The world’s first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is stored and exchanged securely on the internet through a digital ledger known as a blockchain. Bitcoins are divisible into smaller units known as satoshis — each satoshi is worth 0.00000001 bitcoin.
How does Bitcoin work?
Bitcoin was created by Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonymous person or team who outlined the technology in a 2008 white paper. It’s a simple concept: bitcoin is digital money that allows for secure peer-to-peer transactions on the Internet.
The invention of Bitcoin was a breakthrough in cryptography. Bitcoin’s key innovation was the blockchain — a piece of software that acts like a ledger, logging every transaction ever made using bitcoin. Unlike a bank’s ledger, the Bitcoin blockchain is distributed and verified across a network of computers. No company, country, or third party is in control of it. And anyone can become part of that network.
Bitcoin is based on encryption, making it extremely secure and universally accessible. Creating a “bank account” on the global Bitcoin network generates an extremely long password a.k.a. a “private key” that is impossible for anyone else to guess. Anyone, anywhere with Internet access can receive, send, and hold Bitcoin using the public version of their key (i.e. the version of their private key that can be freely shared in order to securely receive funds).
There will only ever be 21 million BTC. Bitcoin is digital money that cannot be inflated or manipulated by any individual, company, government, or central bank.
Bitcoin is highly divisible. You can hold, send, or receive fractions of a BTC. The smallest unit, i.e. 0.000 000 01 BTC, is called a “satoshi” or “sat.” As bitcoin’s value has risen, its easy divisibility has become a key attribute.
What is Bitcoin mining?
Bitcoin is often considered to be a “store of value” like gold, and like gold, new bitcoins are created by “mining” (up to a maximum 21 million coins).
Bitcoin mining is the process by which thousands of computers around the world compete to record and verify transactions on the network. These specialized computers known as ‘mining rigs’ perform the equations required to verify and record a new transaction.
In the early days, a typical desktop PC was powerful enough to participate, which allowed pretty much anyone who was curious to try their hand at mining. These days, however, the computers required are massive, specialized, and often owned by businesses or large numbers of individuals pooling their resources. As of October 2021, Cambridge University researchers estimate that U.S.-based miners maintain the highest percentage of global mining by country.
Who created Bitcoin?
The principles behind Bitcoin first appeared in a white paper published online in late 2008 by a person or group going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto.
This paper wasn’t the first idea for digital money drawing on the fields of cryptography and computer science—in fact, the paper referred to earlier concepts—but it was a uniquely elegant solution to the problem of establishing trust between different online entities, where people may be hidden (like bitcoin’s own creator) by pseudonyms, or physically located on the other side of the planet.
Nakamoto devised a pair of intertwined concepts: the bitcoin private key and the blockchain ledger. When you hold bitcoin, you control it through a private key—a string of randomized numbers and letters that unlocks a virtual vault containing your purchase. Each private key is tracked on the virtual ledger called the blockchain.
Satoshi’s identity has never been revealed, and likely never will be. The fact that Bitcoin is not controlled by a single person or organization is core to its value proposition.
How does Bitcoin have value?
Bitcoin’s value is inspired by properties such as:
A fixed and predictable monetary supply. Unlike fiat currency (government-backed money), new Bitcoin cannot be created suddenly or by the trillions by any elected or unelected official. There will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin.
Bitcoin operates by open-source code and is globally transparent, unlike fiat currency. At any time, anyone can independently verify the total Bitcoin supply and its underlying code, as well as the balances of each account on the global ledger.
Bitcoin is secured by cutting-edge encryption, and is backed by immense amounts of energy. If an individual or organization were to try to undermine Bitcoin’s core encryption, it would require impossible amounts of energy, specialized computers, and space. Bitcoin is the most secure computing network in the world.
Unlike traditional bank accounts, anyone, anywhere can connect to the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin is an uncensorable and global network for transacting value.
So long as the above properties are useful to people across the world, Bitcoin will have value.
How can I buy Bitcoin?
You can create an account on Coinbase or an increasing number of other reputable financial technology companies to buy, send, and receive Bitcoin. Bitcoin is also increasingly accessible via traditional financial portfolios, for example in October 2021 the first Bitcoin futures-based ETF was approved. (ETFs are a popular way for investors to gain exposure to an asset like gold or tech stocks, and now Bitcoin.)
Released: January 2009