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Technical: A Brief History of Payment Channels: from Satoshi to Lightning Network
Who cares about political tweets from some random country's president when payment channels are a much more interesting and are actually capable of carrying value? So let's have a short history of various payment channel techs!
Generation 0: Satoshi's Broken nSequence Channels
Because Satoshi's Vision included payment channels, except his implementation sucked so hard we had to go fix it and added RBF as a by-product. Originally, the plan for nSequence was that mempools would replace any transaction spending certain inputs with another transaction spending the same inputs, but only if the nSequence field of the replacement was larger. Since 0xFFFFFFFF was the highest value that nSequence could get, this would mark a transaction as "final" and not replaceable on the mempool anymore. In fact, this "nSequence channel" I will describe is the reason why we have this weird rule about nLockTime and nSequence. nLockTime actually only works if nSequence is not 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. final. If nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF then nLockTime is ignored, because this if the "final" version of the transaction. So what you'd do would be something like this:
You go to a bar and promise the bartender to pay by the time the bar closes. Because this is the Bitcoin universe, time is measured in blockheight, so the closing time of the bar is indicated as some future blockheight.
For your first drink, you'd make a transaction paying to the bartender for that drink, paying from some coins you have. The transaction has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, and a starting nSequence of 0. You hand over the transaction and the bartender hands you your drink.
For your succeeding drink, you'd remake the same transaction, adding the payment for that drink to the transaction output that goes to the bartender (so that output keeps getting larger, by the amount of payment), and having an nSequence that is one higher than the previous one.
Eventually you have to stop drinking. It comes down to one of two possibilities:
You drink until the bar closes. Since it is now the nLockTime indicated in the transaction, the bartender is able to broadcast the latest transaction and tells the bouncers to kick you out of the bar.
You wisely consider the state of your liver. So you re-sign the last transaction with a "final" nSequence of 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. the maximum possible value it can have. This allows the bartender to get his or her funds immediately (nLockTime is ignored if nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF), so he or she tells the bouncers to let you out of the bar.
Now that of course is a payment channel. Individual payments (purchases of alcohol, so I guess buying coffee is not in scope for payment channels). Closing is done by creating a "final" transaction that is the sum of the individual payments. Sure there's no routing and channels are unidirectional and channels have a maximum lifetime but give Satoshi a break, he was also busy inventing Bitcoin at the time. Now if you noticed I called this kind of payment channel "broken". This is because the mempool rules are not consensus rules, and cannot be validated (nothing about the mempool can be validated onchain: I sigh every time somebody proposes "let's make block size dependent on mempool size", mempool state cannot be validated by onchain data). Fullnodes can't see all of the transactions you signed, and then validate that the final one with the maximum nSequence is the one that actually is used onchain. So you can do the below:
Become friends with Jihan Wu, because he owns >51% of the mining hashrate (he totally reorged Bitcoin to reverse the Binance hack right?).
Slip Jihan Wu some of the more interesting drinks you're ordering as an incentive to cooperate with you. So say you end up ordering 100 drinks, you split it with Jihan Wu and give him 50 of the drinks.
When the bar closes, Jihan Wu quickly calls his mining rig and tells them to mine the version of your transaction with nSequence 0. You know, that first one where you pay for only one drink.
Because fullnodes cannot validate nSequence, they'll accept even the nSequence=0 version and confirm it, immutably adding you paying for a single alcoholic drink to the blockchain.
The bartender, pissed at being cheated, takes out a shotgun from under the bar and shoots at you and Jihan Wu.
Jihan Wu uses his mystical chi powers (actually the combined exhaust from all of his mining rigs) to slow down the shotgun pellets, making them hit you as softly as petals drifting in the wind.
The bartender mutters some words, clothes ripping apart as he or she (hard to believe it could be a she but hey) turns into a bear, ready to maul you for cheating him or her of the payment for all the 100 drinks you ordered from him or her.
Steely-eyed, you stand in front of the bartender-turned-bear, daring him to touch you. You've watched Revenant, you know Leonardo di Caprio could survive a bear mauling, and if some posh actor can survive that, you know you can too. You make a pose. "Drunken troll logic attack!"
I think I got sidetracked here.
Bears are bad news.
You can't reasonably invoke "Satoshi's Vision" and simultaneously reject the Lightning Network because it's not onchain. Satoshi's Vision included a half-assed implementation of payment channels with nSequence, where the onchain transaction represented multiple logical payments, exactly what modern offchain techniques do (except modern offchain techniques actually work). nSequence (the field, but not its modern meaning) has been in Bitcoin since BitCoin For Windows Alpha 0.1.0. And its original intent was payment channels. You can't get nearer to Satoshi's Vision than being a field that Satoshi personally added to transactions on the very first public release of the BitCoin software, like srsly.
