Quickly find the answers to commonly asked questions about Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is a currency born into the digital age. A perhaps the most prominent form of digital money, Bitcoin works very differently to the traditional world of finance. It offers three core values in which many currencies cannot attain: Decentralization, Open Source, and Peer-to-Peer networking.
Physical Bitcoins do next exist, as the currency only exists on a public ledger that allows transparent access to all. Bitcoin is not issued or backed by any banks or governments, which makes it a completely universal currency.
You have likely heard of Bitcoin in relation to how it is traded on the cryptocurrency exchange. Because of how active the current market is, many people not affiliated with the world of cryptocurrency have seen the value in investing. However, it is important to get an idea of how to use Bitcoin before investing in it or opening a wallet.
Here at Bitcoin.com, we are very passionate about the protocol and want to help you along your way. There is a lot to learn, but it is not beyond your grasp. Bitcoin is a truly beautiful innovation, and it has the capacity to change the world for the better.
The original Bitcoin code was designed by an individual or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, under MIT open source license. In 2008, Nakamoto outlined the idea behind Bitcoin in his white paper, which scientifically described how the cryptocurrency would function.
Bitcoin is the first successful digital currency designed with trust in cryptography over central authorities. Satoshi left the Bitcoin code in the hands of developers and the community in 2010. Thus far hundreds of developers have added to the open source code throughout the years.
The blockchain is the vertebrae of the Bitcoin protocol and the glue that holds the network together. It is simply a vast, distributed public ledger of account. It keeps track of every transaction ever made in the network, and all transactions are time stamped and verified by network miners.
This is how it works: miners with specialized computers compete to solve mathematical puzzles with other computers, and once they solve a puzzle they are awarded with some Bitcoin, and they also add a “block” of completed transactions to the blockchain for future viewing and verifiability.
Once a block is added to the chain, the cycle repeats itself, and the computers continue to compete to solve these difficult problems. Every transaction on the blockchain is completely transparent and accounted for in its log. Anyone can see the public keys of any transaction they want (although there are no names associated with transactions). One could go all the way back and view the very first transactions ever made on the first block ever created; this block was called the Genesis Block.
Double-Spending is the act of using the same Bitcoins twice. There is only a 21 million set limit on the protocol and no more can be produced. So the network protects against double spend by the verification of each recorded transaction. The blockchain ledger ensures that the transactions are finalized by its inputs confirmed by miners.
These confirmations make each unique Bitcoin and its subsequent transactions legitimate. If one tried to duplicate a transaction, the original block’s deterministic functions would change, showing the network that it is counterfeit and would not be accepted.
That’s the million dollar question, and there are probably a ton of answers you could give yourself. Are you fascinated by money and technology? Do you want to push the boundaries of money itself and participate in one of the biggest economic experiments of the past century?
At some point you’ll hear people say “Bitcoin is great, but you’ll never use it to buy your coffee every morning”. It’s a sign they haven’t really sat down to think about what money is, or how different people around the world use it. In fact, people are already using Bitcoin to buy their morning coffee, and merchants are using it to accept Bitcoin daily.
Are you unserved or underserved by the current international banking system because you or your family live in an emerging economy, or freelance for clients overseas? Are you under 18, or work in an industry the credit card companies or PayPal don’t approve of? Have you ever had an account frozen for some random irregularity, or had to pay over $20 in international money transfer fees just to send your funds to a friend or loved one? Bitcoin is the perfect solution to all these issues.
If you’re a merchant – either online or brick-and-mortar – accepting Bitcoin is faster and cheaper than credit cards, and all payments are final. Fees are lower and there’s no risk of fraudulent chargebacks.
Perhaps you think the value of Bitcoin will increase in future, and are interested in investing in it. Or maybe you’ve been reading about the existing fiat currency / central banking and international financial system, you have realized something’s not quite right with it, and want to place control of your money back in your own hands. Bitcoin allows you to do this.
The Bitcoin protocol has the power to change the financial landscape we see today. Here are just some of the capabilities of Bitcoin:
The application of Bitcoin as a currency is just the beginning of this evolution of the world’s finances.
