Bitcoin does not require a central bank, State,  or incorporated backers. Bitcoins are sent and received through software and websites called wallets. They send and confirm transactions to the network through Bitcoin addresses, the identifiers for users' Bitcoin wallets within the network. Payments are made to Bitcoin "addresses": human-readable strings of numbers and letters around 33 characters in length, always beginning with the digit 1 or 3, as in the example of 31uEbMgunupShBVTewXjtqbBv5MndwfXhb.
Users obtain new Bitcoin addresses from their Bitcoin software. Creating a new address can be a completely offline process and require no communication with the Bitcoin network. Web services often generate a new Bitcoin address for every user, allowing them to have their custom deposit addresses.
Transaction fees may be included with any transfer of Bitcoins. While it's technically possible to send a transaction with zero fee, as of [update] it's highly unlikely that one of these transactions confirms in a realistic amount of time, causing most nodes on the network to drop it. For transactions which consume or produce many outputs and therefore have a large data size , higher transaction fees are usually expected.
The network's software confirms a transaction when it records it in a block. Further blocks of transactions confirm it even further. The network must store the whole transaction history inside the blockchain, which grows constantly as new records are added and never removed. Nakamoto conceived that as the database became larger, users would desire applications for Bitcoin that didn't store the entire database on their computer.
To enable this, the blockchain uses a merkle tree to organize the transaction records in such a way that client software can locally delete portions of its own database it knows it will never need, such as earlier transaction records of Bitcoins that have changed ownership multiple times. Bitcoin has no centralized issuing authority.
To ensure sufficient granularity of the money supply , clients can divide each BTC unit down to eight decimal places a total of 2. The network as of [update] required over one million times more work for confirming a block and receiving an award 25 BTC as of February [update] than when the first blocks were confirmed. The difficulty is automatically adjusted every blocks based on the time taken to find the previous blocks such that one block is created roughly every 10 minutes.
Those who chose to put computational and electrical resources toward mining early on had a greater chance at receiving awards for block generations. This served to make available enough processing power to process blocks. Indeed, without miners there are no transactions and the Bitcoin economy comes to a halt. Prices fluctuate relative to goods and services more than more widely accepted currencies; the price of a Bitcoin is not static.
Taking into account the total number of Bitcoins mined, the monetary base of the Bitcoin network stands at over million USD. While using Bitcoins is an excellent way to make your purchases, donations, and p2p payments, without losing money through inflated transaction fees, transactions are never truly anonymous.
Buying Bitcoin you pass identification, Bitcoin transactions are stored publicly and permanently on the network, which means anyone can see the balance and transactions of any Bitcoin address. Bitcoin activities are recorded and available publicly via the blockchain , a comprehensive database which keeps a record of Bitcoin transactions. All exchange companies require the user to scan ID documents, and large transactions must be reported to the proper governmental authority.
This means that a third party with an interest in tracking your activities can use your visible balance and ID information as a basis from which to track your future transactions or to study previous activity. In short, you have compromised your security and privacy. In addition to conventional exchanges there are also peer-to-peer exchanges. Peer to peer exchanges will often not collect KYC and identity information directly from users, instead they let the users handle KYC amongst themselves.
These can often be a better alternative for those looking to purchase Bitcoin quickly and without KYC delay. Mixing services are used to avoid compromising of privacy and security. Mixing services provide to periodically exchange your Bitcoin for different ones which cannot be associated with the original owner.
See also: Weaknesses. In the history of Bitcoin, there have been a few incidents , caused by problematic as well as malicious transactions. In the worst such incident, and the only one of its type, a person was able to pretend that he had a practically infinite supply of Bitcoins, for almost 9 hours. Bitcoin relies, among other things, on public key cryptography and thus may be vulnerable to quantum computing attacks if and when practical quantum computers can be constructed.
If multiple different software packages, whose usage becomes widespread on the Bitcoin network, disagree on the protocol and the rules for transactions, this could potentially cause a fork in the block chain, with each faction of users being able to accept only their own version of the history of transactions. This could influence the price of Bitcoins. A global, organized campaign against the currency or the software could also influence the demand for Bitcoins, and thus the exchange price.
Bitcoins are awarded to Bitcoin nodes known as "miners" for the solution to a difficult proof-of-work problem which confirms transactions and prevents double-spending. This incentive, as the Nakamoto white paper describes it, encourages "nodes to support the network, and provides a way to initially distribute coins into circulation, since no central authority issues them.
Nakamoto compared the generation of new coins by expending CPU time and electricity to gold miners expending resources to add gold to circulation. The node software for the Bitcoin network is based on peer-to-peer networking, digital signatures and cryptographic proof to make and verify transactions.
Nodes broadcast transactions to the network, which records them in a public record of all transactions, called the blockchain , after validating them with a proof-of-work system. Satoshi Nakamoto designed the first Bitcoin node and mining software  and developed the majority of the first implementation, Bitcoind, from to mid Every node in the Bitcoin network collects all the unacknowledged transactions it knows of in a file called a block , which also contains a reference to the previous valid block known to that node.
It then appends a nonce value to this previous block and computes the SHA cryptographic hash of the block and the appended nonce value. The node repeats this process until it adds a nonce that allows for the generation of a hash with a value lower than a specified target. Because computers cannot practically reverse the hash function, finding such a nonce is hard and requires on average a predictable amount of repetitious trial and error.
