Combined summary - Introducing a version field to BIP39 mnemonic phrases

Combined summary - Introducing a version field to BIP39 mnemonic phrases

The discourse within the cryptocurrency community regarding the BIP39 mnemonic phrase standard reveals efforts to evolve its capabilities while maintaining backward compatibility.

A new proposal suggests adding a version field to the mnemonic phrases, aiming to address the absence of such a feature in the current BIP39 implementation. This addition could enhance the robustness and flexibility of mnemonics, allowing for future improvements and ensuring compatibility with legacy systems.

The proposed version field includes a 24-bit general-purpose area and an 8-bit segment earmarked for the BIP39 standard version. This design seeks to preserve interoperability with existing applications and wallets that utilize BIP39, preventing potential conflicts. The versioned mnemonics would start with initial entropy akin to BIP39's methodology, followed by appending a 32-bit version field and a checksum calculated per the original protocol. These mnemonics would then be converted into word sequences using the established BIP39 wordlist.

Compatibility is at the forefront of this proposal, as systems unaware of the version extension should continue to recognize these phrases as 'Legacy' BIP39, thus retaining backwards functionality. Conversely, forward-thinking design aspects are embedded to accommodate prospective updates to the BIP39 standard. The discussion also touches on the possibility of integrating alternative methods for deriving entropy in the future, potentially moving away from the PBKDF2 key stretching algorithm currently in use.

Despite the push for evolution, there are cautions against fragmenting the ecosystem. Alternative standards like aezeed and Electrum V2 illustrate that the standard BIP39 entropy may not suffice for all applications, leading to the creation of distinct standards. However, the argument for versioned mnemonics is not intended to disrupt the core utility of BIP39 but to initiate a dialogue on how to advance without undermining its fundamental strengths.

Critics of the modification stress the importance of the original BIP39's design intent for maximum interoperability. Counterarguments highlight the risk of reduced cross-compatibility due to different implementations embracing disparate subsets of key stretching methods. Moreover, the introduction of versions encoding derivation paths is seen as potentially constraining, requiring users to manage multiple seeds for various applications, which could lead to poor backup practices.

To explore the details of the BIP39 standard and the versioned BIP39 proposal, interested parties can refer to the official Bitcoin Improvement Proposals documentation and the associated GitHub repository.

Discussion History

LeslieOriginal Post
January 10, 2024 14:28 UTC
January 13, 2024 14:12 UTC
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