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.
You also have private blockchains. These are often used for more niche purposes like a business managing data or interacting with its customers. For example, Northern Trust, the financial services firm created one with IBM that it’s been testing for more than a year to store data such as biometric information and other records. In June, it also won a patent for storing meeting notes on the blockchain.
The blockchain protocol discourages the existence of multiple blockchains through a process called “consensus.” In the presence of multiple, differing copies of the blockchain, the consensus protocol will adopt the longest chain available. More users on a blockchain means that blocks can be added to the end of the chain quicker. By that logic, the blockchain of record will always be the one that the most users trust. The consensus protocol is one of blockchain technology’s greatest strengths, but also allows for one of its greatest weaknesses.
User fear of 51% attacks can actually limit monopolies from forming on the blockchain. In “Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money,” New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper writes of how a group of users, called “Bitfury,” pooled thousands of high-powered computers together to gain a competitive edge on the blockchain. Their goal was to mine as many blocks as possible and earn bitcoin, which at the time were valued at approximately $700 each.
Plus, dealing with the IRS if you accept a lot of bitcoin in exchange for your goods and services might be more complicated than you want. Technically, the IRS sees bitcoin as a property, not a currency. This can get messy, since a bitcoin exchange can involve a gain or a loss in U.S. dollars, even if you’re gaining bitcoins. Talk to your accountant before diving into the world of bitcoin, and keep an eye out for future developments regarding bitcoin regulation.
To be accepted by the rest of the network, a new block must contain a proof-of-work (PoW). The system used is based on Adam Back's 1997 anti-spam scheme, Hashcash. The PoW requires miners to find a number called a nonce, such that when the block content is hashed along with the nonce, the result is numerically smaller than the network's difficulty target.:ch. 8 This proof is easy for any node in the network to verify, but extremely time-consuming to generate, as for a secure cryptographic hash, miners must try many different nonce values (usually the sequence of tested values is the ascending natural numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, ...:ch. 8) before meeting the difficulty target.
Blockchain technology helps counter issues like double spending. The simplest way to think of blockchain is as a large distributed ledger of sorts that stores records of transactions. This “ledger” is replicated hundreds of times throughout the public network so it is available to everyone. Every time a transaction occurs, it is updated in ALL of these replicated ledgers, so everyone can see it.
Mining is a record-keeping service done through the use of computer processing power.[e] Miners keep the blockchain consistent, complete, and unalterable by repeatedly grouping newly broadcast transactions into a block, which is then broadcast to the network and verified by recipient nodes. Each block contains a SHA-256 cryptographic hash of the previous block, thus linking it to the previous block and giving the blockchain its name.:ch. 7
Bitcoin mining operations take a lot of effort and power, and the sheer amount of competition makes it difficult for newcomers to enter the race and profit. A new miner would not only need to have the adequate computing power and the knowledge to use it to outcompete the competition but would also need the extensive amount of capital necessary to fund the operations.
News drives attention, and attention drives understanding. While many people have flocked to cryptocurrencies purely in search of financial gain, there are a ton of people that are simply curious. Some peoples are sticking around and trying to understand what cryptos are all about. While more users increase Bitcoin’s network effect, more people forming in-depth understandings of cryptos also strengthen the active Bitcoin community.
Though transaction fees are optional, miners can choose which transactions to process and prioritize those that pay higher fees. Miners may choose transactions based on the fee paid relative to their storage size, not the absolute amount of money paid as a fee. These fees are generally measured in satoshis per byte (sat/b). The size of transactions is dependent on the number of inputs used to create the transaction, and the number of outputs.:ch. 8