Miners can totally bypass mempool rules. In fact, the reason why nSequence has been repurposed to indicate "optional" replace-by-fee is because miners are already incentivized by the nSequence system to always follow replace-by-fee anyway. I mean, what do you think those drinks you passed to Jihan Wu are, other than the fee you pay him to mine a specific version of your transaction?
Satoshi made mistakes. The original design for nSequence is one of them. Today, we no longer use nSequence in this way. So diverging from Satoshi's original design is part and parcel of Bitcoin development, because over time, we learn new lessons that Satoshi never knew about. Satoshi was an important landmark in this technology. He will not be the last, or most important, that we will remember in the future: he will only be the first.
Incentive-compatible time-limited unidirectional channel; or, Satoshi's Vision, Fixed (if transaction malleability hadn't been a problem, that is). Now, we know the bartender will turn into a bear and maul you if you try to cheat the payment channel, and now that we've revealed you're good friends with Jihan Wu, the bartender will no longer accept a payment channel scheme that lets one you cooperate with a miner to cheat the bartender. Fortunately, Jeremy Spilman proposed a better way that would not let you cheat the bartender. First, you and the bartender perform this ritual:
You get some funds and create a transaction that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig between you and the bartender. You don't broadcast this yet: you just sign it and get its txid.
You create another transaction that spends the above transaction. This transaction (the "backoff") has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, plus one block. You sign it and give this backoff transaction (but not the above transaction) to the bartender.
The bartender signs the backoff and gives it back to you. It is now valid since it's spending a 2-of-2 of you and the bartender, and both of you have signed the backoff transaction.
Now you broadcast the first transaction onchain. You and the bartender wait for it to be deeply confirmed, then you can start ordering.
The above is probably vaguely familiar to LN users. It's the funding process of payment channels! The first transaction, the one that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig, is the funding transaction that backs the payment channel funds. So now you start ordering in this way:
For your first drink, you create a transaction spending the funding transaction output and sending the price of the drink to the bartender, with the rest returning to you.
You sign the transaction and pass it to the bartender, who serves your first drink.
For your succeeding drinks, you recreate the same transaction, adding the price of the new drink to the sum that goes to the bartender and reducing the money returned to you. You sign the transaction and give it to the bartender, who serves you your next drink.
At the end:
If the bar closing time is reached, the bartender signs the latest transaction, completing the needed 2-of-2 signatures and broadcasting this to the Bitcoin network. Since the backoff transaction is the closing time + 1, it can't get used at closing time.
If you decide you want to leave early because your liver is crying, you just tell the bartender to go ahead and close the channel (which the bartender can do at any time by just signing and broadcasting the latest transaction: the bartender won't do that because he or she is hoping you'll stay and drink more).
If you ended up just hanging around the bar and never ordering, then at closing time + 1 you broadcast the backoff transaction and get your funds back in full.
Now, even if you pass 50 drinks to Jihan Wu, you can't give him the first transaction (the one which pays for only one drink) and ask him to mine it: it's spending a 2-of-2 and the copy you have only contains your own signature. You need the bartender's signature to make it valid, but he or she sure as hell isn't going to cooperate in something that would lose him or her money, so a signature from the bartender validating old state where he or she gets paid less isn't going to happen. So, problem solved, right? Right? Okay, let's try it. So you get your funds, put them in a funding tx, get the backoff tx, confirm the funding tx... Once the funding transaction confirms deeply, the bartender laughs uproariously. He or she summons the bouncers, who surround you menacingly. "I'm refusing service to you," the bartender says. "Fine," you say. "I was leaving anyway;" You smirk. "I'll get back my money with the backoff transaction, and posting about your poor service on reddit so you get negative karma, so there!" "Not so fast," the bartender says. His or her voice chills your bones. It looks like your exploitation of the Satoshi nSequence payment channel is still fresh in his or her mind. "Look at the txid of the funding transaction that got confirmed." "What about it?" you ask nonchalantly, as you flip open your desktop computer and open a reputable blockchain explorer. What you see shocks you. "What the --- the txid is different! You--- you changed my signature?? But how? I put the only copy of my private key in a sealed envelope in a cast-iron box inside a safe buried in the Gobi desert protected by a clan of nomads who have dedicated their lives and their childrens' lives to keeping my private key safe in perpetuity!" "Didn't you know?" the bartender asks. "The components of the signature are just very large numbers. The sign of one of the signature components can be changed, from positive to negative, or negative to positive, and the signature will remain valid. Anyone can do that, even if they don't know the private key. But because Bitcoin includes the signatures in the transaction when it's generating the txid, this little change also changes the txid." He or she chuckles. "They say they'll fix it by separating the signatures from the transaction body. They're saying that these kinds of signature malleability won't affect transaction ids anymore after they do this, but I bet I can get my good friend Jihan Wu to delay this 'SepSig' plan for a good while yet. Friendly guy, this Jihan Wu, it turns out all I had to do was slip him 51 drinks and he was willing to mine a tx with the signature signs flipped." His or her grin widens. "I'm afraid your backoff transaction won't work anymore, since it spends a txid that is not existent and will never be confirmed. So here's the deal. You pay me 99% of the funds in the funding transaction, in exchange for me signing the transaction that spends with the txid that you see onchain. Refuse, and you lose 100% of the funds and every other HODLer, including me, benefits from the reduction in coin supply. Accept, and you get to keep 1%. I lose nothing if you refuse, so I won't care if you do, but consider the difference of getting zilch vs. getting 1% of your funds." His or her eyes glow. "GENUFLECT RIGHT NOW." Lesson learned?