This is where the proof-of-work concept comes in to play. When a node finds such a solution, it announces it to the rest of the network. Peers receiving the new solved block validate it by computing the hash and checking that it really starts with the given number of zero bits i. Then they accept it and add it to the chain.
In addition to receiving the pending transactions confirmed in the block, a generating node adds a generate transaction, which awards new Bitcoins to the operator of the node that generated the block. The system sets the payout of this generated transaction according to its defined inflation schedule. The miner that generates a block also receives the fees that users have paid as an incentive to give particular transactions priority for faster confirmation.
The network never creates more than a 50 BTC reward per block and this amount will decrease over time towards zero, such that no more than 21 million BTC will ever exist. Bitcoin users often pool computational effort to increase the stability of the collected fees and subsidy they receive. In order to throttle the creation of blocks, the difficulty of generating new blocks is adjusted over time.
If mining output increases or decreases, the difficulty increases or decreases accordingly. The adjustment is done by changing the threshold that a hash is required to be less than. A lower threshold means fewer possible hashes can be accepted, and thus a higher degree of difficulty.
The target rate of block generation is one block every 10 minutes, or blocks every two weeks. Bitcoin changes the difficulty of finding a valid block every blocks, using the difficulty that would have been most likely to cause the prior blocks to have taken two weeks to generate, according to the timestamps on the blocks. Technically, this is done by modeling the generation of Bitcoins as Poisson process. All nodes perform and enforce the same difficulty calculation. Difficulty is intended as an automatic stabilizer allowing mining for Bitcoins to remain profitable in the long run for the most efficient miners, independently of the fluctuations in demand of Bitcoin in relation to other currencies.
Bitcoin describes itself as an experimental digital currency. Reuben Grinberg has noted that Bitcoin's supporters have argued that Bitcoin is neither a security or an investment because it fails to meet the criteria for either category. Securities and Exchange Commission's definition of a Ponzi scheme, found that the use of Bitcoins shares some characteristics with Ponzi schemes, but also has characteristics of its own which contradict several common aspects of Ponzi schemes.
Because transactions are broadcast to the entire network, they are inherently public. Unlike regular banking,  which preserves customer privacy by keeping transaction records private, loose transactional privacy is accomplished in Bitcoin by using many unique addresses for every wallet, while at the same time publishing all transactions. As an example, if Alice sends However, unless Alice or Bob make their ownership of these addresses known, it is difficult for anyone else to connect the transaction with them.
However, if someone connects an address to a user at any point they could follow back a series of transactions as each participant likely knows who paid them and may disclose that information on request or under duress. It can be difficult to associate Bitcoin identities with real-life identities. The cracking organization "LulzSec" accepted donations in Bitcoin, having said that the group "needs Bitcoin donations to continue their hacking efforts".
Silk Road is an anonymous black market that uses only the Bitcoin. In June , Symantec warned about the possibility of botnets engaging in covert "mining" of Bitcoins,   consuming computing cycles, using extra electricity and possibly increasing the temperature of the computer not associated with Snow Day Calculator. Later that month, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation caught an employee using the company's servers to generate Bitcoins without permission.
On 19 June , a security breach of the Mt. Gox exchange though it remained unaffected on other exchanges after a hacker allegedly used credentials from a Mt. Further information: Cryptocurrency and security.
The start screen under Fedora. Business and economics portal Free and open-source software portal Internet portal Numismatics portal Money portal. The timestamp of the block is This block is unlike all other blocks in that it does not have a previous block to reference. The fact is that gold miners are rewarded for producing gold, while bitcoin miners are not rewarded for producing bitcoins; they are rewarded for their record-keeping services.
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And on the flip side, Bob will also typically either have a piece of software installed or he'll use a third-party service that will take these numbers and allow him to do something else with those numbers. For example, Bob can in turn buy something on his own with those numbers, or he can trade those numbers in for real money and so on and so forth.
Now, one of the first questions you might have-- and I kind of alluded to this earlier-- is why would Bob even want to accept bitcoins in the first place? After all, a bitcoin is just a bunch of numbers. What intrinsic value would it conceivably have? And it turns out, quite surprisingly, that bitcoins actually have real-world value. There are more and more merchants popping up each day who accept bitcoins for transactions.
There are also bitcoin exchanges, places where you can go and exchange bitcoins for more mainstream currencies. And some of exchanges include-- the major one is one called Mt. And at Mt. Gox you could exchange a bitcoin for a euro or yen or dollar and so on and so forth. That number is fluctuating. This is a new currency, and there's going to be some fluctuation. But as people understand the currency better, the hope is that that fluctuation will decrease.
But I think ultimately, the thing to keep in mind is that the value of a bitcoin is going to be derived from the faith that you have in the value of what you can procure with that bitcoin. It's just like you would for a dollar, a euro or yen.
The faith that you have in that currency's value is how you value that currency. Now another question you might have is why do people even bother with bitcoins in the first place. Aren't there other more standard ways?
Why couldn't Alice and Bob use Paypal? Why couldn't they use a credit card number to transact? Why couldn't Alice just sent Bob an electronic check? Why not use one of these other approaches that are more well understood, that are more mainstream, that are more established? Why on earth would you possibly want to mess with a good thing?
