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A user-activated soft fork (UASF) is a specific kind of divergence in a bitcoin or cryptocurrency chain. The fork leads to a lack of consensus in nodes, which may be resolved at a later point. It has interesting applications to the ongoing administration of a cryptocurrency model.
Experts in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies sometimes describe a soft fork as “backwards-compatible” or as a phenomenon where older rules can be replaced in a less strict way, with an “opt-in” for stakeholders, although at a future time, miners may be at risk of creating invalid blocks. Further, a user-activated soft fork is one that is predominantly driven by user activity, not by miners or other parties, and which miners will generally be compelled to follow.
One example of a user-activated soft fork or UASF is BIP 148, a UASF promoting the deployment of Segregated Witness or “SegWit,” a protocol that changes how digital signatures are managed in bitcoin. BIP 148 was created to find a “softer” way to implement Segregated Witness – to encourage miners to upgrade their software and use SegWit.
In general, a UASF is an example of user-driven activity to change the use of a cryptocurrency in a way that doesn’t “split” the network. Many of these kinds of changes are currently being discussed in the bitcoin community, with competing initiatives determining the value and use of bitcoin over future years.