Payback's a bitch.
Transaction malleability is a bitchier bitch. It's why we needed to fix the bug in SegWit. Sure, MtGox claimed they were attacked this way because someone kept messing with their transaction signatures and thus they lost track of where their funds went, but really, the bigger impetus for fixing transaction malleability was to support payment channels.
Yes, including the signatures in the hash that ultimately defines the txid was a mistake. Satoshi made a lot of those. So we're just reiterating the lesson "Satoshi was not an infinite being of infinite wisdom" here. Satoshi just gets a pass because of how awesome Bitcoin is.
CLTV-protected Spilman Channels
Using CLTV for the backoff branch. This variation is simply Spilman channels, but with the backoff transaction replaced with a backoff branch in the SCRIPT you pay to. It only became possible after OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY (CLTV) was enabled in 2015. Now as we saw in the Spilman Channels discussion, transaction malleability means that any pre-signed offchain transaction can easily be invalidated by flipping the sign of the signature of the funding transaction while the funding transaction is not yet confirmed. This can be avoided by simply putting any special requirements into an explicit branch of the Bitcoin SCRIPT. Now, the backoff branch is supposed to create a maximum lifetime for the payment channel, and prior to the introduction of OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY this could only be done by having a pre-signed nLockTime transaction. With CLTV, however, we can now make the branches explicit in the SCRIPT that the funding transaction pays to. Instead of paying to a 2-of-2 in order to set up the funding transaction, you pay to a SCRIPT which is basically "2-of-2, OR this singlesig after a specified lock time". With this, there is no backoff transaction that is pre-signed and which refers to a specific txid. Instead, you can create the backoff transaction later, using whatever txid the funding transaction ends up being confirmed under. Since the funding transaction is immutable once confirmed, it is no longer possible to change the txid afterwards.
Todd Micropayment Networks
The old hub-spoke model (that isn't how LN today actually works). One of the more direct predecessors of the Lightning Network was the hub-spoke model discussed by Peter Todd. In this model, instead of payers directly having channels to payees, payers and payees connect to a central hub server. This allows any payer to pay any payee, using the same channel for every payee on the hub. Similarly, this allows any payee to receive from any payer, using the same channel. Remember from the above Spilman example? When you open a channel to the bartender, you have to wait around for the funding tx to confirm. This will take an hour at best. Now consider that you have to make channels for everyone you want to pay to. That's not very scalable. So the Todd hub-spoke model has a central "clearing house" that transport money from payers to payees. The "Moonbeam" project takes this model. Of course, this reveals to the hub who the payer and payee are, and thus the hub can potentially censor transactions. Generally, though, it was considered that a hub would more efficiently censor by just not maintaining a channel with the payer or payee that it wants to censor (since the money it owned in the channel would just be locked uselessly if the hub won't process payments to/from the censored user). In any case, the ability of the central hub to monitor payments means that it can surveill the payer and payee, and then sell this private transactional data to third parties. This loss of privacy would be intolerable today. Peter Todd also proposed that there might be multiple hubs that could transport funds to each other on behalf of their users, providing somewhat better privacy. Another point of note is that at the time such networks were proposed, only unidirectional (Spilman) channels were available. Thus, while one could be a payer, or payee, you would have to use separate channels for your income versus for your spending. Worse, if you wanted to transfer money from your income channel to your spending channel, you had to close both and reshuffle the money between them, both onchain activities.
