Blockchain is the digital and decentralized ledger that records all transactions. Every time someone buys digital coins on a decentralized exchange, sells coins, transfers coins, or buys a good or service with virtual coins, a ledger records that transaction, often in an encrypted fashion, to protect it from cybercriminals. These transactions are also recorded and processed without a third-party provider, which is usually a bank.
Disclaimer: Investing in cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings ("ICOs") is highly risky and speculative, and this article is not a recommendation by Investopedia or the writer to invest in cryptocurrencies or ICOs. Since each individual's situation is unique, a qualified professional should always be consulted before making any financial decisions. Investopediamakes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein. As of the date this article was written, the author owns less than 1 BTC, and no positions in any of the other companies mentioned in this piece. Investopedia does not make recommendations about particular stocks.
Think of a railway company. We buy tickets on an app or the web. The credit card company takes a cut for processing the transaction. With blockchain, not only can the railway operator save on credit card processing fees, it can move the entire ticketing process to the blockchain. The two parties in the transaction are the railway company and the passenger. The ticket is a block, which will be added to a ticket blockchain. Just as a monetary transaction on blockchain is a unique, independently verifiable and unfalsifiable record (like Bitcoin), so can your ticket be. Incidentally, the final ticket blockchain is also a record of all transactions for, say, a certain train route, or even the entire train network, comprising every ticket ever sold, every journey ever taken.
Bitcoin faucets have been around since at least 2011. It is believed that Gavin Andresen owned the first one. They come and go and often enough are just advertising scams – the owners want users on their site so they tempt them with free Bitcoin that never actually materializes because before the users have made enough to “cash out” the site has disappeared.
The screenshot below, taken from the site Blockchain.info, might help you put all this information together at a glance. You are looking at a summary of everything that happened when block #490163 was mined. The nonce that generated the "winning" hash was 731511405. The target hash is shown on top. The term "Relayed by: Antpool" refers to the fact that this particular block was completed by AntPool, one of the more successful mining pools. As you see here, their contribution to the Bitcoin community is that they confirmed 1768 transactions for this block. If you really want to see all 1768 of those transactions for this block, go to this page and scroll down to the heading "Transactions."
Typically, consumers pay a bank to verify a transaction, a notary to sign a document, or a minister to perform a marriage. Blockchain eliminates the need for third-party verification and, with it, their associated costs. Business owners incur a small fee whenever they accept payments using credit cards, for example, because banks have to process those transactions. Bitcoin, on the other hand, does not have a central authority and has virtually no transaction fees.
One of the greatest aspects of blockchain technology is the ability for a developer or business to customize it. This means a blockchain can be completely open to the public and allow anyone to join, or it can be totally private, with only certain folks allowed access to the data, or allowed to send and receive payments. Bitcoin is an example of an open-source public blockchain that allows anyone to join, whereas a private blockchain would be perfect for a corporate customer.
The main reason we even have this cryptocurrency and blockchain revolution is as a result of the perceived shortcomings of the traditional banking system. What shortcomings, you ask? For example, when transferring money to overseas markets, a payment could be delayed for days while a bank verifies it. Many would argue that financial institutions shouldn't tie up cross-border payments and funds for such an extensive amount of time.
Blockchain is going to be used for more than just currency and transactions. To give you an idea of how seriously it’s been studied and adopted, IBM has 1,000 employees working on blockchain-powered projects. They’ve also set aside $200 million for development. Financial and tech firms invested an estimate $1.4 billion dollars in blockchain in 2016 with an increase to $2.1 billion dollars in 2018.
Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. To achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain. About every 10 minutes, a new group of accepted transactions, called a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes, without requiring central oversight. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin was spent, which is needed to prevent double-spending. A conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, but the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.:ch. 5