It was all a meme.
Well, Dogecoin still is a meme – just a more expensive meme. And as the price rises from the depths, Dogecoin’s historically scattered development is rising with it.
Take Dogecoin lead maintainer, Ross Nicoll, for example. His last commitment to the open-source project on Github came in October of 2019, but in the past two weeks he’s taken on a handful of new pull requests to make changes to DOGE.
As he and four other Dogecoin developers take up the keyboard in the name of the Shiba Inu-emblazoned memecoin (which is now worth over $9 billion at $0.07 a coin), they’re tasked with upgrading a software whose last major release happened nearly two years ago in June 2019.
“People say it’s a joke coin but we’re very careful to take care of the code. When it took off there was a resurgence in attention and we want to keep the currency operational,” Ross Nicoll told CoinDesk.
What is Dogecoin?
When Jackson Palmer co-created Dogecoin, he meant it as a joke, a mockery of the cryptocurrency space that he didn’t take seriously. The memecoin launched on Dec. 6, 2013. It’s based on Bitcoin’s codebase (it was forked from Litecoin) but its creators tweaked a few of Bitcoin’s key design features.
For one, Dogecoin’s inflation is significantly larger than Bitcoin’s own and it hasn’t had a supply halving since 2014. Each block contains 10,000 DOGE, so some 5.2 billion DOGE are mined each year. Dogecoin’s mining difficulty adjustment (which controls how hard or easy it is to find a block) is tweaked every block, unlike Bitcoin, which adjusts every 2,016 blocks. It is mostly “merged mined” with Litecoin, meaning miners run programs to mine both chains simultaneously.
Additionally, DOGE has faster blocks than Bitcoin (1 minute vs. 10 minutes), so transactions are faster and cheaper than Bitcoin. This comes at the cost of producing many more orphan blocks than Bitcoin – blocks that are rejected by the network and do not contribute to the longest blockchain transaction history.
Dogecoin also includes a community-donated developer fund, which currently holds just over $1,700,000 worth of DOGE. Nicoll said that the developers share access to the fund via a multisignature wallet.
Old doge, new tricks
One of the things that brought Nicoll and others back to DOGE were the “scaling problems” the team discovered. Over the past month, Dogecoin’s full node count (those running the Dogecoin source code and recording the network’s transaction history) has grown from a few hundred to some 1,300, Nicoll said. Most Dogecoin nodes, he continued, are running on the default setting that only allows outbound connections but not inbound ones.
Because Dogecoin node users are not disabling this firewall to allow incoming connections from peer nodes, the network’s topography is wonky, Nicoll explained. Hundreds of nodes only have a one-way connection to the rest of the network, and since they aren’t connecting to other nodes, some wallets are having trouble syncing.
Nicoll and his peers are tackling this problem first. They also have their hands full catching up to the seven major releases Bitcoin Core has made since Dogecoin’s development more or less stopped.
That’s because for many years Dogecoin’s technical development was copied step-for-step from Bitcoin Core, meaning the code for any new Bitcoin release was copied and adapted for Dogecoin. Since March 2014, “[Dogecoin Core] has always been based on Bitcoin,” Dogecoin developer Maximilian Keller told CoinDesk. This was a security decision that he said “has contributed significantly to the stability” of Dogecoin.
“[The Bitcoin] rebuild has gotten extensive review and testing, and ever since we have used the knowledge gained there to push out updates. Given that, I don’t see the latest release being that long ago as an issue. It has been running stable, and the rules of the network have not changed since in a way that would put it at risk.
“The Dogecoin network does not necessarily have the same challenges as Bitcoin, so it’s less of a pressing issue for us [to update regularly],” Keller said.
The technical mimesis stopped a few years back, so now there’s a gulf in development between the last minor release of Dogecoin (v.1.14.2, which came in November of 2019) and the most recent activity. (If you look at Dogecoin’s GitHub, for example, you’ll notice that all of its top 20 most popular contributors are Bitcoin Core developers).
So Dogecoin’s development group of five is “working on new versions,” primarily Dogecoin version 1.21, which will take aspects of Bitcoin Core 0.21 but will still require remolding the code to fit into Dogecoin’s design, Nicoll said.
He continued to say that it would be best to push the update within a year lest it “get to the point where Bitcoin Core is accelerating away from us.”
Is Dogecoin technically safe?
Nicoll and his compatriots are reinvolving themselves at a time when Dogecoin’s price is howling at the moon, but would they be turning their attention to it if porn stars, rappers and the world’s richest man weren’t tweeting about it?
“We’ll always prioritize security. I’m not going to say that [development] won’t slow down again, but we will always be there looking for security issues to make sure the software is kept up to date,” Nicoll said when asked if new DOGE holders should be leery of Dogecoin’s spotty development.
Looking past Dogecoin’s technical architecture (which, to be clear, does not have any gaping holes), the network’s hashrate is roughly 300 terahashes. To put this into perspective, Bitmain’s latest and most powerful miner produces over 50 terahashes at peak performance and Bitcoin’s hashrate is roughly 161 exahashes (or 161,000,000 terahashes).
But Dogecoin uses the Scrypt hashing algorithm instead of Bitcoin’s SHA-256, which is supposed to be ASIC resistant, meaning Dogecoin is meant to be mined with computer processors (CPUs) or graphics cards (GPUs), resulting in a lower hash, though ASICs like the Antminer L3+ run Skrypt.
It’s theoretically easy (compared to Bitcoin or Ethereum) to 51% attack Dogecoin to cheat its network to steal coins from others. Some back-of-the-napkin figures crunched by CoinDesk suggest that it would cost roughly $8 million to attack the Dogecoin network for a week (using Antminer L3+ ASICs).
Why hasn’t it been attacked, then? Maybe it’s because it really is too much of a joke to be worth it. Then again, maybe it’s because no one is so low as to attack a coin bearing the face of a puppy.
Update 13:17 UTC: This article has been updated to say Dogecoin’s developer fund is worth some $1,700,000, not $100,000 as originally stated.