Poon-Dryja Lightning Network
Bidirectional two-participant channels. The Poon-Dryja channel mechanism has two important properties:
No time limit.
Both the original Satoshi and the two Spilman variants are unidirectional: there is a payer and a payee, and if the payee wants to do a refund, or wants to pay for a different service or product the payer is providing, then they can't use the same unidirectional channel. The Poon-Dryjam mechanism allows channels, however, to be bidirectional instead: you are not a payer or a payee on the channel, you can receive or send at any time as long as both you and the channel counterparty are online. Further, unlike either of the Spilman variants, there is no time limit for the lifetime of a channel. Instead, you can keep the channel open for as long as you want. Both properties, together, form a very powerful scaling property that I believe most people have not appreciated. With unidirectional channels, as mentioned before, if you both earn and spend over the same network of payment channels, you would have separate channels for earning and spending. You would then need to perform onchain operations to "reverse" the directions of your channels periodically. Secondly, since Spilman channels have a fixed lifetime, even if you never used either channel, you would have to periodically "refresh" it by closing it and reopening. With bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels, you may instead open some channels when you first begin managing your own money, then close them only after your lawyers have executed your last will and testament on how the money in your channels get divided up to your heirs: that's just two onchain transactions in your entire lifetime. That is the potentially very powerful scaling property that bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels allow. I won't discuss the transaction structure needed for Poon-Dryja bidirectional channels --- it's complicated and you can easily get explanations with cute graphics elsewhere. There is a weakness of Poon-Dryja that people tend to gloss over (because it was fixed very well by RustyReddit):
You have to store all the revocation keys of a channel. This implies you are storing 1 revocation key for every channel update, so if you perform millions of updates over your entire lifetime, you'd be storing several megabytes of keys, for only a single channel. RustyReddit fixed this by requiring that the revocation keys be generated from a "Seed" revocation key, and every key is just the application of SHA256 on that key, repeatedly. For example, suppose I tell you that my first revocation key is SHA256(SHA256(seed)). You can store that in O(1) space. Then for the next revocation, I tell you SHA256(seed). From SHA256(key), you yourself can compute SHA256(SHA256(seed)) (i.e. the previous revocation key). So you can remember just the most recent revocation key, and from there you'd be able to compute every previous revocation key. When you start a channel, you perform SHA256 on your seed for several million times, then use the result as the first revocation key, removing one layer of SHA256 for every revocation key you need to generate. RustyReddit not only came up with this, but also suggested an efficient O(log n) storage structure, the shachain, so that you can quickly look up any revocation key in the past in case of a breach. People no longer really talk about this O(n) revocation storage problem anymore because it was solved very very well by this mechanism.
Another thing I want to emphasize is that while the Lightning Network paper and many of the earlier presentations developed from the old Peter Todd hub-and-spoke model, the modern Lightning Network takes the logical conclusion of removing a strict separation between "hubs" and "spokes". Any node on the Lightning Network can very well work as a hub for any other node. Thus, while you might operate as "mostly a payer", "mostly a forwarding node", "mostly a payee", you still end up being at least partially a forwarding node ("hub") on the network, at least part of the time. This greatly reduces the problems of privacy inherent in having only a few hub nodes: forwarding nodes cannot get significantly useful data from the payments passing through them, because the distance between the payer and the payee can be so large that it would be likely that the ultimate payer and the ultimate payee could be anyone on the Lightning Network. Lessons learned?
We can decentralize if we try hard enough!
"Hubs bad" can be made "hubs good" if everybody is a hub.
Smart people can solve problems. It's kinda why they're smart.
After LN, there's also the Decker-Wattenhofer Duplex Micropayment Channels (DMC). This post is long enough as-is, LOL. But for now, it uses a novel "decrementing nSequence channel", using the new relative-timelock semantics of nSequence (not the broken one originally by Satoshi). It actually uses multiple such "decrementing nSequence" constructs, terminating in a pair of Spilman channels, one in both directions (thus "duplex"). Maybe I'll discuss it some other time. The realization that channel constructions could actually hold more channel constructions inside them (the way the Decker-Wattenhofer puts a pair of Spilman channels inside a series of "decrementing nSequence channels") lead to the further thought behind Burchert-Decker-Wattenhofer channel factories. Basically, you could host multiple two-participant channel constructs inside a larger multiparticipant "channel" construct (i.e. host multiple channels inside a factory). Further, we have the Decker-Russell-Osuntokun or "eltoo" construction. I'd argue that this is "nSequence done right". I'll write more about this later, because this post is long enough. Lessons learned?