Bitcoin mining is analogous to the mining of gold, but in a digital form. The process involves specialized computers solving algorithmic equations or hash functions. These problems help miners to confirm blocks of transactions held within the network. Bitcoin mining provides a reward for miners by paying out in Bitcoin, and in turn the miners confirm transactions on the blockchain. Miners introduce new Bitcoin into the network and also secure the system with transaction confirmation. They are also rewarded network fees for when they harvest new coins, and until a time when the last Bitcoin is found mining will continue.
Bitcoins can be bought from various sources. You can purchase them online using our website or through an exchange / brokerage service. You can pay via credit card, debit card, bank transfer with fiat currency, and some services also accept Paypal. Bitcoin Cash can be purchased locally using Bitcoin.com Local, and from Bitcoin Teller Machines which are similar to cash ATMs that you find worldwide.
Bitcoin.com has a list of current online exchanges and brokers who sell Bitcoins. You can also buy Bitcoins instantly using your credit/debit card or bank transfer on Bitcoin.com. Our aim is to provide the best quality services via our website, so anyone can easily obtain the cryptocurrency from a wide array of Bitcoin buying / selling platforms.
Yes. Bitcoins can be sold in various ways. The currency can be sold online on our website, to an exchange or live in person locally. These same instances work similarly to the buying process. You can sell your Bitcoin to the exchange at the current price it's being sold for. Alternatively, you can sell in person or use Local Bitcoin for extra anonymity.
Bitcoin payments are easy to make with a wallet application and addresses. You can use a standard desktop or smartphone to transact with an individual, merchant and exchange. Addresses can be used in number form, in a QR code and contactless technology. Transacting with Bitcoin offers lower fees than any known remittance provider and credit card service. No bank, no state, and no third party can offer this low amount of fees.
Bitcoin is a network operating by the three foundational principles of technological freedom: decentralization, open source code, and true peer-to-peer technology. Bitcoin’s trust is based on the subjective valuations of human faith in mathematical algorithms, encryption and numbers. With the three pillars of technological principles, Bitcoin’s blockchain is a peer-reviewed system of integrity.
Participants in Bitcoin transactions are identified by public addresses – long strings of around 30 characters you see in a person’s Bitcoin address. For every transaction, the sending and receiving addresses are publicly-viewable.
Since these numbers are virtually incomprehensible, difficult to remember without a computer and don’t contain a person’s name or identifying information, it is often claimed that Bitcoin is an “anonymous currency”. This is also often used as an argument to attack Bitcoin as a currency, for example with illegal transactions. But it’s not as simple as that.
If you publish your address anywhere, it can be linked to your real-life identity. Even if you don’t publish it, simply re-using the same address many times can show a pattern that an analyst with basic skills could link to your identity by looking at transaction times, amounts and regularity – and connecting it to other data sources like receipts, exchanges, and shipped items.
It’s recommended for privacy and security that you use a new address for every single transaction, and most modern wallet software is designed to do just that. But even though this increases the amount of effort and skill required to uncover your identity, it doesn’t make you 100% anonymous.
Freely available blockchain explorers and analytical tools have been used to link addresses with only single transactions to other addresses, forming a chain or pattern that eventually reveals its owner. These have been useful in investigating cases of theft at companies like Mt. Gox and Bitcoinica, but can potentially be used to identify anyone.
Due to all of this, it’s more accurate to say Bitcoin is “pseudonymous” and not anonymous. Think of it as a less memorable email address or online handle. Even if it’s not your real name, someone out there can potentially find out who the real person behind the pseudonym is.
There are ways to make Bitcoin more private, but they come with risks. One is to use a “mixer” or “tumbler” which effectively takes your Bitcoins and moves them around between a confusing array of addresses until it’s virtually impossible to trace. But do you trust the mixing service to spit your money out the other end, especially since most of them are run by anonymous entities themselves? Usually they do, sometimes they don’t.
Another way is to trade Bitcoin for a digital currency designed to have greater anonymity, like Monero or DASH – effectively making your own mixer. Trade Bitcoin for the other currency, perform one or more transactions to break the link, and trade back into Bitcoin. These transactions increase the complexity, though, and probably require an online exchange, which increases the potential to identify users.