So it turns out that there are a few properties of bitcoins that are worth noting. For starters, there's privacy. It turns out that within the bitcoin ecosystem, within the bitcoin network, people can transact without divulging who they are in the real world. From the perspective of bitcoin, Alice's identity is just going to be a sequence of numbers. And that sequence of numbers is effectively going to function like a pseudonym for Alice.
And that sequence of numbers has nothing to do with your real-world identity. Nobody needs to know this is Alice transacting. All they need to worry about is their pseudonym within the system. And this is kind of but not quite like what you would get if you bought something using cash. In that capacity, when you buy something using cash, then you don't have to provide any details or proof regarding who you are in the real world.
And that's different from, let's say, using a credit card, where you have to provide your name and your billing address and so on. Or let's say providing an electronic check, where you need to tie that electronic check, typically your bank account details. Now, I do want to also mention here that sometimes when you have a cash list or a transaction that uses cash, there is now the possibility that people might try to use these transactions for malicious purposes to buy illicit goods and services.
That definitely is a risk that occurs when you provide anonymity and privacy. But there are certainly legitimate reasons why somebody might want to conduct a transaction privately and not have the whole world know what they're transacting. Another property of bitcoin is that it's open. Literally anyone can get involved. Literally anyone who was an internet connection can make a bitcoin transaction. And all you need to do to get started is, as I alluded to earlier, is download this special bitcoin client.
And the bitcoin client, or for that matter you can use a service like Mt. Gox which will effectively do the same work as a client for you. But the short of it is that anyone who has a bitcoin client or who has an account with an exchange like Mt.
Gox can engage in bitcoin transactions. That transaction, the details of it, the mechanics of it will be transparent to the user. All the user has to worry about-- all Alice needs to worry about-- is how much money she has and whether she can give that money to Bob. The actual software underneath will take care of all the underlying mechanics of making that transaction work. Now, this is different. When you think about a traditional currency like a dollar, if I want to transact something online, typically I need a bank account, I need a credit card, and so on and so forth.
Then we often take it for granted that there are people out there who may not have access to a credit card, who may not have a bank account. It's pretty high. There are a lot of people out there who wouldn't be able to conduct a traditional internet transaction, but who can conduct a transaction using bitcoin. Consequently, no one is in a position to make fraudulent representations about investment returns.
Like other major currencies such as gold, United States dollar, euro, yen, etc. This leads to volatility where owners of bitcoins can unpredictably make or lose money. Beyond speculation, Bitcoin is also a payment system with useful and competitive attributes that are being used by thousands of users and businesses. Some early adopters have large numbers of bitcoins because they took risks and invested time and resources in an unproven technology that was hardly used by anyone and that was much harder to secure properly.
Many early adopters spent large numbers of bitcoins quite a few times before they became valuable or bought only small amounts and didn't make huge gains. There is no guarantee that the price of a bitcoin will increase or drop. This is very similar to investing in an early startup that can either gain value through its usefulness and popularity, or just never break through. Bitcoin is still in its infancy, and it has been designed with a very long-term view; it is hard to imagine how it could be less biased towards early adopters, and today's users may or may not be the early adopters of tomorrow.
Bitcoin is unique in that only 21 million bitcoins will ever be created. However, this will never be a limitation because transactions can be denominated in smaller sub-units of a bitcoin, such as bits - there are 1,, bits in 1 bitcoin. Bitcoins can be divided up to 8 decimal places 0. The deflationary spiral theory says that if prices are expected to fall, people will move purchases into the future in order to benefit from the lower prices.
That fall in demand will in turn cause merchants to lower their prices to try and stimulate demand, making the problem worse and leading to an economic depression. Although this theory is a popular way to justify inflation amongst central bankers, it does not appear to always hold true and is considered controversial amongst economists.
Consumer electronics is one example of a market where prices constantly fall but which is not in depression. Similarly, the value of bitcoins has risen over time and yet the size of the Bitcoin economy has also grown dramatically along with it. Because both the value of the currency and the size of its economy started at zero in , Bitcoin is a counterexample to the theory showing that it must sometimes be wrong.
Notwithstanding this, Bitcoin is not designed to be a deflationary currency. It is more accurate to say Bitcoin is intended to inflate in its early years, and become stable in its later years. The only time the quantity of bitcoins in circulation will drop is if people carelessly lose their wallets by failing to make backups. With a stable monetary base and a stable economy, the value of the currency should remain the same.
This is a chicken and egg situation. For bitcoin's price to stabilize, a large scale economy needs to develop with more businesses and users. For a large scale economy to develop, businesses and users will seek for price stability. Fortunately, volatility does not affect the main benefits of Bitcoin as a payment system to transfer money from point A to point B.
It is possible for businesses to convert bitcoin payments to their local currency instantly, allowing them to profit from the advantages of Bitcoin without being subjected to price fluctuations. Since Bitcoin offers many useful and unique features and properties, many users choose to use Bitcoin.
With such solutions and incentives, it is possible that Bitcoin will mature and develop to a degree where price volatility will become limited. Only a fraction of bitcoins issued to date are found on the exchange markets for sale. Bitcoin markets are competitive, meaning the price of a bitcoin will rise or fall depending on supply and demand.
Additionally, new bitcoins will continue to be issued for decades to come. Therefore even the most determined buyer could not buy all the bitcoins in existence. This situation isn't to suggest, however, that the markets aren't vulnerable to price manipulation; it still doesn't take significant amounts of money to move the market price up or down, and thus Bitcoin remains a volatile asset thus far.