Bitcoin offchain scaling is more powerful than you ever thought.
On May 6th, 2017, Bitcoin hit an all-time high in transactions processed on the network in a single day: it moved 375,000 transactions which accounted for a nominal output of about $2.5b. Average fees on the Bitcoin network had climbed over a dollar for the first time a couple days prior. And they kept climbing: by early June average fees hit an eye-watering $5.66. This was quite unprecedented. In the three-year period from Jan. 1 2014 to Jan. 1 2017, per-transaction fees had never exceeded 31 cents on a weekly average. And the hits kept coming. Before 2017 was over, average fees would top out at $48 on a weekly basis. When the crypto-recession set in, transaction count collapsed and fees crept back below $1. During the most feverish days of the Bitcoin run-up, when normal users found themselves with balances that would cost more to send than they were worth, cries for batching — the aggregation of many outputs into a single transaction — grew louder than ever. David Harding had written a blog post on the cost-savings of batching at the end of August and it was reposted to the Bitcoin subreddit on a daily basis. The idea was simple: for entities sending many transactions at once, clustering outputs into a single transaction was more space- (and cost-) efficient, because each transaction has a fixed data overhead. David found that if you combined 10 payments into one transaction, rather than sending them individually, you could save 75% of the block space. Essentially, batching is one way to pack as many transactions as possible into the finite block space available on Bitcoin. When fees started climbing in mid-2017, users began to scrutinize the behavior of heavy users of the Bitcoin blockchain, to determine whether they were using block space efficiently. By and large, they were not — and an informal lobbying campaign began, in which these major users — principally exchanges — were asked to start batching transactions and be good stewards of the scarce block space at their disposal. Some exchanges had been batching for years, others relented and implemented it. The question faded from view after Bitcoin’s price collapsed in Q1 2018 from roughly $19,000 to $6000, and transaction load — and hence average fee — dropped off. But we remained curious. A common refrain, during the collapse in on-chain usage, was that transaction count was an obfuscated method of apprehending actual usage. The idea was that transactions could encode an arbitrarily large (within reason) number of payments, and so if batching had become more and more prevalent, those payments were still occurring, just under a regime of fewer transactions. “hmmm” Some sites popped up to report outputs and payments per day rather than transactions, seemingly bristling at the coverage of declining transaction count. However, no one conducted an analysis of the changing relationship between transaction count and outputs or payments. We took it upon ourselves to find out. Table Of Contents: Introduction to batching A timeline Analysis Conclusion Bonus content: UTXO consolidation
Introduction to batching
Bitcoin uses a UTXO model, which stands for Unspent Transaction Output. In comparison, Ripple and Ethereum use an account/balance model. In bitcoin, a user has no balances, only UTXOs that they control. If they want to transfer money to someone else, their wallet selects one or more UTXOs as inputs that in sum need to add up to the amount they want to transfer. The desired amount then goes to the recipient, which is called the output, and the difference goes back to the sender, which is called change output. Each output can carry a virtually unlimited amount of value in the form of satoshis. A satoshi is a unit representing a one-hundred-millionth of a Bitcoin. This is very similar to a physical wallet full of different denominations of bills. If you’re buying a snack for $2.50 and only have a $5, you don’t hand the cashier half of your 5 dollar bill — you give him the 5 and receive some change instead. Unknown to some, there is no hardcoded limit to the number of transactions that can fit in a block. Instead, each transaction has a certain size in megabytes and constitutes an economic incentive for miners to include it in their block. Because miners have limited space of 2 MB to sell to transactors, larger transactions (in size, not bitcoin!) will need to pay higher fees to be included. Additionally, each transaction can have a virtually unlimited number of inputs or outputs — the record stands at transactions with 20,000 inputs and 13,107 outputs. So each transaction has at least one input and at one output, but often more, as well as some additional boilerplate stuff. Most of that space is taken up by the input (often 60% or more, because of the signature that proves they really belong to the sender), while the output(s) account for 15–30%. In