What is Bitcoin?
With the Bitcoin price so volatile everyone is curious. Bitcoin, the category creator of blockchain technology, is the World Wide Ledger yet extremely complicated and no one definition fully encapsulates it. By analogy it is like being able to send a gold coin via email. It is a consensus network that enables a new payment system and a completely digital money.
It is the first decentralized peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen. Bitcoin was the first practical implementation and is currently the most prominent triple entry bookkeeping system in existence.
Who created Bitcoin?
The first Bitcoin specification and proof of concept was published in 2009 by an unknown individual under the pseudonym a software developer called Satoshi Nakamoto proposed bitcoin who revealed little about himself and left the project in late 2010.The Bitcoin community has since grown exponentially.Satoshi's anonymity often raises unjustified concerns because of a misunderstanding of Bitcoin's open-source nature. Everyone has access to all of the source code all of the time and any developer can review or modify the software code. As such, the identity of Bitcoin's inventor is probably as relevant today as the identity of the person who invented paper.The idea was to produce a currency independent of any central authority, transferable electronically, more or less instantly, with very low transaction fees.
Who is involved in Bitcoin?
Over $1B of investment into Bitcoin and blockchain companies has taken place resulting in thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of individuals involved from around the world. This currency isn’t physically printed in the shadows by a central bank, unaccountable to the population, and making its own rules. Those banks can simply produce more money to cover the national debt, thus devaluing their currency. Instead, bitcoin is created digitally, by a community of people that anyone can join. Bitcoins are mined using computing power in a distributed network. This network also processes transactions made with the virtual currency, effectively making bitcoin its own payment network.
Who controls the Bitcoin network?
Nobody owns the Bitcoin network much like no one owns the technology behind email or the Internet. Bitcoin transactions are verified by Bitcoin miner which has an entire industry and Bitcoin cloud mining options. While developers are improving the software they cannot force a change in the Bitcoin protocol because all users are free to choose what software and version they use.
In order to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules. Bitcoin can only work correctly with a complete consensus among all users. Therefore, all users and developers have a strong incentive to protect this consensus.
Conventional currency has been based on gold or silver. Theoretically, you knew that if you handed over a dollar at the bank, you could get some gold back (although this didn’t actually work in practice). But bitcoin isn’t based on gold; it’s based on mathematics.
Around the world, people are using software programs that follow a mathematical formula to produce bitcoins. The mathematical formula is freely available, so that anyone can check it.
The software is also open source, meaning that anyone can look at it to make sure that it does what it is supposed to.
What are its characteristics?
Bitcoin has several important features that set it apart from government-backed currencies.
1. It's decentralized
The bitcoin network isn’t controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network, and the machines work together. That means that, in theory, one central authority can’t tinker with monetary policy and cause a meltdown – or simply decide to take people’s bitcoins away from them, as the Central European Bank decided to do in Cyprus in early 2013. And if some part of the network goes offline for some reason, the money keeps on flowing.
2. It's easy to set up
Conventional banks make you jump through hoops simply to open a bank account. Setting up merchant accounts for payment is another Kafkaesque task, beset by bureaucracy. However, you can set up a bitcoin address in seconds, no questions asked, and with no fees payable.
3. It's anonymous
Well, kind of. Users can hold multiple bitcoin addresses, and they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information. However…
4. It's completely transparent
…bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger, called the blockchain. The block chain tells all.
If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address. They just don’t know that it’s yours.
There are measures that people can take to make their activities more opaque on the bitcoin network, though, such as not using the same bitcoin addresses consistently, and not transferring lots of bitcoin to a single address.
5. Transaction fees are miniscule
Your bank may charge you a £10 fee for international transfers. Bitcoin doesn’t.
6. It’s fast
You can send money anywhere and it will arrive minutes later, as soon as the bitcoin network processes the payment.
7. It’s non-repudiable
When your bitcoins are sent, there’s no getting them back, unless the recipient returns them to you. They’re gone forever.
So, bitcoin has a lot going for it, in theory. But how does it work, in practice? Read more to find out how bitcoins are mined, what happens when a bitcoin transactions occurs, and how the network keeps track of everything.