Lightning Network Inches Forward, With Caution, on Bitcoin Mainnet
In a move to showcase the scaling solution for Bitcoin, Blockstream, the influential outfit that houses many of the core Bitcoin developers, pushed forward with an online store testing payments on the highly awaited Lightning Network. Many are heralding the move as a step forward in bug testing the scaling protocol in real-time but the stride doesn't come without caution. We reach out to the Lightning Network development teams.
Three Bitcoin development teams, Blockstream, Lightning Labs, and Acinq, have been working on a scaling solution for Bitcoin – the Lightning Network (LN) – a scalable off-chain instant payment protocol that was first proposed over two years ago. The development teams announced in a joint statement and demonstration that they had released the 1.0 spec for Lightning in December of last year. The test confirmed the interoperability of each teams own Lightning implementation – Blockstream’s c-lightning, Lightning Labs lnd, and Acinq Eclair – on the Bitcoin mainnet.
It didn’t take long for a zealous open-source Bitcoin community to begin accepting payments using the Lightning Network on the mainnet, albeit the risks of a buggy platform. TorGuard, an anonymous VPN service announced at the start of the year that they had begun accepting payments on the Lightning Network. The announcement came with a disclaimer – “c-lightning is not production ready. TorGuard will cover loss of funds when sending us LN payments.”
And last week Blockstream announced that they too had opened up an online store accepting Lightning payments on the Bitcoin mainnet. But not without caution also – “This store is for testing and demonstration purposes only. Lightning is still very new and contains known and unknown bugs. In particular, be warned: You may lose funds!”
An announcement of the store on Twitter caused mixed emotions. Elizabeth Stark, Co-founder and CEO of Lightning Labs, said “bug testing should be on testnet, not mainnet.” Ms Stark said that this was a “bad move” by Blockstream.
Ms Starks concerns were acknowledged by Blockstream Lightning Developer Rusty Russell who told Diar that “Elizabeth is right: there are numerous safety guards we all want to have before we see widespread use. But people have found their own way to mainnet already, and I'd rather make a prominent announcement so our cautions are heard before it gets out of hand.”
Mr Russell continued saying that “Lightning Charge is vital for the health of bitcoin. The norm for websites accepting Bitcoin on-chain payments has been to use an intermediary: that is not peer-to-peer cash (see story below). To change that we need to spread the word, and a mainnet test site achieved that in a way testnet wouldn't. And of course, the extra experience we gain hastens the day when we can all benefit from a battle-tested Lightning stack.”
Slow and Steady Wins the Race?
Acinq CEO Pierre-Marie Padiou was of similar mind. He told Diar that “the logical next step was to release and/or encourage use of mainnet versions of our respective software. Each team is responsible for its decision, keeping in mind that user's fund are at stake, as well as the reputation of the Lightning Network as a whole.
We congratulate Blockstream for their announcement, and we think the process of building and using their software is sufficiently involved to only be accessible to users who know what they are doing."
While congratulatory on the step Blockstream took, Acinq is treading more lightly – "releasing a mainnet version of eclair-wallet (our mobile app) would be a much tougher decision to make, because it would immediately be used by thousands of potentially less-experienced users.
Overall, we believe that a conservative and slow approach is the way to go for developing software of this kind, and that we should collectively take a great care not to damage the brand we all contributed to build during the last few years.”
But.....So Far, So Good
TorGuard founder Ben Van Pelt told Diar that there haven’t been any hiccups – “So far we have not lost any funds from the test and we were able to successfully withdraw a small amount. At this time no customers lost any funds during payment so there has been no need to issue any refunds. However, it should be noted that sending LN payments over mainnet is still very risky and only recommended for experienced users.”
And in grand Bitcoin support style, TorGuard plans on keeping their “Lightning Network node up permanently to help support the network.”
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