order to keep transactions as small as possible and save fees, Bitcoin users have two major choices: Use as few inputs as possible. In order to minimize inputs, you can periodically send your smaller UTXOs to yourself in times when fees are very low, getting one large UTXO back. That is called UTXO consolidation or consolidating your inputs. Users who frequently make transfers (especially within the same block) can include an almost unlimited amount of outputs (to different people!) in the same transaction. That is called transaction batching. A typical single output transaction takes up 230 bytes, while a two output transaction only takes up 260 bytes, instead of 460 if you were to send them individually. This is something that many casual commentators overlook when comparing Bitcoin with other payment systems — a Bitcoin transaction can aggregate thousands of individual economic transfers! It’s important to recognize this, as it is the source of a great deal of misunderstanding and mistaken analysis. We’ve never encountered a common definition of a batched transaction — so for the purposes of this study we define it in the loosest possible sense: a transaction with three or more outputs. Commonly, batching is understood as an activity undertaken primarily by mining pools or exchanges who can trade off immediacy for efficiency. It is rare that a normal bitcoin user would have cause to batch, and indeed most wallets make it difficult to impossible to construct batched transactions. For everyday purposes, normal bitcoiners will likely not go to the additional effort of batching transactions. We set the threshold at three for simplicity’s sake — a normal unbatched transaction will have one transactional output and one change output — but the typical major batched transaction from an exchange will have dozens if not hundreds of outputs. For this reason we are careful to provide data on various different batch sizes, so we could determine the prevalence of three-output transactions and colossal, 100-output ones. We find it helpful to think of a Bitcoin transaction as a mail truck full of boxes. Each truck (transaction) contains boxes (outputs), each of contains some number of letters (satoshis). So when you’re looking at transaction count as a measure of the performance and economic throughput of the Bitcoin network, it’s a bit like counting mail trucks to discern how many letters are being sent on a given day, even though the number of letters can vary wildly. The truck analogy also makes it clear why many see Bitcoin as a settlement layer in the future — just as mail trucks aren’t dispatched until they’re full, some envision that the same will ultimately be the case for Bitcoin. Batching
So what actually happened in the last six months? Let’s look at some data. Daily transactions on the Bitcoin network rose steadily until about May 2017, when average fees hit about $4. This precipitated the first collapse in usage. Then began a series of feedback loops over the next six months in which transaction load grew, fees grew to match, and transactions dropped off. This cycle repeated itself five times over the latter half of 2017. more like this on coinmetrics.io The solid red line in the above chart is fees in BTC terms (not USD) and the shaded red area is daily transaction count. You can see the cycle of transaction load precipitating higher fees which in turn cause a reduction in usage. It repeats itself five or six times before the detente in spring 2018. The most notable period was the December-January fee crisis, but fees were actually fairly typical in BTC terms — the rising BTC price in USD however meant that USD fees hit extreme figures. In mid-November when fees hit double digits in USD terms, users began a concerted campaign to convince exchanges to be better stewards of block space. Both Segwit and batching were held up as meaningful approaches to maximize the compression of Bitcoin transactions into the finite block space available. Data on when exchanges began batching is sparse, but we collected information where it was available into a chart summarizing when exchanges began batching. Batching adoption at selected exchanges We’re ignoring Segwit adoption by exchanges in this analysis; as far as batching is concerned, the campaign to get exchanges to batch appears to have persuaded Bitfinex, Binance, and Shapeshift to batch. Coinbase/GDAX have stated their intention to begin batching, although they haven’t managed to integrate it yet. As far as we can tell, Gemini hasn’t mentioned batching, although we have some mixed evidence that they may have begun recently. If you know about the status of batching on Gemini or other major exchanges please get in touch. So some exchanges have been batching all along, and some have never bothered at all. Did the subset of exchanges who flipped the switch materially affect the prevalence of batched transactions? Let’s find out.
