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How Bitcoin Works – An Easy Guide for Noobs
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Table Of Contents
As Bitcoin approaches its 10 years anniversary, the world’s first and most successful cryptocurrency is still a mystery to many people in the market. Even as Bitcoin has made its way into the vocabulary of the masses, the average person still wonders “how does Bitcoin work and what makes this computer money so valuable?”
The Current State of Affairs
The crypto market continues to expand to new heights. Every week new blockchains, tokens, coins, and exchanges enter the market. Each of these products provides users with a valuable service. However, all of these technologies owe a nod of appreciation to the world’s original cryptocurrency – Bitcoin.
What is Bitcoin (BTC)?
Per Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s anonymous creator, Bitcoin is a “Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” Let’s examine this statement in depth to really grasp exactly what Nakamoto states here. Firstly, he states Bitcoin is a “peer-to-peer” network.
Peer-to-peer transactions are direct transactions. A great example of this style of transaction is when you hand cash to someone. When you hand your neighbor $5 cash, that is a direct transaction. There was no intermediary involved. There was no account validation, or central bank approving your transaction. You acted freely.
Inefficiencies in Today’s System
Now look at the same transaction, but this time you pay with your debit card or a payment App. While it may appear as if the funds instantly transfer from your account to theirs, this is hardly the case. Your payment begins a long arduous journey that can take days.
First, your payment order checks with both banks to make sure that the accounts are valid and that there are funds in your account to send. Then your payment action is sent to a major payment processing firm. In most instances, this is Visa or MasterCard.
Next, your funds bounce around 30+ intermediaries before reaching their destination around 3 days later. That’s why when you refund Debit or Credit transactions it takes days to show up in your account.
A Long Journey
All of these steps add more time to your transactions. Additionally, each intermediary and verification process tacks on a fee for their services. On top of all of these concerns, your transaction still must go through the regulatory channels. If for some reason, there is a discrepancy between your government and the person’s government you want to send a payment to, you will find it impossible to send these funds.
Centralization vs. Decentralization
The reason behind all of these intermediaries is simple, the current financial system is centralized. In a centralized system, there is one central organization, such as a bank or government that holds all the power. They hold your funds, they approve your transactions, and they decide when to issue more currency. You’re just along for the ride.
How Does Bitcoin (BTC) Work?
In a decentralized network, you remain in control of your assets until the exact moment that they arrive at their destination. When you send Bitcoin from your wallet to another person’s wallet, there are no intermediaries between your payment and its destination.
As such, there is no third-party to approve or deny your transactions. The entire process occurs in a “peer-to-peer” fashion. It’s the same as handing someone digital cash. Basically, you regain control over your finances using a decentralized system.
Examples of Other Decentralized Systems in Use Today
At first, the concept of decentralization can seem a bit awkward to comprehend. However, a quick glimpse into the market and you will see other decentralized systems hard at work. A perfect example of a decentralized system that you are more than likely familiar with is torrent streaming services.
When you go to a torrent streaming website, you probably ask yourself “how do these platforms remain open, even though they offer products that they don’t have licenses to offer?” The answer is simple, they utilize decentralization to prevent censorship. Here’s how decentralization is used in this scenario to bring you all your favorite early releases and new music for free.
Decentralization = Censorship Resistance
Websites like BitTorrent don’t actually provide you with any content. In reality, they just provide a location for people to meet up and exchange data freely, whatever that data may be. Now, granted, in most cases its music or movies, but it could be anything from political messages to actual value, such as cryptocurrencies.
Because these websites only provide a location for people to meet and exchange data, they are much more difficult to close than a centralized website that offered you these downloads directly. In essence, these streaming websites have done nothing wrong.
The same concepts can be put to use in the financial sector. Though the integration of decentralization, it becomes impossible to censor, edit, or block payments on the blockchain. In this way, Bitcoin represents an ideological shift towards more financial freedom and decoupling of government from currency.
To understand Bitcoin, you first need to take a look at some of the core technologies that make this marvelous coin function. As you now know, decentralized networks are censorship-resistant. There are also a variety of different types of decentralized networks. Bitcoin relies on a blockchain network to provide you with these freedoms.
What is a Blockchain?
A blockchain is a decentralized network that utilizes “blocks” of transactions to create a complete “chain” of events from the initiation of the network. In Bitcoin’s blockchain network, there are thousands of transaction validators known as miners or nodes. Importantly, every node validates every transaction on the blockchain but not every node receives a reward.
Who Gets the Reward? – How Does Bitcoin Work
These miners compete against each other via a complicated mathematical equation. The node that gets the question correct first gets to add the next block of transactions to the blockchain. They receive a reward for their efforts. Today, the reward is set at 6.5 BTC.
The mathematical equation, known as SHA-256 is so difficult that your computer examines it and decides it’s better to make educated guesses rather than attempt to calculate the equation directly. This guesswork is what drives up the processing on your computer, which, in turn, drives up mining costs.
What is Bitcoin (BTC) Mining?