Price volatility of all digital currencies may affect how much comes out the other end. And finally – like mixers – if the destination Bitcoin address is one that can be linked to you somehow, the entire process has been pointless.
“Blockchain forensics” is a growing industry with increasing levels of expertise and tool technology. The Bitcoin blockchain is public and permanent record. Your current OPSEC (Operational Security) may beat all methods of investigation available now, but will it stand up to scrutiny in 30 years’ time? How likely is anyone to look? If private transactions are something you care strongly about your operational security should stay as ahead of the curve as possible.
Unfortunately, since unique private keys are associated with individual Bitcoin wallets, if the keys are lost, there is ultimately no way to retrieve that key without a passcode seed or other retrieval system; and that key is required to spend those coins.
However, most modern wallets have wallet and key backups that you can build prior to storing money. This will allow you to create a new private key so that you may restore your private key on a new wallet if lost.
Nobody is "in charge" of Bitcoin – at least in the sense that Bitcoin is not a company or organization, has no governing body and no organizational structure. Bitcoin is simply a software protocol, like HTTP (aka the Internet and SMTP (aka email).
This has been the case since Bitcoin’s creator, the person (or persons) calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto, released their creation into the wild in 2009. There are, however, certain groups who can exert influence over the way Bitcoin functions through various means. Again, though, there are no individuals who can claim to speak for these groups, and they contain a plethora of opinions and incentives within. Examples of such groups are:
These are the people who write and maintain the software the Bitcoin network runs on. Although Satoshi Nakamoto released the first version of Bitcoin himself in 2009, the code has since been re-written and updated by subsequent programmers. The developers choose what updates to make to the protocol, and consider ways it can be improved.
These are the people (and companies) that own the machines that generate new Bitcoins and keep the network secure by validating transactions. As a result, they have the power to "vote" with their hardware and choose which Bitcoin software to support. Developers may create and release radical revisions to the Bitcoin protocol, but they'll have no effect unless the Bitcoin miners choose to adopt them.
That's you. At the end of the day, if regular users decide Bitcoin no longer fulfils their needs, then it will have no value. You can see the user effect in action just by looking at alternative cryptocurrencies collectively known as ‘altcoins' – there are currently about 700 different altcoins of varying degrees of popularity.
These have all risen and fallen in favor as users decided whether to buy, hold, sell, or simply abandon. Merchants have made individual decisions as to whether to accept them as payment or not. Bitcoin faces the same market conditions, and there's no shortage of new projects claiming their protocol is superior.
So far, none have knocked Bitcoin from its position as the most popular cryptocurrency, but there's no guarantee this will always be the case. Large holders, venture capitalists and influential figures in the "Bitcoin community" could also affect Bitcoin's future path, though their influence is less direct. And again, there is rarely a consensus of vision among them.
See Bitcoin.com’s official Bitcoin Wallet here.
Like the name suggests, a Bitcoin wallet is an application that stores, sends and receives bitcoins. You can think of it like you would a leather wallet full of physical cash, and basically that’s all you need to use Bitcoin.
The most common wallets are smartphone-based and use the device’s camera to scan QR codes to save the user from needing to copy/paste long Bitcoin addresses. Other people have desktop versions or use browser-based wallets. The interface is always similar to the end user, though the way they function and handle private keys (the ‘key’ which allow you to spend your Bitcoins) and user privacy can be very different.
Some apps have features that add value to your Bitcoin-using experience, like location-based Bitcoin business guides, links to exchanges to trade in and out of fiat currencies, more secure vault storage, or the ability to hold digital tokens other than just Bitcoin, such as any number of the many altcoins on offer.
Some wallets have central servers, meaning users have to create accounts with a login name (usually an email address) and password. These are less private and (if login info and keys are not secured properly) may be vulnerable to hackers. On the upside, when a centralized wallet is used, passwords are usually recoverable if a user forgets their password.
