Why is Luke Dashjr the only Bitcoiner who can assign BIP numbers?

An obscure part of Bitcoin’s upgrade process is under attack. Since 2011, Luke Dashjr has personally volunteered to vet Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIP). Bitcoin’s BIP list is a formalized ‘wish list’ of proposals to enhance Bitcoin’s security, privacy, or usability. In practice, Dashjr is the only person who may assign a BIP number.

Previously, Dashjr’s volunteer role was simply a way to streamline communications between less experienced developers and busy senior Bitcoin Core developers.

Luke Dashjr’s Bitcoin Core seniority

Over the years, Dashjr has earned respect for years of Bitcoin Core contributions, including his notable support for SegWit during Bitcoin’s Blocksize Wars. The Bitcoin network ultimately adopted SegWit in 2017 via a user-activated soft fork. 

SegWit made it possible to store more data cheaply on Bitcoin’s blockchain without technically increasing the block size. Bitcoin supporters saw it as a suitable compromise for such a contentious topic. Along the way, Dashjr became one of the most active Bitcoin developers.

Eventually, he launched several businesses, including Eligius (now OCEAN) mining pool, a lucrative enterprise.

Bitcoin Core developer Jeremy Rubin criticizes the BIP process

Now, Dashjr is facing criticism for declining to assign a BIP number to a proposal by another Bitcoin Core contributor, Casey Rodarmor. Because Dashjr’s opinion was that Ordinals is a spam protocol, he didn’t take the proposal seriously enough to even assign it a BIP number. That declination ignited enthusiastic opposition to Dashjr’s role as BIP administrator.

Critics say he’s turning into a gatekeeper who can individually block changes to Bitcoin’s code.

Jeremy Rubin, for example, recently requested that Dashjr delete his BIP — BIP 119 — altogether. Although BIP 119 is a formal proposal to activate the Operation Code CheckTemplateVerify (OP_CTV), Rubin now believes that he no longer needs a BIP number to advance OP_CTV.

Rubin is a contentious proponent of CTV, a form of on-blockchain covenants that introduce features like conditional spending of UTXOs. Most of the Bitcoin Core community, including workers at Blockstream, has rejected his efforts to activate CTV for years.

In response to a question about Rubin’s unusual deletion request — Bitcoin has rarely seen a developer argue for and then request deletion of a BIP — Rubin explained that many modern proposals for Bitcoin Core do not have a BIP number. Rubin cited other unnumbered proposals and Operation Code requests like CAT, CSFS, IKEY, Ephemeral Anchors, 64-bit arithmetic, TXHASH, Taproot Assets, and of course, Ordinals.

Read more: BIP-119: Here’s everything you need to know about the Bitcoin proposal

Luke Dashjr refused to assign Ordinals a BIP number

Quietly and subversively, Dashjr submitted a pull request that quickly became a topic of heated discussion. Dashjr’s pull request would have effectively blocked Ordinals, the popular NFT-like project by Casey Rodarmor.

Critics of that pull request said it would take away a source of revenue for miners and be tantamount to speech censorship. Bitcoin Core maintainer Ava Chow finally shut Dashjr down and didn’t incorporate his code, stating, “It’s abundantly clear that this PR [pull request] is controversial and, in its current state, has no hope of reaching a conclusion that is acceptable to everyone.”

Dashjr has been very vocal in his dislike of Ordinals and their on-blockchain Inscriptions due to their utilization of Bitcoin Taproot and Segwit discounts for cheaply inscribing large quantities of data. He previously referred to Ordinals as a ‘bug’ that needed to be fixed. In his opinion, Bitcoin was originally meant to process transactions, not JPEGs. He even went so far as to have his mining pool OCEAN filter Ordinals transactions from many of the blocks it mines.

His hardline stance against Ordinals even made him the topic of at least one April Fools’ Day deepfake.

Happy April Fools’ Day 2024.

Read more: Luke Dashjr calls Ordinals a spam ‘bug’ that should be ‘fixed’

BIP maintainer: a powerful, unpaid job

No one pays Dashjr to maintain the BIP process, assign numbers, or organize the BIP GitHub, and maintaining the repository does seem to come with its share of challenges. Dashjr has responded to his recent criticisms, saying another BIP editor quit working in January. He emphasized that he volunteers to work on BIPs without compensation.

In summary, Dashjr’s hardline stance against Ordinals seems to have made it difficult to justify his position as Bitcoin’s sole administrator of Bitcoin Improvement Proposals. His refusal to assign BIP numbers to certain proposals has many Bitcoiners asking why the review process for Bitcoin network upgrades is not more decentralized.

As his views have made him unpopular with people who have made money from Ordinals — whether NFT collectors, meme coin traders, or Bitcoin miners — there is an active discussion underway regarding changing how Bitcoin developers consider software proposals.

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