain or change the current numbering of inscriptions. This discussion goes beyond just numbering; it is one of the first real community discussions over protocol decisions. It raises broader questions about how protocols are defined and how we define an “inscription.”

To understand the debate fully, it is important to clarify some key terms:

  • Ordinal: A serialized satoshi
  • Ordinal number: The number given to an ordinal
  • Inscription ID: The ID given to an inscription, derived from the transaction it’s created in
  • Inscription number: The number given to an inscription based on its order of recognizance by the ord client (this is what the debate is over)

Casey Rodarmor, the creator of Ordinals, recently expressed concerns about maintaining inscription numbering and the challenges it poses for future development. Their blog post sparked the first major debate in Ordinals land. The debate also highlights the need for a more structured decision-making process regarding protocol changes.

So, how did we get here?

Casey initially announced that their ord client was “ready for mainnet” in January 2023. Ordinals and inscriptions went viral shortly after, spawning a vibrant ecosystem practically overnight. However, the rapid growth revealed technical issues with the ord client.

Some inscriptions were not being recognized by the ord client, resulting in missed inscriptions that went into Bitcoin blocks but were not displayed on the frontend. The rules of the protocol had to be intuited from how the ord client worked, as very little technical discussion took place due to the emergence of a new Bitcoin culture driven by NFT collectors and enthusiasts.

As inscription activity heated up, approached Inscription #10,000, which became a significant milestone for collectors. The cultural significance of inscription numbering became apparent, and it garnered widespread attention. Casey received interview requests, while the legacy Bitcoin community observed the emergence of this new beast with a mix of criticism and curiosity.

The issue of missing inscriptions came up, and Casey proposed a solution called “Cursed” inscriptions. These were inscriptions that were not recognized or parsed correctly by the ord client. The proposal suggested giving cursed inscriptions negative numbers and later “blessing” them by recognizing them in the ord client and assigning them numbers.

While there are four identified types of curses, it is uncertain whether more curses will be discovered in the future. Committing to preserving inscription numbers would require ongoing coordination and potentially introduce unnecessary complexity into the protocol.

The debate over inscription numbering is not limited to technical considerations; it also affects collectors and collections. Collectors cherish the inscription numbers, and any changes to numbering are met with resistance. However, compromises and middle-ground solutions could reduce historical numbering changes while providing a more flexible path forward.

Metaprotocols built on top of ord also raise concerns about the impact of inscription numbering changes. While it may create challenges, it is not advisable for a nascent protocol to make suboptimal design decisions solely to avoid confusion for metaprotocols.

Moving forward, the discussion should focus on protocol definition and governance. Achieving consensus on core aspects of Ordinal Theory, inscription IDs, and the valid ord envelope definition will provide a strong foundation. The protocol should be designed for diverse functionality, anticipating future use cases beyond collectibles.

Overall, the community has handled this debate well, displaying a level of maturity compared to past controversies in the blockchain space. Despite some spats, productive paths forward are emerging. Proposals for an Ordinals Improvement Process (OIPS) indicate a desire for governance discussions and a structured decision-making framework.

The blockchain industry has come a long way, and the Ordinals debate is a testament to how the community has evolved. By engaging in thoughtful discussions and finding reasonable compromises, the industry can continue to thrive and lay the groundwork for the future.

This guest post by Charlie Spears sheds light on the ongoing debate over inscription numbering in Ordinals. It provides insights into the technical challenges, cultural significance, and potential compromises that can ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of the protocol.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of Charlie Spears and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

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