Other wallets store all information and private keys on the device itself, some of which generate wallet keys from a single “seed” phrase of about 12 words. If a user remembers the seed phrase, then the wallet can be restored elsewhere if the device is lost or broken. On the downside, if you forget the seed phrase, the wallet can’t be recovered.
Apart from smartphone and desktop apps, you can also buy specialized hardware devices to keep your keys completely offline, or even print a wallet on paper to keep them as safe from hackers as possible. These are the best options for users holding large amounts of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin users now have a wide selection of wallets to choose from, and because of this competition, features have improved vastly over the past couple of years. But with more choice comes the need for more caution: fraudulent Bitcoin wallets have begun to appear that mimic the look of popular wallets, but are actually malware that steal Bitcoins. Be very careful the wallet you’re installing is the real one.
Until Bitcoin becomes the dominant currency for payments around the world, it will be more popular among traders and price speculators. As a result, the price is subject to the market forces of supply and demand which, at this point in time, goes hand in hand with the trends and whims of speculators – as a result, the price can move suddenly and sharply up or down in response to news events.
As a rule of thumb: if a piece of news makes Bitcoin more likely to be widely adopted, the price rises. If it places extra hurdles towards mass adoption, the price will fall.
These events may be based on issues affecting the Bitcoin world only – such as a large scale hack affecting a key Bitcoin exchange, wallet or essential software which causes the price to dip. This happened after the Mt. Gox meltdown in 2014 and thefts at Bitstamp and Bitfinex, plus numerous other smaller companies.
A large market such as the EU, China, Japan or US may announce new regulations either favorable or restrictive to Bitcoin, causing the price to rise or fall respectively. As an example, when the Chinese government restricted the practices of Bitcoin exchanges in 2013, the price fell from its record high). It may be an internal issue, such as a miners’ conference or meeting to decide changes to the Bitcoin protocol; the price sometimes dips if a block size or scaling consensus cannot be reached, or seems to be too far off.
News which affects the price may be only vaguely related to Bitcoin, or sometimes not at all. Dramatic economic or financial news like new tax policies, bank runs or bailouts, negative interest rates, stock market crashes, banking instability or government bankruptcies all suggest a new kind of asset class may be preferable, and the Bitcoin price rises.
The price sometimes fluctuates wildly for no apparent reason at all. Sudden crashes, massive increases and up / down volatility can happen and even after the fact, traders debate over what may have caused it. A large price build-up may suddenly reverse when it hits a certain price level, at which point traders set limit orders and/or take profits. The inverse happens if the price drops too far.
Some have suggested Bitcoin can never be adopted as a regular currency while prices are so volatile. In truth, if there was a sudden rush to Bitcoin among the general public (maybe due to a crisis in a major fiat currency) the price would probably rise dramatically and then stabilize – especially if there was nothing to swap it for, or no reason to do so.
In the meantime, if you think you can predict the big movements then good luck on the trading exchanges! But be careful, it can also be inexplicable and unpredictable.
There are plenty of reasons to want to trade Bitcoin for fiat and other digital tokens without an exchange.
The main one is security and trust – two of the largest Bitcoin exchanges of all time, Mt. Gox and Bitfinex, have suffered catastrophic hacks in the past and lost hundreds of thousands of their users’ BTC. Not to mention the multiple other smaller exchanges that were hacked or disappeared in mysterious circumstances.
Another is privacy – exchanges these days have similar know-your-customer (KYC) requirements to banks. All this information is kept on file and, like your funds, is at risk of theft if the exchange’s security isn’t up to scratch.
Person-to-person trading is a small but growing market, with services like Local Bitcoin facilitating individual trade deals between users. Some also use online classifieds like Craigslist or even chat groups on apps like Telegram and WeChat to indicate willingness to trade in person. Other services like BitKan have special apps designed to introduce you to online buyers who may not be in your physical location.
Be aware that, in many jurisdictions, even trading with other individuals in a private arrangement is regulated by KYC and anti money laundering (AML) laws, meaning you could be at risk if you don’t know anything about the people you’re trading with. As such, it is important to clarify your local laws before engaging in person-to-person trades.
