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Chances are you listen to the phrase bitcoin mining and your mind begins to wander to the Western fantasy of pickaxes, dirt, and striking it rich. As it turns out, that analogy isnt too far off.
Far less glamorous but equally uncertain, bitcoin mining is performed by high-definition computers which solve complex computational science issues (read: so complex they cannot be solved by hand). The fortune and work demanded by a computer to solve one of those problems is the equivalent of a miner striking gold in the ground while digging in a sandbox.
The end result of bitcoin mining is twofold. First, when computers resolve these intricate mathematics issues on the bitcoin network, they produce new bitcoin, not unlike when a mining operation extracts gold in the ground. And second, by solving computational mathematics issues, bitcoin miners create the bitcoin payment network trustworthy and secure, by verifying its transaction information. .
Theres a good chance all that only made so much sense. In order to explain how bitcoin mining functions in detail, lets begin with a process thats a tiny bit closer to home: the regulation of printed currency.
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Consumers tend to trust printed currencies, at least in the United States. Feeling because the U.S. dollar is backed by a central bank called the Federal Reserve. In addition to a host of other responsibilities, the Federal Reserve modulates the production of new money and prosecutes the usage of counterfeit currency. .
Even electronic payments using the U.S. dollar are backed by a central authority. When you make an online order using your debit card or charge card, for example, that transaction is processed by a payment processing company such as Mastercard or Visa. In addition to recording your transaction history, those companies verify that transactions are not fraudulent, and that's one reason that your debit or credit card could be suspended while traveling. .
Bitcoin, on the other hand, is not controlled by a central authority. Instead, bitcoin is endorsed by millions of servers throughout the world called miners. This network of computers performs the identical function as the Federal Reserve, Visa, and Mastercard, but with a few important differences. Like the Federal Reserve, Visa, and Mastercard, bitcoin miners record transactions and assess their accuracy.
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When someone makes a purchase or purchase using bitcoin, we call a transaction. Transactions generated in-store and online are documented by banks, point-of-sale systems, and bodily receipts. Bitcoin miners achieve the exact same effect without these institutions by clumping transactions together in cubes and adding them to a public document known as the blockchain. .
When bitcoin miners add a new block of transactions to the blockchain, a part of the job is to make sure that those transactions are true. (More on the wonder of how this happens in a second) In particular, bitcoin miners be sure that bitcoin are not being reproduced, a unique quirk of digital currencies called double-spending.
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Once you spend $20 in the shop, that invoice is in the clerks handson. With electronic currency, however, it's a different story. .
Digital information can be replicated relatively easily, so with bitcoin and other electronic currencies, there's a threat that a spender can create backup of their bitcoin and send it to another party while still holding onto the original. Let's return to printed currency for a moment and say someone tried to duplicate their $20 bill in order to spend the original and the counterfeit at a grocery shop.
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If the numbers were identical, the clerk would know the money had been replicated. This analogy is very similar to what a bitcoin miner does when they verify new transactions. .
With as many as 600,000 purchases and sales occurring in a single day, however, verifying each of those transactions can be a lot of work for miners, which gets at one other crucial difference between bitcoin miners and the Federal Reserve, Mastercard, or Visa. As compensation for their efforts, miners are given bitcoin whenever they include a new block of transactions to the blockchain.
In 2009, it had been 50. In 2013, it was 25, in the time of writing it is 12.5, and sometime in the middle of 2020 it will halve to 6.25. .
At this rate of halving, the entire number of bitcoin in circulation will approach a limit of 21 million, making the currency more scarce and precious over time but also more expensive for miners to make.
Here's the catch. In order to get bitcoin miners to actually earn bitcoin from verifying transactions, two things must happen. First, they need to verify 1 megabyte (MB) worth of transactions, hop over to here which can technically be as little as 1 transaction but are far more often several thousand, depending on how much data each transaction stores.