You’ve probably been hearing a lot about it lately, in the news, on social media feeds, your family and friends, everyone is talking about it even if it’s the skeptic, literally, everyone! But, Bitcoin, what is it?
Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency, a worldwide payment system and the first decentralized digital currency. It works with no central repository or administrator, but rather, peer-to-peer transactions taking place between users directly using cryptography, verified by network nodes then recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain which was invented by an unknown person/s under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open source software in 2009.
Through a process know as mining, bitcoins are created. Essentially, it’s the process of “mining” for answers to impossibly complicated mathematical problems that earns a value from the effort. Bitcoins are an asset, not being attached to a companies performance or the worlds economy. Bitcoin isn’t reliant on size, quality, or location!
The unit of account of the bitcoin system is bitcoin. As of 2014, tickers used to represent bitcoin are BTC and XBT. Its Unicode character is ₿. Small amounts of bitcoin used as alternative units are millibitcoin (mBTC) and satoshi. Named in homage to bitcoin’s creator, a satoshi is the smallest amount within bitcoin representing 0.00000001 bitcoin, one hundred millionth of a bitcoin. A millibitcoin equals 0.001 bitcoin, one thousandth of a bitcoin or 100,000 satoshis.
On 18 August 2008, the domain name “bitcoin.org” was registered. In November that year, a link to a paper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was posted to a cryptography mailing list. Nakamoto implemented the bitcoin software as open source code and released it in January 2009. The identity of Nakamoto remains unknown.
In January 2009, the bitcoin network came into existence after Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first ever block on the chain, known as the genesis block, for a reward of 50 bitcoins. Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the following text:
The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.
This note has been interpreted as both a timestamp of the genesis date and a derisive comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.
One of the first supporters, adopters, and contributors to bitcoin was the receiver of the first bitcoin transaction, programmer Hal Finney. Finney downloaded the bitcoin software the day it was released, and received 10 bitcoins from Nakamoto in the world’s first bitcoin transaction. Other early supporters were Wei Dai, creator of bitcoin predecessor b-money, and Nick Szabo, creator of bitcoin predecessor bit gold.
In the early days, Nakamoto is estimated to have mined 1 million bitcoins. In 2010, Nakamoto handed the network alert key and control of the Bitcoin Core code repository over to Gavin Andresen, who later became lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation. Nakamoto subsequently disappeared from any involvement in bitcoin. Andresen stated he then sought to decentralize control, saying: “As soon as Satoshi stepped back and threw the project onto my shoulders, one of the first things I did was try to decentralize that. So, if I get hit by a bus, it would be clear that the project would go on.” This left opportunity for controversy to develop over the future development path of bitcoin.
The value of the first bitcoin transactions were negotiated by individuals on the bitcointalk forums with one notable transaction of 10,000 BTC used to indirectly purchase two pizzas delivered by Papa John’s.
On 6 August 2010, a major vulnerability in the bitcoin protocol was spotted. Transactions were not properly verified before they were included in the blockchain, which let users bypass bitcoin’s economic restrictions and create an indefinite number of bitcoins. On 15 August, the vulnerability was exploited; over 184 billion bitcoins were generated in a single transaction, and sent to two addresses on the network. Within hours, the transaction was spotted and erased from the transaction log after the bug was fixed and the network forked to an updated version of the bitcoin protocol.
The blockchain is a public ledger that records bitcoin transactions. A novel solution accomplishes this without any trusted central authority: the maintenance of the blockchain is performed by a network of communicating nodes running bitcoin software. Transactions of the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to this network using readily available software applications. Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. The blockchain is a distributed database – to achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership of any and every bitcoin amount, each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain. Approximately six times per hour, a new group of accepted transactions, a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin amount has been spent, which is necessary in order to prevent double-spending in an environment without central oversight. Whereas a conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.
Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language. Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain. The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer. Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.
In the blockchain, bitcoins are registered to bitcoin addresses. Creating a bitcoin address is nothing more than picking a random valid private key and computing the corresponding bitcoin address. This computation can be done in a split second. But the reverse (computing the private key of a given bitcoin address) is mathematically unfeasible and so users can tell others and make public a bitcoin address without compromising its corresponding private key. Moreover, the number of valid private keys is so vast that it is extremely unlikely someone will compute a key-pair that is already in use and has funds. The vast number of valid private keys makes it unfeasible that brute force could be used for that. To be able to spend the bitcoins, the owner must know the corresponding private key and digitally sign the transaction. The network verifies the signature using the public key.
If the private key is lost, the bitcoin network will not recognize any other evidence of ownership; the coins are then unusable, and effectively lost. For example, in 2013 one user claimed to have lost 7,500 bitcoins, worth $7.5 million at the time, when he accidentally discarded a hard drive containing his private key. A backup of his key(s) would have prevented this.
The successful miner finding the new block is rewarded with newly created bitcoins and transaction fees. As of 9 July 2016, the reward amounted to 12.5 newly created bitcoins per block added to the blockchain. To claim the reward, a special transaction called a coinbase is included with the processed payments. All bitcoins in existence have been created in such coinbase transactions. The bitcoin protocol specifies that the reward for adding a block will be halved every 210,000 blocks (approximately every four years). Eventually, the reward will decrease to zero, and the limit of 21 million bitcoins[e] will be reached c. 2140; the record keeping will then be rewarded by transaction fees solely.
In other words, bitcoin’s inventor Nakamoto set a monetary policy based on artificial scarcity at bitcoin’s inception that there would only ever be 21 million bitcoins in total. Their numbers are being released roughly every ten minutes and the rate at which they are generated would drop by half every four years until all were in circulation.
After having touched briefly on the topic, I’ll say that I’m definitely a beginner and still in training but my intention is to bring along an audience and invite you to share in my experience, hopefully making it your own. The following, in no particular order, are a few book titles I’ve found to be helpful and I encourage you to check them out.
There are many books out there, aside from the ones I’ve posted, and I recommend you research and read them, knowledge is power.
This article/page and the contents herein will be updated regularly as website content changes etc. Understand that there is summarizing and sources cited, as I’m learning and discovering this information for myself to be shared, with you accurately; we don’t do alternative facts here! Please read on as we have more content and information available and will post as we learn.