Since its launch in 2009, Bitcoin has now generated more than 400 altcoin offshoots. Data from MapOfCoins shows that the world’s first cryptocurrency has now had 436 forks since going live over 11 years ago.
Despite its many derivatives, Bitcoin remains the undisputed market champion, controlling anything from 58 to 79 percent of the cryptocurrency market at any given time.
In the intervening 11 years, there have been sustained bear markets and contentious hard forks, but thus far there has only been one competitor that has even briefly threatened to give Bitcoin a run for its money.
Bitcoin’s First Forks
Two years after Bitcoin went live, a hard fork called Namecoin hit the scene, marking the first of a flurry of hard forks.
Unlike Bitcoin, which existed to decentralize money, Namecoin existed primarily to decentralize identity management. Despite the divergence in purpose and use case, the relative success of Namecoin marked the first of Bitcoin’s numerous metaphorical children and grandchildren.
Shortly after Namecoin came Litecoin, whose key utility was to speed up Bitcoin transactions. To this day, Litecoin remains one of the most successful cryptocurrencies of all time and has earned a reputation as the ‘silver’ to Bitcoin’s ‘gold.’ It currently has a market capitalization of $2.8 billion and ranks ninth on CoinMarketCap’s crypto rankings.
Litecoin itself grew out of a now-defunct Bitcoin fork known as Tenebrix, making it a genealogical grandchild of Bitcoin in the crypto family tree. Following Litecoin’s success came dozens of Bitcoin hard forks, each one promising to offer unique utility, to varying degrees of success.
The Fork Wars
In August 2017, Bitcoin faced its first proper existential challenge following a split within the Bitcoin developer community over block size. Faced with long transaction times due to small block sizes, two schools of thought emerged and divided into two camps known as ‘Bitcoin Core’ and ‘Bitcoin Cash.’
The Bitcoin Core group favored a solution known as Segregated Witness (SegWit), which would divide certain transaction data to save space and thus speed up transactions. The Bitcoin Cash group favored larger block sizes to enable more transactions per block.
Both groups eventually failed to reach a compromise, leading to a hard fork that created Bitcoin Cash trading under the ticker BCH.
In September 2018, BCH then went through its own dramatic, bitterly fought hard fork, again over block sizes. This resulted in a new ‘grandchild’ called Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision (SV), trading under the ticker BSV.