What is Ethereum Gray Glacier? Should you be worried?

In the coming week, Ethereum developers will pass another upgrade to the mainnet. Dubbed “Gray Glacier,” the upgrade is designed to further delay the Ice Age/Difficulty Bomb by months ahead of the long-awaited Merge to the Beacon chain or the proof-of-stake (PoS) system. 

This article explains everything you need to know about the upcoming Gray Glacier upgrade and what an average user is expected to do. 

But, what is a Difficulty Bomb?

The Ethereum Difficulty Bomb has long existed on the blockchain. It was originally introduced to automatically raise the difficulty level of mining or solving proof-of-work (PoW) puzzles at a predefined block number. The end result of the Difficulty Bomb is “longer than normal block times (and thus less ETH rewards for miners),” or Ice Age, which is a situation where the network freezes and stops producing blocks.

The Difficulty Bomb was ingrained into the blockchain for a certain reason. It will disincentivize miners to stop mining on the current network – Ethereum 1.0 – after a successful transition to Ethereum 2.0. This indicates that the bomb can only be allowed to detonate if/after the Merge is completed. 

Tim Beiko, a core Ethereum developer, explained that the Difficulty Bomb also helps to curtail scam forks or spin-offs from Ethereum because it would require decent technical knowledge to remove the bomb rule from those forks – else, the bomb will eventually detonate and freeze the fork. 

“[…] this is one I think is probably way underrated – is the idea that it makes it a bit harder to create a scam fork of Ethereum. Two years or three years ago, there was, like, Bitcoin Diamond, Bitcoin Unlimited, Bitcoin Gold, all these forks of forks of forks. The reason in large part you don’t see those on Ethereum is because they require not only a one-line change – like a lot of these Bitcoin forks do – but they also require people to run the updated software,” Tim Beiko.

Most importantly, the Difficulty Bomb creates a sense of urgency for the core developers working on Ethereum 2.0. So, it acts more like a “force function” that ensure the developers are quick at decision-making so that the development doesn’t stagnate or get prolonged.

Why Gray Glacier (further delay)?

The Difficulty Bomb was expected to launch this month. However, given the Merge is yet to happen, the developers agreed to prolong the bomb with the upcoming Gray Glacier upgrade. The decision was propelled by the alert that the network was already undergoing a noticeable decline in the rate of block issuance because of the previous June 2022 schedule. 

The Gray Glacier upgrade will prolong the Difficulty of Bomb by 700,000 blocks, or roughly 100 days. It will be activated at block 15,050,000, which is expected to be on Wednesday, June 29, but it might change due to variations in block times and time zones. The update will be made on the mainnet and not the testnets since the bomb only affects the former.

Meanwhile, there are speculations that the prolongment of the Difficulty Bomb means developers are buying more time; hence, the Merge could still be months away from happening. Lately, the co-founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, said the transition could happen in August. However, a more plausible prediction is that Ethereum 2.0 could be finalized before the end of the year since Gray Glacier could be the last prolongment to the Difficulty bomb.

Should you be worried about Gray Glacier?

The Gray Glacier upgrade isn’t something for the average Ethereum holders or investors to worry about. Except told otherwise, nothing is required of the users, as crypto exchanges, wallet providers, etc., would handle the technical requirements for the upcoming mainnet upgrade.

Early today, leading crypto exchange Binance announced it would support the Gray Glacier upgrade. ETH and ERC-20 tokens transactions will be suspended starting from 09:43 (UTC) Wednesday. However, trading of the said cryptos would not be interrupted. 

Node operators and miners are required to download the latest version of the Ethereum client, Besu “22.4.3”; Erigon “2022.06.03-alpha”; go-ethereum (geth)  “Camaron (v1.10.19)”; and Nethermind “v1.13.3.”