The double-spend problem is solved: One of the major benefits of blockchain technology is that it solves the double-spend problem. Here’s the short of the double-spend problem: Because digital money is just a computer file, it’s easy to counterfeit with a simple “copy and paste.” Without blockchain, banks keep track of everyone’s money in their accounts, so that no one “double-spends”—or spend the same money twice. Blockchain solves this problem differently and more efficiently than banks: it makes all transactions and accounts public so it’s blatantly obvious when money is being counted or used twice. (Don’t worry, your personal information isn’t included on the blockchain, though.)
Now, if there is no central system, how would everyone in the system get to know that a certain transaction has happened? The network follows the gossip protocol. Think of how gossip spreads. Suppose Alice sent 3 ETH to Bob. The nodes nearest to her will get to know of this, and then they will tell the nodes closest to them, and then they will tell their neighbors, and this will keep on spreading out until everyone knows. Nodes are basically your nosy, annoying relatives.
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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.
The blockchain sector is something regulators and lawmakers are beginning to look at more closely as well. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in uncharacteristically snarky fashion, even created its own cryptocurrency called HowieCoin to show how easily ICOs can hide as frauds. In June, the SEC appointed Valerie Szczepanik as its first “crypto czar,” while members of Congress in July held multiple committee hearings to learn more about how the blockchain can be used in industries such as agriculture.
Because blockchain transactions are free, you can charge minuscule amounts, say 1/100 of a cent for a video view or article read. Why should I pay The Economist or National Geographic an annual subscription fee if I can pay per article on Facebook or my favorite chat app. Again, remember that blockchain transactions carry no transaction cost. You can charge for anything in any amount without worrying about third parties cutting into your profits.
In addition to lining the pockets of miners, mining serves a second and vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically "minting" currency. For example, in February of 2019, there were a little over 17.5 million Bitcoin in circulation. Aside from the coins minted via the genesis block (the very first block created by Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto himself), every single one of those Bitcoin came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million. (Related reading: What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined?)
Though each bitcoin transaction is recorded in a public log, names of buyers and sellers are never revealed – only their wallet IDs. While that keeps bitcoin users’ transactions private, it also lets them buy or sell anything without easily tracing it back to them. That’s why it has become the currency of choice for people online buying drugs or other illicit activities.
Bob spread his spreadsheet diary over 5,000 computers, which were all over the world. These computers are called nodes. Every time a transaction occurs it has to be approved by the nodes, each of whom checks its validity. Once every node has checked a transaction there is a sort of electronic vote, as some nodes may think the transaction is valid and others think it is a fraud.