Cardano Hard Forks: Understanding the ADA Roadmap

What are Cardano hard forks and what do they mean for ADA’s price?

Guy on a split road holding a massive fork, sees hand holding a Cardano coin.
Created by Kornelija Poderskytė from DailyCoin

Cardano Hard Forks are monumental events in the cryptocurrency calendar that aim to reinvent and improve the Cardano blockchain. Every hard fork has brought new life and utility to Charles Hoskinson’s crypto network, from enhancing decentralization to enabling smart contracts.

Against the fierce competition from Web3 rivals like Ethereum (ETH) and Solana (SOL), how do these Cardano network upgrades help ADA thrive?

Let’s explore the history of Cardano’s hard forks and development eras to envision the future that IOHK (Input Output Global) has promised the Cardano community.

What Are Cardano Hard Forks?

Before diving into the nuts and bolts of Cardano’s mainnet history, let’s have a quick primer on hard forks. 


In crypto-speak, a hard fork is essentially a network upgrade that splits an existing network into two diverging paths. 

While one chain follows the old rules, a newer fork dances to a slightly different rhythm and implements improved blockchain architecture and operational rules.


Cardano’s hard forks are harmonious transitions, aiming to infuse the network with new functionalities, greater scalability, and to further decentralize the network.

These changes help Cardano fulfill its quest to craft a blockchain ecosystem that is robust, secure, versatile, and adaptable, capable of meeting the diverse and evolving demands of the decentralized world. 

Cardano Blockchain Eras and Key Events

Cardano hard forks roadmap.
Source: Cardano

It wouldn’t be a cryptocurrency roadmap without trendy names that spark imagination and creativity. Drawing on its academic origins, Cardano’s development eras are generally named after famous mathematicians and historical figures.

1. Byron

Byron was characterized by a singular focus on building a secure and robust platform, a fortress of technology where the principles of blockchain could thrive and evolve. It began in 2015, with founders and early Cardano developers trying to find unique ways to solve the blockchain trilemma.

It was the era where the fundamental building blocks were laid, the network was introduced to its first users, and the Cardano community began to take shape. The network was launched in 2017 alongside the first Cardano Wallet apps, Daedalus and Yoroi.

The Byron era also introduced the first installment of Ouroboros, Cardano’s iconic proof-of-stake consensus mechanism. In these early stages, the network couldn’t provide any true utility other than buying and selling ADA.

During the Byron era, Cardano operated under a federated model, with a select group of nodes maintaining the network. It was a necessary starting point, a controlled environment where the stability and security of the blockchain platform could be ensured and where the groundwork for future decentralization could be established.

2. Shelly

Shelly was a key turning point in Cardano’s history, marking a transition from the foundational stability of Byron to a landscape where stakeholders could participate in the network’s operation. 

During this era, staking and delegation were introduced, allowing ADA holders to earn rewards by contributing to the network’s security and consensus.

The Shelly era was focused on decentralizing the Cardano network. Community members were encouraged and incentivized to create independent staking pools that helped to distribute network architecture and set a foundation for future governance models. 

This period also hosted one of the key network upgrades that set Cardano’s future DeFi ecosystem in motion, the Mary hard fork.

Mary Hard Fork

With many emerging crypto projects wanting to build on the ecosystem, the network desperately needed to address the growing demand for personalized and customizable digital assets.

Completed on March 1st, 2021, the Mary Hard Fork was a creative awakening that allowed users to mint their own tokens and craft unique digital assets on the Cardano blockchain. ADA reacted positively to the update, with prices surging from around $0.30 USD to over $1 in anticipation of the fork.

While the network still didn’t support smart contract development, native ecosystem tokens could be created and transferred from wallet to wallet.

3. Goguen

With the dawn of the Goguen era, Cardano’s excitement and anticipation reached its climax. After years of development and the relentless teasing and ‘Ghost Chain’ quips from its rivals, the network would finally be getting smart contracts and rolling out Cardano dApps.

This success was mostly due to the development and rollout of Plutus, a dedicated programming language designed specifically for Cardano’s smart contracts. A good example is the balancing contract that maintains the value of DJED, Cardano’s algorithmic stablecoin.

Djed site landing page.
Source: DJED

The Goguen era promised a playground for developers and visionaries to craft, experiment, and reshape Cardano’s image. The introduction of smart contracts was a game-changer, enabling the creation of dApps and growing a vibrant ecosystem.

Goguen witnessed the birth of DeFi platforms, Cardano NFTs, and renewed life in the on-chain world. Like the Renaissance, this period was about breaking boundaries, exploring uncharted territories, and redefining what was possible on the Cardano blockchain.

Alonzo Hard Fork

If there was ever a sell-the-news event in Cardano’s long history, the Alonzo hard fork was it. This upgrade, a significant chapter within the Goguen era, marked the much-anticipated arrival of smart contract capabilities, unlocking a new realm of opportunities and applications on the Cardano platform.

