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Why Do Some Bitcoin Mining Pools Mine Empty Blocks?

Blocks on the Bitcoin blockchain have a maximum size of 1 MB. Proof of work difficulty is calibrated so 1 block is created every Ten minutes. It is generally accepted a miner would want to maximise the number of transactions it includes te a block spil it collects the transaction fees. Logically, with the growing popularity of Bitcoin, the average block size is getting closer to its limit.

Te this environment, it is surprising to see a number of empty blocks being mined. An empty block is not entirely empty, it has 1 transaction : the coinbase transaction which allocates the mining prize to the miner (12.Five bitcoins at the time of writing). It is significant to know, that empty blocks are not lighter, cheaper or quicker to mine than total blocks. The ratio of empty blocks varies considerably from one mining pool to the other. For example, Bitfury, BitClub Network and Kano CKPool do not mine empty blocks.

Why are there empty blocks?

When a mining pool receives a fresh block from a competitor, it needs to perform a few deeds: download the utter block, validate its transactions and define a fresh block to mine on. During this – albeit brief -interval, so spil not to waste hashing power, they commence mining a fresh block. Only the coinbase transaction is included, so the previous block does not invalidate theirs with a duplicate transaction.

This validationless mining (or SPV mining) phenomenon can be seen on the Kaiko blockchain pagina, with empty blocks being mined just after a normal block, when the mempool is far from empty.

The number of empty blocks is pulling down

The share of empty blocks has fallen across the houtvezelplaat overheen the past few months, albeit the timing has not bot fairly the same for all pools. The main theory behind this is the improvements made te the mining software, especially Bitcoin Core 0.12, which reduces the time inbetween the validation of a block mined by another pool and the mining of a fresh non empty block

Thesis improvements included (but were not limited to):

  • Improvement which permitted for pre calculation of some of the work required for a miner to validate all the transactions ter the block (rather than doing it at block creation time)
  • Relay Network configuration improvements which includes a technically simplified (and quicker) prioritisation of transactions to help miners determine which transactions to include te a block
  • Bitcoin Core GetBlockTemplate – improvement by which the individual miner requests the composition of the block to mine- optimizations. More details are available here: https://bitcoincore.org/plus/2016/02/23/release-0.12.0/

Is it bad?

The entire point of the Bitcoin network is to process transactions. Therefore, empty blocks are often criticised spil “bad behaviour” spil creating very little value for the network by accelerating disinflation and stealing from “honest” miners.

However, it can also be considered spil counter-balancing the centralisation tendency of the network: a pool which wins a block can embark mining the next block instantly since they already know which transactions were included te the block. Whereas other miners very first have to download the transactions, and then generate a fresh block which doesn’t include any of them. The capability to mine with just the header, could be considered to limit the benefits of centralisation.

Technically, it could be lightly prevented by including, for example, a hash of the current coinbase concatenated with all the previous transactions ter the block header. The latest fall ter the number of empty blocks shows that the kwestie can be contained through improvements ter the protocol which make mining empty blocks less interesting. Additionally, the gradual decrease of the block prize and the enlargened reliance on transaction fees will likely make mining empty blocks unprofitable overheen time.

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