3.1 How common is batching? We measured the prevalence of batching in three different ways, by transaction count, by output value and by output count. The tl;dr. Batching accounts for roughly 12% of all transactions, 40% of all outputs, and 30–60% of all raw BTC output value. Not bad. 3.2 Have batched transactions become more common over time? From the chart in 3.1, we can already see a small, but steady uptrend in all three metrics, but we want to dig a little deeper. So we first looked at the relationship of payments (all outputs that actually pay someone, so total outputs minus change outputs) and transactions. More at transactionfee.info/charts The first thing that becomes obvious is that the popular narrative — that the drop in transactions was caused by an increase in batching — is not the case; payments dropped by roughly the same proportion as well. Dividing payment count by transaction count gives us some insight into the relationship between the two. In our analysis we want to zoom into the time frame between November 2017 and today, and we can see that payments per transactions have actually been rallying, from 1.5 payments per transaction in early 2017 to almost two today. 3.3 What are popular batch sizes? In this next part, we will look at batch sizes to see which are most popular. To determine which transactions were batched, we downloaded a dataset of all transactions on the Bitcoin network between November 2017 and May 2018from Blockchair. We picked that period because the fee crisis really got started in mid-November, and with it, the demands for exchanges to batch. So we wanted to capture the effect of exchanges starting to batch. Naturally a bigger sample would have been more instructive, but we were constrained in our resources, so we began with the six month sample. We grouped transactions into “batched” and “unbatched” groups with batched transactions being those with three or more outputs. We then divided batched transactions into roughly equal groups on the basis of how much total output in BTC they had accounted for in the six-month period. We didn’t select the batch sizes manually — we picked batch sizes that would split the sample into equal parts on the basis of transaction value. Here’s what we ended up with: All of the batch buckets have just about the same fraction of total BTC output over the period, but they account for radically different transaction and output counts over the period. Notice that there were only 183,108 “extra large” batches (with 41 or more outputs) in the six-month period, but between them there were 23m outputs and 30m BTC worth of value transmitted. Note that output value in this context refers to the raw or unadjusted figure — it would have been prohibitively difficult for us to adjust output for change or mixers, so we’re using the “naive” estimate. Let’s look at how many transactions various batch sizes accounted for in the sample period: Batched transactions steadily increased relative to unbatched ones, although the biggest fraction is the small batch with between 3 and 5 outputs. The story for output counts is a bit more illuminating. Even though batched transactions are a relatively small fraction of overall transaction count, they contain a meaningful number of overall outputs. Let’s see how it breaks down: Lastly, let’s look at output value. Here we see that batched transactions represent a significant fraction of value transmitted on Bitcoin. As we can see, even though batched transactions make up an average of only 12% of all transactions, they move between 30%-60% of all Bitcoins, at peak times even 70%. We think this is quite remarkable. Keep in mind, however that the ‘total output’ figure has not been altered to account for change outputs, mixers, or self-churn; that is, it is the raw and unadjusted figure. The total output value is therefore not an ideal approximation of economic volume on the Bitcoin network. 3.4 Has transaction count become an unreliable measure of Bitcoin’s usage because of batching? Yes. We strongly encourage any analysts, investors, journalists, and developers to look past mere transaction count from now on. The default measure of Bitcoin’s performance should be “payments per day” rather than transaction count. This also makes Bitcoin more comparable with other UTXO chains. They generally have significantly variable payments-per-transaction ratios, so just using payments standardizes that. (Stay tuned: Coinmetrics will be rolling out tools to facilitate this very soon.) More generally, we think that the economic value transmitted on the network is its most fundamental characteristic. Both the naive and the adjusted figures deserve to be considered. Adjusting raw output value is still more art than science, and best practices are still being developed. Again, Coinmetrics is actively developing open-source tools to make these adjustments available.
We started by revisiting the past year in Bitcoin and showed that while the mempool was congested, the community started looking for ways to use the blockspace more efficiently. Attention quickly fell on batching, the practice of combining multiple outputs into a single transaction, for heavy users. We showed how batching works on a technical level and when different exchanges started implementing the technique. Today, around 12% of all transactions on the Bitcoin network are batched, and these account for about 40% of all outputs and between 30–60% of all transactional value. The fact such that a small set of transactions carries so much economic weight makes us hopeful that Bitcoin still has a lot of room to scale on the base layer, especially if usage trends continue. Lastly, it’s worth noting that the increase in batching on the Bitcoin network may not be entirely due to deliberate action by exchanges, but rather a function of its recessionary behavior in the last few months. Since batching is generally done by large industrial players like exchanges, mixers, payment processors, and mining pools, and unbatched transactions are generally made by normal individuals, the batched/unbatched ratio is also a strong proxy for how much average users are using Bitcoin. Since the collapse in price, it is quite possible that individual usage of Bitcoin decreased while “industrial” usage remained strong. This is speculation, but one explanation for what happened. Alternatively, the industrial players appear to be taking their role as stewards of the scarce block space more seriously. This is a significant boon to the network, and a nontrivial development in its history. If a culture of parsimony can be encouraged, Bitcoin will be able to compress more data into its block space and everyday users will continue to be able to run nodes for the foreseeable future. We view this as a very positive development. Members of the Bitcoin community that lobbied exchanges to add support for Segwit and batching should be proud of themselves.
