A brief discussion on Bitcoin’s new proposal “OP_CAT”: What impact will it have on the subsequent market evolution of th

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Original author: Haotian (X: @tmel0211 )

A brief discussion on Bitcoin’s new proposal “OP_CAT”: What impact will it have on the subsequent market evolution of th

What do you think of the recently hotly debated Bitcoin proposal OP_CAT? Although it has not yet been officially merged into the Bitcoin Core code, it has already sparked widespread discussion in the BTC community. So, what problem does the OP_CAT opcode solve? If it is introduced, what improvements will it bring to BTCs programmability? What impact will it have on the subsequent market evolution of the BTC ecosystem? Next, let me briefly talk about my understanding:

1) OP_CAT is a brand new opcode proposal, which is jokingly called by developers as being in a quantum entanglement superposition state of BIP 420 and BIP 347. The specific EIP is not important. It is enough to understand that this is just a proposal that is still under discussion and has not been officially included.

In short, OP_CAT can realize the combined connection processing of multiple UTXO unlocking script byte strings, which can improve the programmability, program scalability and on-chain verification computational complexity of the BTC mainnet.

2) Similar to the Covenant contract as a Bitcoin script extension proposal, OP_CAT also aims to improve the extensibility of Bitcoin scripts. The difference is that Covenant aims to make Bitcoin transactions more programmable to support complex smart contracts and application scenarios.

In comparison, OP_CAT is easier to implement, and its goal is to simplify the construction and execution of complex scripts to improve the efficiency of on-chain verification. In simple terms: OP_CAT provides the ability to combine script fragments. Before its introduction, each UTXO script was executed independently. With OP_CAT, we can split a complex execution logic into a series of combined simple script fragments, which are stored in different UTXOs and created by different transactions. When full execution is required, the full node uses the OP_CAT instruction to splice these script fragments in order for execution triggering.

3) With this combination capability, in theory, many complex execution logics can appear on Bitcoin: for example,

1. Multi-signature plus time lock, which can set more complex execution unlocking conditions across multiple entities, multiple UTXOs and time locks;

2. Recursion and looping can allow multiple script byte strings to form recursion and conditional execution, and loop until a certain termination condition is met;

3. Modular application: common script logic can be extracted and reused in multiple program execution fragments.

Alice transfers the money held on platform C to Bob, and the three parties must sign at the same time. If the signing time of platform C exceeds, Alice and Bob can sign together to retrieve the funds; if Bob does not sign to obtain the transfer for a long time, Alice can withdraw the transaction; if Bob thinks that there is a problem with the source of Alices funds, he can refuse to accept it, etc. This is just a simple example. In fact, more complex and granular control can be achieved by combining script fragments;

4) Previously, BitVM performed complex operations off-chain and only implemented key verification and settlement on-chain, which inspired people’s imagination of BTC’s programmability and Turing-complete computing. The “recursive” combination execution of OP_CAT on the BTC mainnet is another supplement to imagination, and OP_CAT is of great benefit to accelerating the implementation of BitVM and reducing the cost of on-chain verification.

How to understand it? Originally, in order to execute BitVM, it was necessary to encapsulate the off-chain program into independent script fragments that can be executed by a single UTXO. The off-chain construction cost is relatively high. If these fragments are executed on the chain, a more complex TaprootTree structure will be required, which means that the cost of on-chain interactive verification will be relatively high after a BitVM program is executed. When OP_CAT is introduced, the off-chain encapsulated fragments of BitVM do not need to be fully and independently executed. The chain can summarize and update the status after the UTXO unlocking conditions accumulate to a certain level. Obviously, the combination of script fragments can greatly reduce the number and cost of on-chain verification interactions.

In short, the hot discussion about OP_CAT reflects everyone’s expectation for further enhancing the programmability of Bitcoin. If it is truly implemented, it will catalyze the implementation of BitVM, the security improvement of various BTC layer 2 cross-chain asset solutions, the ecological expansion of UTXO isomorphic binding chains and the synchronous development of the main network, and even the progress of potential scalable markets such as the Lightning Network and RGB client verification.

In theory, any improvement in BTC’s programmability will have an immediate stimulating effect on its extended ecosystem. After all, everyone is trying to build an oasis in the desert. If one day the sand turns into a concrete floor, wouldn’t it be much easier to build a building?

But will it be truly merged? Think about the Covenant proposal that has been proposed for many years but has not been adopted. It is also good to use the new OP_CAT proposal to fill in some market imagination space.

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