written by @veriphibtc
Bitcoin Core is the software that allows one to independently validate the entirety of Bitcoin's history according to its consensus rules. Anyone can participate, and the more that do, the more robust the network becomes.
Bitcoin is often singularly viewed as a digital asset that can be used as money. People are attracted to Bitcoin as an investment vehicle since its properties and rules are completely distinct from any other more traditional type of assets such as gold, stocks, bonds, or regular fiat money.
Such rules, like the predictable issuance schedule and a hard cap of 21 million units, make Bitcoin a truly hard money. The concept of hard money versus easy money has been slowly fading away during the last decades as countries have gradually shifted from a gold standard to fiat one.
The two aforementioned rules above are only one of the hundreds that make Bitcoin work as a whole. So, how exactly are they enforced?
Bitcoin Core Makes You A “Real” Peer
You probably heard numerous times that Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer technology and network. In fact, the Bitcoin white paper itself was titled “A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. The concept of the peer is fundamental, as it pins down the smallest independent increment of the whole network.
So what exactly is a peer? Do you become a Bitcoin peer once you buy your first Bitcoin? Is there a certain threshold of satoshis you have to reach before being honored with this title? The short answer is no. You don’t need to own any Bitcoin in order to become a peer. In fact, all you need is a computer, some hard disk space and a few hours of your time.
A peer in the Bitcoin network is just another name referring to the servers that maintain and protect the network by making sure everybody is on the same page in regards to the rules mentioned above. These days, they are often referred to as full Bitcoin nodes and the program they are running is known as Bitcoin Core.
Bitcoin Core is basically an open-source software that lets you independently verify the entirety of Bitcoin's history through a complete blockchain validation according to its original protocol rules. It also contains the Bitcoin Core wallet, but you can also use a variety of other wallets with your own node.
On a more technical note, the history of Bitcoin that we’re talking about here is basically the set of UTXO’s (Unspent transaction outputs). Your Bitcoin core program will essentially recompute and validate all the signatures that are fed to it by other peers of the network to make sure they are authentic and valid.
What Are The Benefits Of Bitcoin Core ?
Once you connect your Bitcoin wallet to your own Bitcoin full node, you can be sure you won’t be tricked by a malicious actor in the network with regards to your Bitcoin funds since you’re communicating independently to the Bitcoin network without using any third party.
You’re always using a full node at some point if you’re using Bitcoin - it's just a matter of whether you're using your own or someone else's. By using your own, you will benefit from Bitcoin’s most desired features: sovereignty, censorship-resistance, and independence. There are also non-negligible benefits in regards to your security and privacy, since you will not be sharing information to external parties unnecessarily.
In contrast to miners, you won’t be rewarded monetarily by the network for maintaining a node. All the benefits mentioned above are the driving force behind running a node. Anything increasing your Bitcoin operational security shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you have a significant investment in Bitcoin.
For now, there are around 10,000 public nodes that can be detected on the network. Although it is also possible to run Bitcoin core in a completely anonymous way, which makes it really hard to detect all the bitcoin nodes running in real-time. The current estimate from Bitcoin Core developer Luke DashJr is around 45,000 nodes.
Imagine the Bitcoin Network as a giant fishnet, with Bitcoin core nodes being the knots. The more knots there are, the sturdier and stronger the fishnet is. You would have to break every singular individual Bitcoin node and erase its blockchain in order to break Bitcoin. This is a rather complicated task considering their geographical distribution and that the majority of them are really hard to detect.
These numbers are already pretty impressive and make Bitcoin the most decentralized cryptocurrency by far. However, considering that Bitcoin has been used potentially by tens of millions of users, the relative percentage of people validating their Bitcoin with their own node is pretty low. So what exactly is stopping them?
Challenges/How To Start
Lack Of Resources And Money
Even if the needed resources in terms of hardware are pretty low, it can still represent a non negligible cost for certain people. In fact, at the minimum you only need:
1G of memory (RAM);
A broadband Internet connection with upload speeds of at least 400 kilobits (50 kilobytes) per second.
300 GB of disk space.
Most people prefer to run Bitcoin Core on an independent machine, such as a Raspberry Pi, so you can factor that cost as well. This setup costs around $300, which is pretty low if you have invested thousands of dollars into Bitcoin, but isn’t really worth it if you invested less than a few hundred.
Technical Illiteracy And Bad UI/UX
If you’re minimally technically proficient, you can manage to go bitcoin.org and download the main Bitcoin program (Bitcoin Core) and run it yourself since it is completely open-source and free. However, it is possible you may encounter some problems along the way.
It is no secret that Bitcoin users have often felt intimidated when it comes to downloading and using Bitcoin Core. Despite being relatively straightforward for basic functions, many are scared to screw something up, regardless of the multitude of online tutorials available. It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact hurdle that leaves many users behind at this step.
That discrepancy between a vast mass of non-technical Bitcoin users and developers has been a long time sticking point in the community, as some more hardcore users advocate simply buckling down to learn it the hard way. While well-meaning, this strategy is unlikely to increase the number of Bitcoin users that run Bitcoin Core - which is in theory the end goal.
Alternatively, some companies and initiatives have been innovating to make Bitcoin Core more inviting and easier for everybody.
For example, there is a french startup called Nodl that has been selling pre-assembled and synched Bitcoin full node setups. Another company, called myNode, has taken a web-based approach where the prepackaged software has been selling for less than $100. Projects like these not only include the Bitcoin Core software, but often bundle various other Bitcoin related applications that allow you to interact with the network in a variety of ways (as a merchant, as a privacy conscious individual, as someone interested in micropayments, etc).
You can find an article comparing some of the most popular solutions here.
For a quick tutorial on building your own myNode (pictured above), check out this video by BTC Sessions:
The benefits of running your own node become evident as your understanding of its functions become clearer. By doing so you’ll benefit from making sure that the Bitcoins in your possession or being sent to you are real. You have your own verification tool to make sure that you aren’t being defrauded, are protecting the confidentiality of your financial information, and can transact in a censorship-resistant way.
While running a node isn’t the most obvious necessity to newcomers, work is being done to gradually lead more Bitcoiners down this rabbit hole. The solutions to make your life easier when it comes to using Bitcoin the right way have been proliferating, and will continue to do so. Bitcoin allows us to become our own financial institutions, keep control of our money and transact on our own terms. This begins with running your own Bitcoin Core node - a function that continues to be made easier with each passing day.
If you have any feedback on this or any other topic, please feel free to reach out to us at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org or @BTSEcom on Twitter. We always love to hear from our amazing BTSE community.