That can happen. For now, Bitcoin remains by far the most popular decentralized virtual currency, but there can be no guarantee that it will retain that position. There is already a set of alternative currencies inspired by Bitcoin. It is however probably correct to assume that significant improvements would be required for a new currency to overtake Bitcoin in terms of established market, even though this remains unpredictable. Bitcoin could also conceivably adopt improvements of a competing currency so long as it doesn't change fundamental parts of the protocol.
Receiving notification of a payment is almost instant with Bitcoin. However, there is a delay before the network begins to confirm your transaction by including it in a block. A confirmation means that there is a consensus on the network that the bitcoins you received haven't been sent to anyone else and are considered your property. Once your transaction has been included in one block, it will continue to be buried under every block after it, which will exponentially consolidate this consensus and decrease the risk of a reversed transaction.
Each confirmation takes between a few seconds and 90 minutes, with 10 minutes being the average. If the transaction pays too low a fee or is otherwise atypical, getting the first confirmation can take much longer. Every user is free to determine at what point they consider a transaction sufficiently confirmed, but 6 confirmations is often considered to be as safe as waiting 6 months on a credit card transaction.
Transactions can be processed without fees, but trying to send free transactions can require waiting days or weeks. Although fees may increase over time, normal fees currently only cost a tiny amount. By default, all Bitcoin wallets listed on Bitcoin. Transaction fees are used as a protection against users sending transactions to overload the network and as a way to pay miners for their work helping to secure the network.
The precise manner in which fees work is still being developed and will change over time. Because the fee is not related to the amount of bitcoins being sent, it may seem extremely low or unfairly high. Instead, the fee is relative to the number of bytes in the transaction, so using multisig or spending multiple previously-received amounts may cost more than simpler transactions. If your activity follows the pattern of conventional transactions, you won't have to pay unusually high fees.
This works fine. The bitcoins will appear next time you start your wallet application. Bitcoins are not actually received by the software on your computer, they are appended to a public ledger that is shared between all the devices on the network. If you are sent bitcoins when your wallet client program is not running and you later launch it, it will download blocks and catch up with any transactions it did not already know about, and the bitcoins will eventually appear as if they were just received in real time.
Your wallet is only needed when you wish to spend bitcoins. Long synchronization time is only required with full node clients like Bitcoin Core. Technically speaking, synchronizing is the process of downloading and verifying all previous Bitcoin transactions on the network.
For some Bitcoin clients to calculate the spendable balance of your Bitcoin wallet and make new transactions, it needs to be aware of all previous transactions. This step can be resource intensive and requires sufficient bandwidth and storage to accommodate the full size of the block chain. For Bitcoin to remain secure, enough people should keep using full node clients because they perform the task of validating and relaying transactions.
Mining is the process of spending computing power to process transactions, secure the network, and keep everyone in the system synchronized together. It can be perceived like the Bitcoin data center except that it has been designed to be fully decentralized with miners operating in all countries and no individual having control over the network.
This process is referred to as "mining" as an analogy to gold mining because it is also a temporary mechanism used to issue new bitcoins. Unlike gold mining, however, Bitcoin mining provides a reward in exchange for useful services required to operate a secure payment network. Mining will still be required after the last bitcoin is issued.
Anybody can become a Bitcoin miner by running software with specialized hardware. Mining software listens for transactions broadcast through the peer-to-peer network and performs appropriate tasks to process and confirm these transactions. Bitcoin miners perform this work because they can earn transaction fees paid by users for faster transaction processing, and newly created bitcoins issued into existence according to a fixed formula.
For new transactions to be confirmed, they need to be included in a block along with a mathematical proof of work. Such proofs are very hard to generate because there is no way to create them other than by trying billions of calculations per second. This requires miners to perform these calculations before their blocks are accepted by the network and before they are rewarded.
As more people start to mine, the difficulty of finding valid blocks is automatically increased by the network to ensure that the average time to find a block remains equal to 10 minutes. As a result, mining is a very competitive business where no individual miner can control what is included in the block chain. The proof of work is also designed to depend on the previous block to force a chronological order in the block chain. This makes it exponentially difficult to reverse previous transactions because this requires the recalculation of the proofs of work of all the subsequent blocks.
When two blocks are found at the same time, miners work on the first block they receive and switch to the longest chain of blocks as soon as the next block is found. This allows mining to secure and maintain a global consensus based on processing power. Bitcoin miners are neither able to cheat by increasing their own reward nor process fraudulent transactions that could corrupt the Bitcoin network because all Bitcoin nodes would reject any block that contains invalid data as per the rules of the Bitcoin protocol.
Consequently, the network remains secure even if not all Bitcoin miners can be trusted. Spending energy to secure and operate a payment system is hardly a waste. Like any other payment service, the use of Bitcoin entails processing costs.
Services necessary for the operation of currently widespread monetary systems, such as banks, credit cards, and armored vehicles, also use a lot of energy. Although unlike Bitcoin, their total energy consumption is not transparent and cannot be as easily measured. Bitcoin mining has been designed to become more optimized over time with specialized hardware consuming less energy, and the operating costs of mining should continue to be proportional to demand.
When Bitcoin mining becomes too competitive and less profitable, some miners choose to stop their activities. Furthermore, all energy expended mining is eventually transformed into heat, and the most profitable miners will be those who have put this heat to good use. An optimally efficient mining network is one that isn't actually consuming any extra energy. While this is an ideal, the economics of mining are such that miners individually strive toward it. Mining creates the equivalent of a competitive lottery that makes it very difficult for anyone to consecutively add new blocks of transactions into the block chain.
