Constantinople consists of five Ethereum (ETH) Improvement Proposals (EIPs), which are documents explaining a new feature or change in Ethereum’s code. EIP 145, 1234 1014, 1052 and 1283 are all various technical improvements, which make Ethereum a bit more efficient, cheaper to use and pave the way for future upgrades. EIP 1014 makes it possible to interact with Ethereum addresses that haven’t yet been created. This is important as it will be used for so-called state channels, which will (hopefully) be an important scaling solution for Ethereum, allowing certain transactions to happen on a separate blockchain.
IMO the Ethereum community should consider adopting @zcashco‘s terminology of calling things like Constantinople “network upgrades” and reserve “fork” for splits that leave 2+ viable chains. Too many people asking me lately where they can dump their non-Constantinople coins…
— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) January 10, 2019
Of course, 1234 has sparked the most discussion. There is a growing consensus among the ETH community that it should proceed as designed and will not cause a drastic split like the one that caused Ethereum Classic. The “Ice Age” feature, which makes the discovery of satisfactory hashes very difficulty, was created to incentivize miner to switch to Ethereum’s proof of stake chain.
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The upcoming upgrade, while technically a fork, will very likely be non-contentious, meaning there’s no disagreement on whether it should happen. This means Ethereum won’t split into two separate coins next Wednesday. If everything goes well — and chances are good that it will — your ether holdings will be exactly the same before and after the fork, regardless of whether your ether is located on a private wallet or an exchange.
Note that the January 16th date for the upgrade is approximate. The upgrade should happen when block 7,080,000 on the Ethereum blockchain is mined, which is currently approximately Wednesday, Jan, 16, 8pm UTC, but the exact time will shift a little as new blocks aren’t always found in the same amount of time.