Ordinals and the great BIP debate

Feb 09, 2024

Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs) are the basis for changing Bitcoin, with each BIP given a formal number to keep track of various ideas within the Bitcoin community. Oddly, the most important change to Bitcoin in the last few years, Ordinals, has yet to recieve a BIP number. Enter the Great BIP Debate. 

Generally speaking, all BIPs are used to propose changes to Bitcoin’s community standards, consensus layer, development process or other aspects of the network. This in fact casts a fairly wide net for what should be a BIP. From the Bitcoin Core repository’s README on BIPs, core contributors have noted: 

“We are fairly liberal with approving BIPs, and try not to be too involved in decision making on behalf of the community. The exception is in very rare cases of dispute resolution when a decision is contentious and cannot be agreed upon. In those cases, the conservative option will always be preferred.”

The Ordinal BIP has proven to be the rare exception.The conversation started in January 2023, with its creator, Casey Rodarmor, noting, “[…]it seemed appropriate to request a BIP number […]. I’ve never applied for a BIP number before, so definitely let me know if anything should be changed or can be improved!” 

Multiple Bitcoin developers have spoken on the issue:

  • Kalle Alm said he thought it qualifies for a BIP, but then said he spoke too quickly and wanted to consider it more. 
  • Andrew Poelstra replied: “BIPs are not just about layer 1 protocols.”
  • Michael Folkson agreed, adding: “[…] if the author wants a BIP I don’t see a reason to prevent this.”

Surprisingly, outspoken Ordinals critic Luke-jr, CTO of Ocean Mining, assented, replying, “[It] seems within scope to me, even if ultimately rejected by the community.” 

Months later the issue was still not resolved. In August 2023, Rodarmor replied to the original asking for further guidance: “Would the BIP editors mind commenting with what’s needed to get this BIP over the line?” A few notes were suggested.

In early December, a seemingly impatient supporter noted: “Inscriptions are a globle [sic] movement and has 3B USD market created aside bitcoin. And this BIP is still pending. Dev should do something.” 

The final comment in the thread comes from Taproot Wizards co-founder Udi Wertheimer, who said: “ACK, good BIP.” Never missing an opportunity to inject some humor, Wertheimer also wrote, “Casey, please add Jimmy Song as a co-author. He invented ordinals in 2017.” This joke was referring to a May 2017 tweet from Song. 

Today, the Ordinals BIP request has still not been assigned a number. Does it deserve one? That’s the million-inscription question.

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