This protects the neutrality of the network by preventing any individual from gaining the power to block certain transactions. This also prevents any individual from replacing parts of the block chain to roll back their own spends, which could be used to defraud other users. Mining makes it exponentially more difficult to reverse a past transaction by requiring the rewriting of all blocks following this transaction.
In the early days of Bitcoin, anyone could find a new block using their computer's CPU. As more and more people started mining, the difficulty of finding new blocks increased greatly to the point where the only cost-effective method of mining today is using specialized hardware.
You can visit BitcoinMining. The Bitcoin technology - the protocol and the cryptography - has a strong security track record, and the Bitcoin network is probably the biggest distributed computing project in the world. Bitcoin's most common vulnerability is in user error. Bitcoin wallet files that store the necessary private keys can be accidentally deleted, lost or stolen. This is pretty similar to physical cash stored in a digital form. Fortunately, users can employ sound security practices to protect their money or use service providers that offer good levels of security and insurance against theft or loss.
The rules of the protocol and the cryptography used for Bitcoin are still working years after its inception, which is a good indication that the concept is well designed. However, security flaws have been found and fixed over time in various software implementations. Like any other form of software, the security of Bitcoin software depends on the speed with which problems are found and fixed.
The more such issues are discovered, the more Bitcoin is gaining maturity. There are often misconceptions about thefts and security breaches that happened on diverse exchanges and businesses. Although these events are unfortunate, none of them involve Bitcoin itself being hacked, nor imply inherent flaws in Bitcoin; just like a bank robbery doesn't mean that the dollar is compromised. However, it is accurate to say that a complete set of good practices and intuitive security solutions is needed to give users better protection of their money, and to reduce the general risk of theft and loss.
Over the course of the last few years, such security features have quickly developed, such as wallet encryption, offline wallets, hardware wallets, and multi-signature transactions. It is not possible to change the Bitcoin protocol that easily. Any Bitcoin client that doesn't comply with the same rules cannot enforce their own rules on other users. As per the current specification, double spending is not possible on the same block chain, and neither is spending bitcoins without a valid signature.
Therefore, it is not possible to generate uncontrolled amounts of bitcoins out of thin air, spend other users' funds, corrupt the network, or anything similar. However, powerful miners could arbitrarily choose to block or reverse recent transactions. A majority of users can also put pressure for some changes to be adopted. Because Bitcoin only works correctly with a complete consensus between all users, changing the protocol can be very difficult and requires an overwhelming majority of users to adopt the changes in such a way that remaining users have nearly no choice but to follow.
As a general rule, it is hard to imagine why any Bitcoin user would choose to adopt any change that could compromise their own money. Yes, most systems relying on cryptography in general are, including traditional banking systems. However, quantum computers don't yet exist and probably won't for a while. In the event that quantum computing could be an imminent threat to Bitcoin, the protocol could be upgraded to use post-quantum algorithms. Given the importance that this update would have, it can be safely expected that it would be highly reviewed by developers and adopted by all Bitcoin users.
You can find more information and help on the resources and community pages or on the Wiki FAQ. Make a donation. Frequently Asked Questions Find answers to recurring questions and myths about Bitcoin. View All General What is Bitcoin? Who created Bitcoin? Who controls the Bitcoin network? How does Bitcoin work?
Is Bitcoin really used by people? How does one acquire bitcoins? How difficult is it to make a Bitcoin payment? What are the advantages of Bitcoin? What are the disadvantages of Bitcoin? Why do people trust Bitcoin? Can I make money with Bitcoin? Is Bitcoin fully virtual and immaterial? Is Bitcoin anonymous? What happens when bitcoins are lost? Can Bitcoin scale to become a major payment network? Legal Is Bitcoin legal? Is Bitcoin useful for illegal activities? Can Bitcoin be regulated?
What about Bitcoin and taxes? What about Bitcoin and consumer protection? Economy How are bitcoins created? Why do bitcoins have value? Can bitcoins become worthless? Is Bitcoin a bubble? Is Bitcoin a Ponzi scheme? What if someone bought up all the existing bitcoins? What if someone creates a better digital currency? Transactions Why do I have to wait for confirmation? How much will the transaction fee be? What if I receive a bitcoin when my computer is powered off? Mining What is Bitcoin mining?
How does Bitcoin mining work? How does mining help secure Bitcoin? What do I need to start mining? Security Is Bitcoin secure? Could users collude against Bitcoin? Is Bitcoin vulnerable to quantum computing? Where can I get help? General What is Bitcoin? As payment for goods or services. Purchase bitcoins at a Bitcoin exchange. Exchange bitcoins with someone near you. Earn bitcoins through competitive mining. Payment freedom - It is possible to send and receive bitcoins anywhere in the world at any time.
No bank holidays. No borders. No bureaucracy. Bitcoin allows its users to be in full control of their money. Choose your own fees - There is no fee to receive bitcoins, and many wallets let you control how large a fee to pay when spending. Higher fees can encourage faster confirmation of your transactions.
Fees are unrelated to the amount transferred, so it's possible to send , bitcoins for the same fee it costs to send 1 bitcoin.