When you hear that someone has a Bitcoin mining rig, this simply means that they have a specially built computer processor tailored to the SHA-256 algorithm. These devices, known as Application Specific Integrated Chips (ASIC) miners are thousands of times more accurate at guessing the SHA-256 algorithm’s answer.
More Miners – The More Security
The cool thing about Bitcoin is that it’s not purely mathematical. There is a true psychological approach behind its nature. For example, the larger the Bitcoin network, the more secure it becomes, and the higher the value of BTC. Also, the higher the market value of Bitcoin, the more miners in the market.
As the value of Bitcoin rises, the SHA-256 algorithm adjusts accordingly. These adjustments ensure that the mining rewards get paid out around every ten minutes. These rewards are vital to the Bitcoin network for two main reasons. Firstly, this strategy incentivizes nodes to continue validating transactions.
Secondly, these rewards are the only time that new BTC enters the market. There will only ever be a total of 21 million BTC available to the world. The difficulty adjustment and mining rewards system of BTC ensures that these BTC enter the market in a concise and predictable manner.
Now let’s compare this sound mathematical process to that of the Central Bankers today. In the centralized financial system, the issuance of currency is done at a whim. Just recently, the US government issued trillions in currency into the market as a part of the Covid-19 stimulus package. However, these funds are sure to disrupt the delicate supply-and-demand balance. Consequently, inflation is sure to come soon.
Why The World Needs Bitcoin
The world needs Bitcoin now more than ever. Bitcoin represents a real danger to the centralized markets because, for the first time in history, it provides the world with a secure digital alternative to the fiat systems in place. Unlike its predecessor, gold, Bitcoin is available to the entire world and requires very little overhead in terms of security.
Gold vs. Bitcoin
Now, let’s compare gold and Bitcoin for a second to see why cryptocurrencies are the future reserve currencies of the world. Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that gold did and still serves an important purpose in the market as a safe-haven for investors. Gold is extremely stable and universally accepted.
The problems with gold are systemic. For one, gold only functions as a reserve currency. You couldn’t use gold for day-to-day micro-transactions. Imagine going to your local grocery store and chipping off some gold to pay for your items, not realistic in 2020 at all.
Where Do You Keep Your Gold Bars?
Additionally, gold isn’t an asset that you can readily get your hands on. Sure there are tons of gold investors today, but what do they really own? If your gold isn’t in a safe located on your property, you really just own a piece of paper that states you own gold. Sadly, in times of great economic strife, gold owners learn this lesson the hard way. Really, for any reason, your gold can be taken.
A perfect example of gold investors coming to terms with reality occurred in the 1930s in the US. During this time, the government of Franklin D Roosevelt seized all the citizen’s gold bullion and coins via Executive Order 6102. The order forced all citizens to sell their gold to the government at well below market rates. Those that refused had their gold confiscated.
Can’t Confiscate Bitcoin
Bitcoin holders never have to worry about this scenario. You hold your Bitcoin directly, not just a note of ownership. Bitcoin relies on a pair of cryptographic keys to keep your holdings safe. The public key is what you give people so they can send you BTC, whereas the private key is how you access your wallet. You must never give your private key out to anyone.
As you already learned, the decentralized nature of Bitcoin’s network is set up in a way that it would be impossible for governments to stop it. Additionally, the security keys also prevent overreaching governments from snagging your hard-earned BTC whenever they deem it necessary.
Fills All Use Scenarios
Bitcoin functions as both a currency and a store of value. You can HODL your BTC and enjoy the appreciation, or you can trade or spend your Bitcoin with impunity. This unique currency affords investors the flexibility of cash, the convenience of digital transactions, and the value storage capabilities of gold.
The Future of Bitcoin
The future for Bitcoin looks bright. The network is larger and more secure. Also, more people know about this revolutionary protocol than ever. The world’s first crypto also gained some new functionality recently via the Lightning Network.
After the crypto craze of 2017, it became evident that BTC’s scaling issues needed resolution. The network traffic reached a point that BTC was unable to fulfill one of its primary roles. It was unable to function as a peer-to-peer cash system due to extreme volatility, delayed transaction times, and huge fees.
Luckily, developers have since corrected many of these issues via updates and other developments. The Lightning Network is one of these developments that continue to garner attention in the market. The Lightning Network is an off-chain protocol that relies on private payment channels to reduce network congestion.
Additionally, the Lighting Network provides BTC with some new functionality such as the ability to utilize smart contracts and oracles. Oracles are off-chain sensors that can trigger on-chain events such as smart contracts.
Bitcoin is Here to Stay
Today, Bitcoin is a household name. Amazingly, Nakamoto’s single coin inspired a digital revolution in the market. There are thousands of cryptocurrencies now available to investors. While many of these platforms improve upon Bitcoin’s core design, none can match Bitcoin’s network strength and overall community support. For this reason, Bitcoin continues to reign as the king of cryptocurrencies.
David Hamilton is a full-time journalist and a long-time bitcoinist. He specializes in writing articles on the blockchain. His articles have been published in multiple bitcoin publications including Bitcoinlightning.com