There can also be risks to your personal security from carrying large sums of cash in your pocket or Bitcoin on your device, trading with people you don’t know or trust well, trading online, and meeting in private or out-of-the-way locations. Again, it is recommended that you treat your mobile Bitcoin wallet like a regular wallet with cash in it; don’t carry more than you would be comfortable losing in case you lose your phone etc.
A third reason to trade off-exchange is volume – if you’re looking to buy or sell large amounts of Bitcoin all at once, a large trade can shift the market against you on low-liquidity exchanges.
Yes… and no. The days where anyone could make money mining Bitcoin with a desktop computer or GPU cards are unfortunately long gone. The total computing (or “hashing”) power of the network has risen exponentially since the introduction of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), or machines designed specifically to solve Bitcoin’s mining proof-of-work algorithm and nothing else.
For a brief introduction to Bitcoin mining and some basic options, see Bitcoin.com’s guide here.
It is still possible for individual miners to make some money by purchasing their own ASIC-based equipment, however most mining takes place in large factory-like environments with hundreds of machines, in places where energy is cheap (such as China and above the Arctic Circle). And once your machine is superseded by a newer model a few months after purchase, its ability to compete on the network (and thus its earning potential) is greatly diminished, along with its resale value.
You also need to consider energy costs where you live. Bitcoin-mining ASIC machines run very hot and consume large amounts of electricity. You’ll need to subtract the costs of electricity and cooling from the profits you make.
However, if you have access to cheap electricity, don’t mind (a lot of) extra heat and you think the Bitcoin price is going to increase exponentially in future, try mining for yourself. You’ll learn a lot about how the Bitcoin network works, and the network needs more individual miners to keep it secure and decentralized.
In fact, a large number of individuals mine Bitcoin to contribute back to the network in this way, as well as just for the fun of it. There’s also always the possibility, though increasingly remote, that an individual miner will mine the next block and receive the full reward for doing so.
If you still want to mine and don’t want to own or manage your own devices, various “cloud mining” companies exist. These are large operations located in data centers around the world. Users buy a share of the mining power available and receive rewards in proportion to their shares. Like all Bitcoin services there are trustworthy and untrustworthy operators, and cloud mining is subject to the same risks and price fluctuations as managing your own equipment – so be sure to do your research and ask questions before parting with any money.
You can purchase just about anything with Bitcoins, from goods like clothing, electronics, food and art to handmade crafts. Bitcoin can also be used to purchase large items like cars, real estate, and investment vehicles such as precious metals. By using Purse.io, users can buy just about anything from Amazon and get a discount of up to 20% just by using Bitcoin. Additionally, many merchants who accept Bitcoin also give discounts for people who pay with the digital currency.
For merchants that don't accept Bitcoin, there's still a way to use your cryptocurrency to purchase the items you’re interested in by using a Bitcoin debit card. Bitcoin.com has a list of Bitcoin debit card companies to choose from; some cards can only be issued to certain countries, and all have varying fees so be sure to read up on your options in order to choose the best card for you.
A Bitcoin address is a long string of 27 - 34 numbers and letters that acts similarly to an email address. The address enables the Bitcoin blockchain to recognize when Bitcoins are sent and received. These addresses can be used by anybody, from single individuals to businesses to multiple people accessing the one address if desired.
It is also considered more secure not to re-use addresses but rather to use a unique address every time you send and receive Bitcoins. This increases the privacy of your transactions to a degree and helps in avoiding public tracking of your funds.
Bitcoin transactions are composed of an amount, an input (sending address), an output (receiving address) and private keys (the keys which allow you to spend your Bitcoins).
A user simply enters a receiving address, and if the person possesses the private key associated with the Bitcoins they are trying to spend, the transaction is sent and verified with the help of miners confirming blocks of exchanges (transactions) within the Bitcoin blockchain.
The blockchain is a database of all recorded transactions since Bitcoin’s inception. See bitcoin transactions and other data points at our Bitcoin Explorer.