On 6 August , the UK announced its Treasury had been commissioned a study of cryptocurrencies, and what role, if any, they can play in the UK economy. The study was also to report on whether regulation should be considered. According to Jan Lansky, a cryptocurrency is a system that meets six conditions: . In March , the word cryptocurrency was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Tokens, cryptocurrencies, and other types of digital assets that are not bitcoin are collectively known as alternative cryptocurrencies,    typically shortened to "altcoins" or "alt coins". The term is commonly used to describe coins and tokens created after bitcoin. The list of such cryptocurrencies can be found in the List of cryptocurrencies article. Altcoins often have underlying differences with bitcoin. For example, Litecoin aims to process a block every 2.
Significant rallies across altcoin markets are often referred to as an "altseason". A blockchain account can provide functions other than making payments, for example in decentralized applications or smart contracts. In this case, the units or coins are sometimes referred to as crypto tokens or cryptotokens.
Cryptocurrencies are generally generated by their own blockchain like Bitcoin and Litecoin whereas tokens are usually issued within a smart contract running on top of a blockchain such as Ethereum. Decentralized cryptocurrency is produced by the entire cryptocurrency system collectively, at a rate which is defined when the system is created and which is publicly known. In centralized banking and economic systems such as the Federal Reserve System , corporate boards or governments control the supply of currency by printing units of fiat money or demanding additions to digital banking ledgers.
In the case of decentralized cryptocurrency, companies or governments cannot produce new units, and have not so far provided backing for other firms, banks or corporate entities which hold asset value measured in it. The underlying technical system upon which decentralized cryptocurrencies are based was created by the group or individual known as Satoshi Nakamoto.
As of May [update] , over 1, cryptocurrency specifications existed. Most cryptocurrencies are designed to gradually decrease production of that currency, placing a cap on the total amount of that currency that will ever be in circulation. The validity of each cryptocurrency's coins is provided by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records , called blocks , which are linked and secured using cryptography.
It is "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way". Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. Blockchains are secure by design and are an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance. Decentralized consensus has therefore been achieved with a blockchain.
Cryptocurrencies use various timestamping schemes to "prove" the validity of transactions added to the blockchain ledger without the need for a trusted third party. The first timestamping scheme invented was the proof-of-work scheme. The most widely used proof-of-work schemes are based on SHA and scrypt. The proof-of-stake is a method of securing a cryptocurrency network and achieving distributed consensus through requesting users to show ownership of a certain amount of currency. It is different from proof-of-work systems that run difficult hashing algorithms to validate electronic transactions.
The scheme is largely dependent on the coin, and there's currently no standard form of it. Some cryptocurrencies use a combined proof-of-work and proof-of-stake scheme. In cryptocurrency networks, mining is a validation of transactions. For this effort, successful miners obtain new cryptocurrency as a reward. The reward decreases transaction fees by creating a complementary incentive to contribute to the processing power of the network.
Thus the value of the currency obtained for finding a hash often does not justify the amount of money spent on setting up the machines, the cooling facilities to overcome the heat they produce, and the electricity required to run them. Some miners pool resources , sharing their processing power over a network to split the reward equally, according to the amount of work they contributed to the probability of finding a block.
A "share" is awarded to members of the mining pool who present a valid partial proof-of-work. Some Chinese miners have since relocated to Canada. In March , the city of Plattsburgh in upstate New York put an month moratorium on all cryptocurrency mining in an effort to preserve natural resources and the "character and direction" of the city.
An increase in cryptocurrency mining increased the demand for graphics cards GPU in Miners regularly buy up the entire stock of new GPU's as soon as they are available. Nvidia has asked retailers to do what they can when it comes to selling GPUs to gamers instead of miners. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private "keys" or "addresses" which can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger, effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency.
With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet. Bitcoin is pseudonymous rather than anonymous in that the cryptocurrency within a wallet is not tied to people, but rather to one or more specific keys or "addresses". Still, cryptocurrency exchanges are often required by law to collect the personal information of their users. Additions such as Zerocoin , Zerocash and CryptoNote have been suggested, which would allow for additional anonymity and fungibility.
Most cryptocurrency tokens are fungible and interchangeable. However, unique non-fungible tokens also exist. Such tokens can serve as assets in games like CryptoKitties. Cryptocurrencies are used primarily outside existing banking and governmental institutions and are exchanged over the Internet.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, offer block rewards incentives for miners. There has been an implicit belief that whether miners are paid by block rewards or transaction fees does not affect the security of the blockchain, but a study suggests that this may not be the case under certain circumstances. The rewards paid to miners increase the supply of the cryptocurrency.
By making sure that verifying transactions is a costly business, the integrity of the network can be preserved as long as benevolent nodes control a majority of computing power. The verification algorithm requires a lot of processing power, and thus electricity in order to make verification costly enough to accurately validate public blockchain. Not only do miners have to factor in the costs associated with expensive equipment necessary to stand a chance of solving a hash problem, they further must consider the significant amount of electrical power in search of the solution.
Generally, the block rewards outweigh electricity and equipment costs, but this may not always be the case. The current value, not the long-term value, of the cryptocurrency supports the reward scheme to incentivize miners to engage in costly mining activities. Some sources claim that the current bitcoin design is very inefficient, generating a welfare loss of 1. The main source for this inefficiency is the large mining cost, which is estimated to be Million USD per year.
