Bitcoin’s top developer and Lead Maintainer, Wladimir van der Laan, has confirmed that he’s retiring. Van der Laan is the second successor to Satoshi Nakamoto and is one of the few people in the world with final commit access to Bitcoin Core’s GitHub.
Nakamoto held this administrative key, which was passed to Gavin Andresen, and then to van der Laan. Van der Laan took the reins eight years ago when Andresen, who learned how to maintain Bitcoin’s code directly from Nakamoto, stopped working on the project.
Bitcoin’s longest-serving Lead Maintainer
Van der Laan has maintained Bitcoin’s repository for even longer than Nakamoto but indicated in January last year that he planned to start phasing out his involvement.
In a blog post, he cited “bizarre” arguments on social media and other interests that he’d like to pursue, while also expressing concerns about being a centralized bottleneck for Bitcoin’s development.
Bitcoin developers are essentially volunteer workers. A few receive charitable donations from other wealthy Bitcoiners or companies to subsidize their labor. Even with these donations, most developers are underpaid relative to similarly skilled developers working in other industries.
Van der Laan pointed out that criticism for years-old mistakes was one reason he tired of his profession. Despite his fatigue, he categorically denied rumors that he’d become involved in any other crypto coin projects.
Van der Laan’s career accomplishments
Gavin Andresen nominated van der Laan to become Bitcoin’s Lead Maintainer when he stepped down in April 2014.
Since then, van der Laan has been involved in the day-to-day maintenance of all aspects of Bitcoin’s development. It’s impossible to summarize everything he accomplished during eight years of code review, upgrades, bug fixes, dispute arbitration, and software maintenance.
One example of the work he carried out was prioritizing splitting the Bitcoin-QT wallet away from the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) core code, and speeding up syncing the Bitcoin-QT wallet with the rest of the network. He also planned to create deterministic addresses and improve Bitcoin’s documentation.
More recently, he floated the possibility of switching ownership of Bitcoincore.org to an organization rather than a single owner. He also mentioned encouraging others to set up mirrors for Bitcoin Core’s software. He wants Bitcoin to decentralize away from Bitcoincore.org, one of the few places people download the latest version of Bitcoin’s software.
In 2020 he oversaw a Twitter spat over variable naming conventions in Bitcoin Core’s code that nearly led to him departing as Lead Maintainer.
Craig Wright harassed and sued van der Laan
Van der Laan has also been subjected to a lawsuit from the litigious self-proclaimed creator of Bitcoin, Australian computer scientist Craig Wright. In various courts around the world, Wright has repeatedly falsified documents and even reportedly perjured himself in the presence of a judge.
Funded by billionaire and Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision (BSV) promoter Calvin Ayre, Wright has a long history of using his fortune to harass Bitcoiners in court. Wright once named van der Laan as a defendant in a lawsuit that claimed ownership of Nakamoto’s whitepaper.
Despite years of claims to be Nakamoto, Wright has never publicly signed a transaction from one of Nakamoto’s wallets. Moreover, Ayre and Wright’s fork of Bitcoin, BSV, is worth just 0.3% of Bitcoin.
Wright sent legal notices to several websites demanding they take Bitcoin’s whitepaper down but many government officials opted to defy his harassment, hosting the paper on governmental domains. Bitcoincore.org briefly took the whitepaper down, leading to heavy criticism of van der Laan. Other websites like Bitcoin.org remained defiant in the face of Wright’s demands.
He hopes Bitcoin will become even more decentralized
Van der Laan has not named any direct successors, instead hoping that his departure will help Bitcoin become more decentralized. His ultimate hope is that Bitcoin will decentralize Satoshi’s GitHub commit access key to such an extent that Bitcoin no longer needs an official Lead Maintainer.
Van der Laan blogged that he planned to delegate most of his duties. He indicated a willingness to take on a background role leading to retirement, responding only in the event of an emergency.
Commenters like Eric Wall blamed bitcoin maximalists — often called “maxis” — for driving van der Laan out of his job by making maintaining Bitcoin “not super-fun anymore.” Many digital asset community members have long called Bitcoin maximalists toxic. Van der Laan responded to Wall’s claim, saying he is not retiring for any single reason.
Last year, van der Laan outlined a possible plan for what might happen after his departure. His plan included the possibility of decentralizing development duties, moving away from reliance on GitHub to host the code, and finding someone else to send release candidate mails to the official email lists for Bitcoin developers, bitcoin-dev and bitcoin-core-dev. The Bitcoin community has repeatedly thanked him for his eight years of service as Bitcoin’s Lead Maintainer.