The bitcoin blockchain is a public ledger that records bitcoin transactions. It is implemented as a chain of blocks, each block containing a hash of the previous block up to the genesis block[a] of the chain. A network of communicating nodes running bitcoin software maintains the blockchain.:215–219 Transactions of the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to this network using readily available software applications.
An online bitcoin wallet is a wallet hosted in the cloud. You access the wallet through a website, from any computer, where you can deposit and withdraw funds from your bitcoin wallet. The advantage is that you do not need to install any software on your computer or download the entire blockchain, which is currently more than 30 gigabyte. You can also access your wallet from any computer in the world. The disadvantage is that you are dependent on a third party service to store your bitcoins, which can be unstable, offline or even shut down.
Let's say you had one legit $20 and one really good photocopy of that same $20. If someone were to try to spend both the real bill and the fake one, someone who took the trouble of looking at both of the bills' serial numbers would see that they were the same number, and thus one of them had to be false. What a Bitcoin miner does is analogous to that--they check transactions to make sure that users have not illegitimately tried to spend the same Bitcoin twice. This isn't a perfect analogy--we'll explain in more detail below.
An early example, OpenBazaar uses the blockchain to create a peer-to-peer eBay. Download the app onto your computing device, and you can transact with OpenBazzar vendors without paying transaction fees. The “no rules” ethos of the protocol means that personal reputation will be even more important to business interactions than it currently is on eBay.
If the private key is lost, the bitcoin network will not recognize any other evidence of ownership; the coins are then unusable, and effectively lost. For example, in 2013 one user claimed to have lost 7,500 bitcoins, worth $7.5 million at the time, when he accidentally discarded a hard drive containing his private key. A backup of his key(s) would have prevented this.
Without getting into the technical details, Bitcoin works on a vast public ledger, also called a blockchain, where all confirmed transactions are included as so-called ‘blocks.’ As each block enters the system, it is broadcast to the peer-to-peer computer network of users for validation. In this way, all users are aware of each transaction, which prevents stealing and double-spending, where someone spends the same currency twice. The process also helps blockchain users trust the system.
The whole process is pretty simple and organized: Bitcoin holders are able to transfer bitcoins via a peer-to-peer network. These transfers are tracked on the “blockchain,” commonly referred to as a giant ledger. This ledger records every bitcoin transaction ever made. Each “block” in the blockchain is built up of a data structure based on encrypted Merkle Trees. This is particularly useful for detecting fraud or corrupted files. If a single file in a chain is corrupt or fraudulent, the blockchain prevents it from damaging the rest of the ledger.
The private key (comparable to an ATM PIN) is meant to be a guarded secret, and only used to authorize Bitcoin transmissions. Thus, it’s the “private key” that is kept in a Bitcoin wallet. Some safeguards for a Bitcoin wallet include: encrypting the wallet with a strong password and choosing the cold storage option, i.e. storing it offline. In the case of Coinbase, they offer a secure "multisig vault" to host your keys, which you can sign up for.
If you want to earn Bitcoins through mining, be aware that it is a costly and time consuming process. Read the respective introductions and manuals to learn more about it. This website is a good starting point. Unless you are mining just out of curiosity and want to get to know the technology, it is important to make a cost / benefit analysis. Hardware prices, electricity costs, bitcoin difficulty and the Bitcoin value influence the profitability of Bitcoin mining. If all this seems interesting to you and you want to earn Bitcoins from mining make your first calculations on the Mining Dashboard.
Joining a pool means you can also use cheaper hardware. USB ASIC miners—which plug into any standard USB port—cost as little as $20. "For a few hundred dollars you could make a couple of dollars a day," according to Brice Colbert, a North Carolina-based miner of cryptocurrencies and operator of the site cryptojunky.com. "You're not going to make a lot of money off of it and with low-grade ASICs you could lose money depending on the exchange rate."
The other primary validation method is PoS. Rather than using a ton of electricity in a competition to solve equations, the PoS method awards the owners of virtual coins the opportunity to validate transactions in a deterministic fashion. In even plainer terms, the more coins you own of a virtual currency operating on the PoS model, the more likely you are to be chosen to validate blocks and add to the blockchain.
Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language.:ch. 5 Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain. The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer. Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.