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From Investopedia: “As it relates to blockchain technology, a hard fork (or sometimes hardfork) is a radical change to the protocol that makes previously invalid blocks/transactions valid (or vice-versa), and as such requires all nodes or users to upgrade to the latest version of the protocol software. Put differently, a hard fork is a permanent divergence from the previous version of the blockchain, and nodes running previous versions will no longer be accepted by the newest version. This essentially creates a fork in the blockchain, one path which follows the new, upgraded blockchain, and one path which continues along the old path.”

Additional Reading: http://www.businessinsider.com/bitcoins-hard-fork-bitcoin-unlimited-segregated-witness-explained-2017-3

Reference: Investopedia