Every Bitcoin address contains both a public and a private key. The public key allows others to send Bitcoins to your address, verify the signature of the transaction to ensure everything is in order, and then finalize the transaction. The private key, on the other hand, allows you to ‘unlock’ and spend your Bitcoins.
It does this by signing transactions, which tells the Bitcoin network that you are indeed the owner of the address in which the Bitcoins are held, and that the transaction is valid. Whoever holds the private key for a Bitcoin address is able to spend the Bitcoins which that address holds, so in a very fitting analogy your private key is essentially the key to the safe which is holding your Bitcoins.
You can also use the private key of an address to sign a message, verifying that you are the owner of the Bitcoins held at any given address. This is all secured through mathematics, using asymmetric cryptography.
It is very easy for any merchant to accept Bitcoin, and most of the time preparing to add the feature to your payment services takes less than 10 minutes. Merchants can accept Bitcoin both online and at physical locations by using a merchant service payment provider like Bitpay, or even just using a simple wallet address generated on their own device.
Bitcoin has significantly lower fees than PayPal, credit card companies and bank services making it far more appealing to store owners than the legacy payment card processors. The cryptocurrency is also irreversible, so chargebacks are not possible, leaving the decision to refund fully within the hands of the store owner.
Merchants can accept Bitcoin through a payment processor, through a Point-Of-Sale (POS) device or simply using their own tablet or smartphone. Adding Bitcoin as a payment method for your store can also increase your customer base for those who like to pay with cryptocurrency, as well as broadening your company’s reach into the global market. Read more about our merchant solutions for more information.
There are fees involved with sending Bitcoin called the ‘Miner’s fee.’ Fees are paid to the miners in order for them to verify and secure Bitcoin transactions within the network.
An unconfirmed transaction is a transaction in the network that the miners have yet to confirm. Typically, confirmations take roughly 10 minutes. However due to the increased popularity of the Bitcoin network, confirmation times have increased quite a bit and can sometimes take up to an hour or more.
There are solutions in the works to deal with this issue, as well as a lot of discussion within the Bitcoin community around the best way to go about it. If a transaction fails to confirm after 72 hours, the funds will be sent back to the original sender’s wallet.
Bitcoin is legal in most jurisdictions in the world but there are a small number nation states that have banned its use, such as Ecuador. Wikipedia has a great guide on how Bitcoin is treated in all the countries around the world and explains regulatory policies surrounding it. Regulations vary from one border to the next so you should always research your location’s laws before participating in the network.
Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym or name of a person or group who created the original Bitcoin client and author of the original reference white paper which details the protocol. Nakamoto participated in the network by helping with the code and mining until 2010 when they disappeared, never to be heard from again.
Paper wallets are a great way to keep Bitcoin offline and out of hackers’ reach. Creating paper wallets is easy but losing the paper also means the Bitcoins are lost forever so be careful. Paper wallets contain both private and public keys which allow you to spend your Bitcoins.
The most common way that people create paper wallets is using paperwallet.bitcoin.com where users can generate a fresh new Bitcoin address and related private key. The website will ask the person to initiate some steps and are then given both public and private keys after the process. After printing a copy, you can load as much Bitcoin as you want into your public QR-code.
This service, however, does come with a caveat. There are any number of technical reasons why generating a private key on a machine that you don’t control is a bad idea; these range from man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks to untrustworthy site operators, and everything in between.
However, downloading the Bitaddress code and running it on your own machine offline can mitigate these risks. This can be further secured by doing so on a machine that is not (and has never been) connected to the internet.
The blockchain records all of the newly minted Bitcoins rewarded to miners who find blocks. Blocks are sets of sent/received transactions that miners confirm for the network. As these actions take place within the Bitcoin protocol, the blockchain acts as a ledger of account for all transactions undertaken within the Bitcoin network.
Full nodes validate transactions within the blockchain and are voluntarily maintained by individuals, groups and organizations (such as merchants for example) all around the world and broadcast all the messages within the protocol.
Full nodes add an additional layer of security for these participants within the Bitcoin network and operate in an altruistic manner - meaning they work without reward. Some use cases for individuals or groups such as merchants running a full node is for detecting double-spends or for increased privacy.