Creating a digital currency such as bitcoin can be likened to baking a cake. Before you bake your cake, you have to first find a recipe and as long as you follow the instructions in the recipe, you will always get the same cake; Regardless of who backed the cake. A slight change in the recipe will produce an entirely different cake.
Similarly, bitcoin wallets are like cakes; you can only use a digital currency such as bitcoin if you have a bitcoin wallet. It operates by a set of rules that are like recipes and people are able to send themselves bitcoin, even if their bitcoin wallets were created by different companies or were created using different programming languages. That’s because all of these bitcoin wallets use the same rules.
How does the digital currency fork work?
If Alice tried to change the recipe in her bitcoin wallet without getting Bob to change the rules too, then both wallets would not be compatible with each other. By changing the rules in her wallet, Alice has created a fork of bitcoin.
Digital currencies such as bitcoin are called open source because everyone who uses these currencies, can see the recipe and everyone is free to modify to create a new fork.
Bitcoin is forked many times every day (to make it’s recipe work better). Since there is generally broad consensus among the bitcoin wallet developers, you probably never hear about these forks because the wallet service you use automatically upgrades its recipe to use the latest fork and there is always just one bitcoin.
Sometimes there is a disagreement about what direction bitcoin’s recipe should take and when this happens, you end up with two different flavours of bitcoin. It’s always the contentious forks that make it to the news.
Was this cake analogy helpful in helping you understand what a fork is?
Please leave a comment to let me know. If you have a better analogy, please leave to comment to share that too. If this analogy wasn’t helpful, I have another blog post explaining a fork in different words