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How does testnets (kovan, rinkeby & ropsten) get onto the latest release of Ethereum - Homestead, Metropolis (to-be) and Serenity (to-be)?

What does the process look like? In my mind, all the clients (geth, parity) in these networks will upgrade and voila! The testnets are magically upgraded.

Does it work like that?

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It is the same procedure used in mainnet:

  • Developers decide on a block number
  • Developers update clients with new consensus rules
  • When block number arrives new clients will switch to the new rules
  • Clients with old rules may follow a fork
  • Thanks! Developers decide on a block number -> is this the height? Developers update clients with new consensus rules -> by client you mean geth and parity? – Nathan Aw Apr 6 '18 at 0:10

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