However, the efficiency of the bitcoin system can be significantly improved by optimizing the rate of coin creation and minimizing transaction fees. Another potential improvement is to eliminate inefficient mining activities by changing the consensus protocol altogether. Transaction fees for cryptocurrency depend mainly on the supply of network capacity at the time, versus the demand from the currency holder for a faster transaction.
For ether , transaction fees differ by computational complexity, bandwidth use, and storage needs, while bitcoin transaction fees differ by transaction size and whether the transaction uses SegWit. Some cryptocurrencies have no transaction fees, and instead rely on client-side proof-of-work as the transaction prioritization and anti-spam mechanism. Cryptocurrency exchanges allow customers to trade cryptocurrencies for other assets, such as conventional fiat money , or to trade between different digital currencies.
Atomic swaps are a mechanism where one cryptocurrency can be exchanged directly for another cryptocurrency, without the need for a trusted third party such as an exchange. The kiosk installed in Austin, Texas, is similar to bank ATMs but has scanners to read government-issued identification such as a driver's license or a passport to confirm users' identities. An initial coin offering ICO is a controversial means of raising funds for a new cryptocurrency venture.
An ICO may be used by startups with the intention of avoiding regulation. However, securities regulators in many jurisdictions, including in the U. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency usually in the form of "tokens" is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, often bitcoin or ether. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers , four of the 10 biggest proposed initial coin offerings have used Switzerland as a base, where they are frequently registered as non-profit foundations.
The Swiss regulatory agency FINMA stated that it would take a "balanced approach" to ICO projects and would allow "legitimate innovators to navigate the regulatory landscape and so launch their projects in a way consistent with national laws protecting investors and the integrity of the financial system.
The legal status of cryptocurrencies varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. While some countries have explicitly allowed their use and trade,  others have banned or restricted it. Various government agencies, departments, and courts have classified bitcoin differently.
China Central Bank banned the handling of bitcoins by financial institutions in China in early In Russia, though cryptocurrencies are legal, it is illegal to actually purchase goods with any currency other than the Russian ruble. Cryptocurrencies are a potential tool to evade economic sanctions for example against Russia , Iran , or Venezuela. Russia also secretly supported Venezuela with the creation of the petro El Petro , a national cryptocurrency initiated by the Maduro government to obtain valuable oil revenues by circumventing US sanctions.
The Japanese platform Line and the Russian platform Yandex have similar prohibitions. This means bitcoin will be subject to capital gains tax. In July , the IRS started sending letters to cryptocurrency owners warning them to amend their returns and pay taxes.
As the popularity of and demand for online currencies has increased since the inception of bitcoin in ,  so have concerns that such an unregulated person to person global economy that cryptocurrencies offer may become a threat to society. Concerns abound that altcoins may become tools for anonymous web criminals.
Cryptocurrency networks display a lack of regulation that has been criticized as enabling criminals who seek to evade taxes and launder money. Money laundering issues are also present in regular bank transfers , however with bank-to-bank wire transfers for instance, the account holder must at least provide a proven identity. Transactions that occur through the use and exchange of these altcoins are independent from formal banking systems, and therefore can make tax evasion simpler for individuals.
Since charting taxable income is based upon what a recipient reports to the revenue service, it becomes extremely difficult to account for transactions made using existing cryptocurrencies, a mode of exchange that is complex and difficult to track. Systems of anonymity that most cryptocurrencies offer can also serve as a simpler means to launder money. Rather than laundering money through an intricate net of financial actors and offshore bank accounts, laundering money through altcoins can be achieved through anonymous transactions.
In February the world's largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox , declared bankruptcy. Homero Josh Garza, who founded the cryptocurrency startups GAW Miners and ZenMiner in , acknowledged in a plea agreement that the companies were part of a pyramid scheme , and pleaded guilty to wire fraud in The U.
The SEC's complaint stated that Garza, through his companies, had fraudulently sold "investment contracts representing shares in the profits they claimed would be generated" from mining. Tether indicates that it is building a new core for its primary wallet in response to the attack in order to prevent the stolen coins from being used. Properties of cryptocurrencies gave them popularity in applications such as a safe haven in banking crises and means of payment, which also led to the cryptocurrency use in controversial settings in the form of online black markets , such as Silk Road.
In the year following the initial shutdown of Silk Road, the number of prominent dark markets increased from four to twelve, while the amount of drug listings increased from 18, to 32, Darknet markets present challenges in regard to legality. Cryptocurrency used in dark markets are not clearly or legally classified in almost all parts of the world.
In the U. Cryptocurrencies have been compared to Ponzi schemes , pyramid schemes  and economic bubbles ,  such as housing market bubbles. While cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that are managed through advanced encryption techniques, many governments have taken a cautious approach toward them, fearing their lack of central control and the effects they could have on financial security. He cautioned that virtual currencies pose a new challenge to central banks' control over the important functions of monetary and exchange rate policy.
Cryptocurrency mining consumes significant quantities of electricity and has a large associated carbon footprint. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Monero were estimated to have added 3 to 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere in the period from 1 January to 30 June There are also purely technical elements to consider.
For example, technological advancement in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin result in high up-front costs to miners in the form of specialized hardware and software. Additionally, cryptocurrency private keys can be permanently lost from local storage due to malware, data loss or the destruction of the physical media. This prevents the cryptocurrency from being spent, resulting in its effective removal from the markets. The cryptocurrency community refers to pre-mining, hidden launches, ICO or extreme rewards for the altcoin founders as a deceptive practice.