The Alonzo hard fork was the critical event that transitioned Cardano from a basic blockchain for sending and receiving assets, like Bitcoin (BTC), to a capable smart contract platform with the power to reinvent financial applications. The fork was completed on the 12th of September, 2021.

The lead-up to this particular Cardano hard fork pushed euphoria, excitement, and ADA price to new all-time highs. The resulting sell-off was brutal, with token liquidity and ADA plunging ever since.

4. Basho

Next up is the Basho era. This period symbolizes a journey towards optimization and scalability. The network was well-decentralized and smart contract compatible, but its performance paled in the face of its competitors.

The Basho era brought discussions around the implementation of Hydra, Cardano’s Layer 2 scaling solution. Designed to improve network speeds and transaction throughput, these additions will help Cardano reach its potential.

One of the fundamental events of the Basho era was yet another Cardano hard fork, Vasil.

Cardano Vasil Hard Fork

One of the most hotly discussed upgrades in recent memory, the Vasil hard fork helped make the Cardano network infinitely more accessible. Named after Vasil Dabov, a passionate Cardano community member, the Vasil hard fork acted upon several CIPs (Cardano Improvement Proposals) and diffusion pipelining.

  • CIP-31 (Reference Inputs)
  • CIP-32 (Inline Datums)
  • CIP-33 (Reference Scripts)
  • CIP-40 (Collateral Outputs)

Essentially, the Vasil upgrade helped to increase Cardano’s block size, allowing the network to squeeze more transactions into a single block. It also simplified the process of creating dApps of the network and catalyzed the rapid growth of platforms and protocols within Cardano’s ecosystem. This hard fork was the most recent improvement to the Cardano network, completed on the 22nd of September, 2022.

5. Voltaire

The stage is now set for the final era in Cardano’s evolution. The network was born in Byron, decentralized in Shelley, developed in Goguen, and scaled in Basho. The last piece of the puzzle is the Voltaire era.

Voltaire represents decentralized governance, the very ethos of blockchain technology. Under Voltaire, any Cardano community member can submit Cardano Improvement Proposals that ADA holders can support or deny, as seen during the Vasil hard fork.

On top of that, The Voltaire era will also introduce a Cardano treasury that will be used to fund future development. IOHK will step aside from its longstanding management role, and Cardano will finally become the truly decentralized network it always promised to be.

Cardano Hard Fork Pros and Cons

Cardano’s long and profound history of development eras and hard forks is packed with boons of positivity and pits of frustration and disappointment. Let’s look into the pros and cons of Cardano hard forks.


  • Innovation and Functionality – Each hard fork introduces new functionalities and features, enhancing the Cardano blockchain’s versatility and adaptability.
  • Community Empowerment – Hard forks provide the community with a voice, enabling ADA holders to actively participate in shaping the future of the Cardano ecosystem.
  • Generates Interest and Discussion – Each hard fork brings renewed excitement and debate to the Cardano blockchain and its vision.


  • Slow Development – Cardano’s pace of development is notoriously slow, with blockchain users and ADA holders often feeling frustrated with the lack of progress.
  • Potential Issues – Introducing network hard forks can bring unforeseen issues and vulnerabilities, requiring meticulous testing and validation.
  • Incomplete Forks – Cardano hard forks aren’t necessarily a light switch to a better network. For example, it took several months for smart contracts to become usable and commonplace after the Alonzo hard fork. 

On The Flipside

  • Despite all its success and growth, Cardano struggles to compete with rival networks like Ethereum and Solana in terms of TVL and usage statistics.

Why This Matters

Cardano is one of the cryptocurrency industry’s most popular Layer 1 networks. Dare I say it, the network represents everything that a blockchain should be, namely scalable, decentralized, and secure. Learning about key hard forks in Cardano’s history will give you a better understanding of the network.


What is the hard fork of Cardano?

A Cardano hard fork is an event where the existing blockchain splits in two, with the new chain following updated and improved rules and architecture.

Who is the Vasil hard fork named after?

The Vasil hard fork was named after Vasil Dabov, a mathematician and Cardano community member from Bulgaria.

Can Cardano reach $100?

If Cardano reached $100 USD, ADA would have a market cap of $3.5 Trillion. This is unlikely, given that it would make ADA larger than the market capitalization of the entire cryptocurrency market.

This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered trading or investment advice. Nothing herein shall be construed as financial, legal, or tax advice. Trading forex, cryptocurrencies, and CFDs pose a considerable risk of loss.

Finn Miller

Finn Miller is a New Zealand-based blockchain writer for DailyCoin who specializes in simplifying complex blockchain topics. He is experienced in crafting whitepapers, researching on-chain data, and advising emerging crypto projects, and uses his unconventional approach to learning and passion for knowledge to provide cornerstone educational content for readers of all levels. When not exploring the depths of DeFi, Finn can be found exploring his other passion, the great outdoors.