Bitcoin, recognized as the original and most valuable cryptocurrency, has recently been in the spotlight due to a surge in price, reaching unprecedented levels. Although the extreme volatility may grab attention, it does not position Bitcoin as the optimal option for investors seeking a stable means of preserving value. Yet, what exactly is this enigmatic digital currency, and how does it operate? Let’s find out.
The registration of the domain name bitcoin.org took place on August 18, 2008. Shortly after, on October 31, 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto shared a link to their paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” on a cryptography mailing list. Nakamoto developed the bitcoin software as open-source code and made it available to the public in January 2009.
The official launch of the Bitcoin network occurred on January 3, 2009, when Nakamoto successfully mined the first block of the blockchain, known as the “genesis block.” Within this block, a message was embedded that read, “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on the Verge of a Second Bank Bailout.” This text has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a commentary on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.
Hal Finney, the creator of the first reusable proof-of-work system (RPoW) in 2004, received the first-ever bitcoin transaction. On January 12, 2009, Finney downloaded the bitcoin software upon its release and received ten bitcoins directly from Nakamoto. The image below showcases the inaugural tweet sent out by the prominent cryptographer Hal Finney, marking the occasion that took place 14 years ago.
The block reward for mining Bitcoin is halved approximately every 210,000 blocks. In the initial years, such as in 2009, the reward was set at 50 new bitcoins per block. The third halving event took place on May 11, 2020, reducing the reward for each block discovery to 6.25 bitcoins.
Bitcoin is divisible, and it can be broken down into eight decimal places. The smallest unit of Bitcoin is called a satoshi. If there is a need and consensus among participating miners, it can potentially be made divisible to even more decimal places.
Understanding Bitcoin as a digital currency is not overly complex. If someone owns Bitcoin, they can utilize their cryptocurrency wallet to send smaller amounts of it as payment for goods or services.
What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency that operates on a peer-to-peer network called blockchain. It was created in 2009 by an anonymous individual or group of individuals using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoin is not controlled by any central authority, such as a government or bank, and enables direct peer-to-peer transactions without the need for intermediaries.
It is based on cryptographic principles, ensuring secure and transparent transactions. It has a limited supply, with a maximum cap of 21 million coins, and can be subdivided into smaller units. It has gained popularity as a form of digital currency, store of value, and investment asset.
How Bitcoin works
It operates through a combination of blockchain technology, cryptography, and a decentralized network. Here’s a simplified explanation of how Bitcoin works:
1. Blockchain: Bitcoin transactions are recorded on a public ledger called the blockchain. It is a distributed database that is maintained by a network of computers (nodes) around the world. Each transaction is grouped into a block, and these blocks are linked together in chronological order, forming a chain.
2. Wallets: To hold and manage bitcoins, users need a digital wallet. Wallets come in various forms, including software wallets (mobile or desktop applications) and hardware wallets (physical devices). Wallets store the user’s private keys, which are essential for accessing and spending their bitcoins.
3. Transactions: When someone initiates a Bitcoin transaction, it is broadcasted to the network. The transaction includes the recipient’s Bitcoin address, the amount being sent, and a digital signature to verify the authenticity of the transaction. Miners validate and confirm these transactions by including them in a block.
4. Mining: Mining is the process by which new bitcoins are created and transactions are validated. Miners compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles, requiring substantial computational power. Once a miner solves a puzzle, they add a new block of transactions to the blockchain and receive a reward in the form of newly minted bitcoins.
5. Consensus Mechanism: It uses a consensus mechanism called Proof-of-Work (PoW). Miners must show proof that they have performed the necessary computational work to solve a puzzle. This mechanism ensures that transactions are validated by the network and prevents double-spending.
6. Security: It’s security is achieved through cryptography. Transactions are secured using public-key cryptography, where each user has a public key (Bitcoin address) and a corresponding private key. Private keys must be kept secret, as they are used to sign transactions and provide ownership proof.
7. Decentralization: It is decentralized, meaning it does not rely on a central authority. The network of nodes collectively maintains the blockchain and validates transactions. This decentralization provides transparency, resiliency, and eliminates the need for intermediaries.
8. Halving: It has a built-in mechanism called halving that reduces the block reward for miners approximately every four years. This gradually decreases the rate of new bitcoin creation, ultimately reaching the maximum supply of 21 million coins.
Bitcoin’s workings involve complex technical concepts, but these are the fundamental principles that underpin its functionality. It enables secure, borderless, and permissionless transactions, offering users control over their finances without relying on traditional financial institutions.
Bitcoin mining is the process of validating and adding new transactions to the Bitcoin blockchain, while also securing the network. Here’s how it works:
1. Miners: Bitcoin miners are individuals or entities who use specialized computer hardware and software to participate in the mining process. They contribute their computational power to solve complex mathematical problems.
2. Transactions: Miners collect and verify pending transactions from the Bitcoin network. These transactions are grouped into blocks, which contain a certain number of transactions.