Paul Krugman , winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences , has repeated numerous times that it is a bubble that will not last  and links it to Tulip mania. Fink called bitcoin an 'index of money laundering '. It covers studies of cryptocurrencies and related technologies, and is published by the University of Pittsburgh. The journal encourages authors to digitally sign a file hash of submitted papers, which will then be timestamped into the bitcoin blockchain.
Authors are also asked to include a personal bitcoin address in the first page of their papers. Cryptocurrencies make tracking donations easier and have the potential to allow donors to see how their money is used financial transparency. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. See also: History of bitcoin. Main article: Blockchain. Main article: Cryptocurrency wallet.
Main articles: Fungibility and Non-fungible token. Main article: Cryptocurrency exchange. See also: Legality of bitcoin by country or territory. Main article: Cryptocurrency and security. Main article: Darknet market. Main article: Ledger journal. Archived from the original on 31 August Retrieved 8 August Retrieved 3 May International Business Times. Archived from the original on 12 September Retrieved 15 September Archived from the original on 26 October Archived from the original PDF on 13 August Retrieved 11 July Archived PDF from the original on 18 December Retrieved 26 October Archived PDF from the original on 3 September Retrieved 10 October Archived from the original on 30 August Retrieved 11 January American University Law Review.
Archived from the original on 12 January Archived from the original on 4 October IEEE Spectrum. Archived from the original on 4 June Around the same time, Nick Szabo, a computer scientist who now blogs about law and the history of money, was one of the first to imagine a new digital currency from the ground up.
Mercatus Center. George Mason University. Archived PDF from the original on 21 September Retrieved 22 October The UK News. Archived from the original on 10 November Bitcoin operates on a decentralized computer network or distributed ledger called a blockchain, which manages and tracks the currency. Think of the distributed ledger like a huge public record of transactions taking place in the currency. The networked computers verify the transactions, ensuring the integrity of the data and the ownership of bitcoins.
This decentralized network is a huge part of the appeal of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Users can exchange money to and from other users, and the lack of a central bank to manage the currency makes the currency almost autonomous.
This autonomy means that the currency, at least theoretically, can avoid the interference of governments and central banks. Bitcoin can operate mostly anonymously. Some computers called miners are specially outfitted with high-powered processors that can chew through transactions and earn a part of a bitcoin.
So Bitcoin requires a lot of processing power to maintain the network and a lot of electricity to run those computers. In the absence of such a change, experts expect the remaining number of bitcoins to be mined out around the year When this occurs, miners will be rewarded solely with a fee for processing transactions. While the number of bitcoins may be limited, each whole bitcoin can be split into much smaller units.
A bitcoin can be officially divided into as many as one hundred million parts, which are called satoshi in honor of the mysterious founder. In practice, however, bitcoins are divided into even finer divisions to facilitate payments of very small amounts of real currency. Bitcoin is just one type of cryptocurrency, and literally thousands more have been created.
Some of the most popular include Ethereum, Litecoin and Ripple. Users can hold and spend bitcoins from a cryptocurrency wallet. A wallet is like a personalized location on the distributed ledger that refers to only your currency holdings. When you acquire bitcoins, your wallet provides a unique cryptographic address to the sender. Through its decentralized network and limited number of coins, Bitcoin promises a kind of utopian version of currency.
Proponents say that by getting central banks and governments out of the currency game, the currency will maintain its value better over time. By extricating these entities, some proponents say that Bitcoin returns power to the people. The relative anonymity of Bitcoin is also a huge feature for many. Some proponents such as libertarians like that the government or other authorities cannot easily track who uses the currency.
However, such anonymity means that the currency can also be used for criminal activities. Bitcoin is also popular because the hype surrounding the cryptocurrency has made it a popular trading vehicle. Because the value of the currency fluctuates so much, traders can jump in and make or lose money.
This hype and the perceived limited nature of coins has driven the price of bitcoins much higher over the last decade, and it continues to fluctuate significantly. Bitcoin suffers from some significant drawbacks that are intrinsic to its design, notably its limit on the number of coins in circulation and its general volatility.
Big computer miners require a lot of energy to operate. Producing the electricity is expensive and pollutes the environment, for what some detractors say is a currency project with little feasibility. A July study in technology journal Joule showed that mining produced enough carbon emissions to rank it with a small country around the levels of Jordan and Sri Lanka. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Technical University of Munich said that Bitcoin mining by itself accounted for 0.
By its very nature, the number of coins is limited, and that poses a serious problem on using it as a currency. In effect, this limit does not allow the money supply to be increased, exposing an economy to destructive deflationary spirals, which were more typical when economies ran on the gold standard.
In fact, this concern is a key reason why the gold standard was eliminated. A challenging situation arises when consumers and others hoard currency during tough economic times. Without a central authority such as a bank to stoke the economy or offer credit , the economy could move into a deflationary spiral. Imagine going to a restaurant where the prices changed up or down every day, sometimes by 10 percent or more.
While volatility makes Bitcoin attractive for traders, it renders it all but worthless as a medium of exchange. While Bitcoin is an interesting experiment, it has serious drawbacks that make it difficult to achieve the stated mission of being a medium of exchange. Add on the fact that governments could potentially shut down the currency at will, and it hardly sounds like an attractive prospect at all.
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