3. Proof-of-Work: Miners compete to solve a cryptographic puzzle, known as the Proof-of-Work (PoW). The PoW requires miners to find a specific hash value that meets certain criteria. They do this by repeatedly hashing the block’s data using their computing power until the desired hash value is found.
4. Block Validation: Once a miner finds the correct hash value, they broadcast the solution to the network. Other miners then validate the solution and the associated block of transactions. Consensus is reached when the majority of miners agree that the solution is valid.
5. Block Reward: The miner who successfully solves the PoW and adds a new block to the blockchain is rewarded with newly minted bitcoins. This block reward serves as an incentive for miners to continue participating in the network and secure the Bitcoin ecosystem.
6. Mining Difficulty: To maintain a consistent block creation time of approximately 10 minutes, the mining difficulty is adjusted regularly. The difficulty level ensures that miners spend a significant amount of computational power to solve the PoW, thereby preserving the security of the network.
7. Mining Pools: Mining has become highly competitive, making it difficult for individual miners to earn rewards consistently. Mining pools have emerged as a way for miners to combine their computing power and increase their chances of finding solutions and receiving proportional rewards.
Bitcoin mining plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity and security of the network. It is resource-intensive, requiring specialized hardware and substantial electricity consumption. However, mining also provides an opportunity for individuals to participate in the creation and distribution of new bitcoins while contributing to the decentralized nature of the Bitcoin ecosystem.
Bitcoin and El Salvador
Bitcoin and El Salvador have recently gained attention due to the country’s decision to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. Here are some key points about Bitcoin and its relationship with El Salvador:
1. Bitcoin as Legal Tender: On June 8, 2021, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly passed a law declaring Bitcoin as legal tender alongside the US dollar. This means that businesses in the country are required to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment, and the government aims to promote its use for various transactions.
2. Financial Inclusion: El Salvador’s government believes that Bitcoin adoption can help promote financial inclusion and provide access to financial services for those who are unbanked or underbanked. By leveraging Bitcoin’s decentralized and borderless nature, the government aims to enable secure and low-cost financial transactions for its citizens, including remittances from abroad.
3. Chivo Wallet: El Salvador launched the government-backed digital wallet called Chivo, which allows citizens to store, send, and receive Bitcoin. The government has also distributed $30 worth of Bitcoin to every citizen who signs up for the Chivo wallet.
4. Volatility and Implementation Challenges: Bitcoin’s price volatility and the challenges associated with its adoption as a national currency have raised concerns. Critics argue that the price fluctuations could pose risks to the stability of El Salvador’s economy, potentially impacting savings and day-to-day transactions. Additionally, the infrastructure and education required for widespread Bitcoin adoption are significant hurdles to overcome.
5. Global Attention and Implications: El Salvador’s move to embrace Bitcoin has garnered global attention and sparked discussions about the potential impact on other nations. It has also brought renewed focus on the role of cryptocurrencies in financial systems, government policies, and monetary sovereignty.
The full implications and long-term effects of El Salvador’s adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender are yet to be seen. It will be important to closely monitor how the implementation unfolds and how it impacts the citizens, economy, and global perceptions of Bitcoin’s viability as a national currency.
Bitcoin vs Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that function autonomously from traditional financial institutions and governments. Similar to physical currencies, they can be traded or speculated on. Bitcoin, which was introduced in 2009, is the pioneering decentralized cryptocurrency. Following its creation, numerous alternative cryptocurrencies, often referred to as “altcoins,” have emerged in the market.
|Market cap||The global crypto market cap is $978.24B with Bitcoin accounting for $402.47 billion USD||Other cryptocurrencies put together all account for $575.77 billion USD|
|Popularity||Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency which has been in existence since 2009.||The number of cryptocurrencies has increased, but their share is still less than bitcoin.|
|Consensus Mechanism||Bitcoin uses the proof of work (POW) consensus mechanism||Other cryptocurrencies uses mostly proof of stake (POS) consensus mechanism amongst others|
Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, was introduced with the intention of serving as an alternative form of payment, distinct from traditional legal tender. Since its establishment in 2009, it has experienced a tremendous surge in popularity and has witnessed its application expand. Consequently, this growth has led to the emergence of numerous competing cryptocurrencies.
While the process of generating Bitcoin involves intricate complexities, investing in it is relatively straightforward. Investors and speculators can engage in the buying and selling of Bitcoin through various cryptocurrency exchanges such as Coinbase, Kraken, Gemini, and others. However, as with any investment, particularly one as novel and volatile as Bitcoin, individuals should exercise caution and carefully evaluate whether it aligns with their investment objectives and risk tolerance.
Caleb is a technical writer at AlteBlock with over 2 years of experience in covering DeFi-related content such as crypto news, exchange reviews, and guides. He is also a Civil engineering graduate who can be found on-site when not writing an article.