Bonus content: UTXO consolidation
Remember that we said that a second way to systematically save transaction fees in the Bitcoin network was to consolidate your UTXOs when fees were low? Looking at the relationship between input count and output count allows us to spot such consolidation phases quite well. Typically, inputs and outputs move together. When the network is stressed, they decouple. If you look at the above chart carefully, you’ll notice that when transactions are elevated (and block space is at a premium), outputs outpace inputs — look at the gaps in May and December 2017. However, prolonged activity always results in fragmented UTXO sets and wallets full of dust, which need to be consolidated. For this, users often wait until pressure on the network has decreased and fees are lower. Thus, after transactions decrease, inputs become more common than outputs. You can see this clearly in February/March 2017. Here we’ve taken the ratio of inputs to outputs (which have been smoothed on a trailing 7 day basis). When the ratio is higher, there are more inputs than outputs on that day, and vice versa. You can clearly see the spam attack in summer 2015 in which thousands (possibly millions) of outputs were created and then consolidated. Once the ratio spikes upwards, that’s consolidation. The spike in February 2018 after the six weeks of high fees in December 2017 was the most pronounced sigh of relief in Bitcoin’s history; the largest ever departure from the in/out ratio norm. There were a huge number of UTXOs to be consolidated. It’s also interesting to note where inputs and outputs cluster. Here we have histograms of transactions with large numbers of inputs or outputs. Unsurprisingly, round numbers are common which shows that exchanges don’t publish a transaction every, say, two minutes, but instead wait for 100 or 200 outputs to queue up and then publish their transaction. Curiously, 200-input transactions were more popular than 100-input transactions in the period. We ran into more curiosities when researching this piece, but we’ll leave those for another time. Future work on batching might focus on: Determining batched transactions as a portion of (adjusted) economic rather than raw volume Looking at the behavior of specific exchanges with regards to batching Investigating how much space and fees could be saved if major exchanges were batching transactions Lastly, we encourage everyone to run their transactions through the service at transactionfee.info to assess the efficiency of their transactions and determine whether exchanges are being good stewards of the block space. Update 31.05.2018 Antoine Le Calvez has created a series of live-updated charts to track batching and batch sizes, which you can find here. We’d like to thank 0xB10C for their generous assistance with datasets and advice, the people at Blockchair for providing the core datasets, and David A. Harding for writing the initial piece and answering our questions.
Thermodynamics & Silent Weapons for Secret Wars or Crypto Anarchy 101: Statists Failing & Anarchists Thriving
Crypto Anarchy 101: Statists Failing & Anarchists Thriving The black-market, the free-market, is what kept people alive throughout the worst of oppressions. The black market has been the art of surviving amidst all types of tyrannies and slaveries. The black market, aka System D, is something that everyone in the world will need to start getting comfortable with. CryptoAnarchy is the ultimate manifestation of complete market freedom, and it is here to stay. Libertarians are beginning to finally realize their incredible advantage within this new market environment. The unfortunate statist masses have been programmed to feel uncomfortable with the mere idea of complete market freedom. Keep in mind that as of 2009, half of the world’s workers- around 1.8 billion – were employed by System D. The black market is only expected to grow even more so with the incentive structures being built out in order to advance the technological advancements of cryptography. Humanity has never experienced a true free-market until now. For the first time in history one is beginning to take shape. The traditional business sector is beginning to realize that they are not even mentally equipped for the implications of having applied cryptography that is powered by market incentives. This is evident in their trite attempts at integrating these new technologies with traditional banking and financial systems. Their lack of creativity, and dependence on government, is a clear testament to how much they will be hurt in the coming future. Statists Double Down after Failure: Tether and Stablecoins Many within the crypto space have attempted to bridge the gap between legacy banking and cryptocurrencies. Amongst the various attempts at capitalizing with these new technologies, the idea of a stablecoin entered the space via Tether (USDT). A stable coin is a cryptocurrency that is pegged on a 1 to 1 ratio to the US dollar, or any other asset- like gold- or fiat. Tether operated as a stable coin pegged to the US dollar on a 1 to 1 ratio. The biggest attribute behind stablecoins resided in their ability to provide stability in an otherwise volatile market. For a long time many within the crypto space were curious about Tether’s means of operating with USD. Earlier this year TDV was the first entity to exclusively reported to its subscribers the origin of Tether’s “secret sauce;” fractional reserve banking. The laws of fractional reserve banking allowed the Noble Bank of Puerto Rico to provide Tether with the legal means of operating as a stable coin pegged to the US dollar. The Noble Bank recently went bankrupt due to being insolvent. Noble Bank was the bank of Bitfinex and Tether. As a result, Tether and Bitfinex ended their relationship with Noble Bank. It is important that you as a subscriber move your crypto out of Bitfinex. You should never keep your cryptoin exchanges. When you do this you don’t actually control the private keys of your coins. (If you are an active trader, please consider using Bisq. Bisq is an open source decentralized exchange that does not control your private keys while trading. It is the most Anarchist exchange in the market right now.) After losing its partnership with Noble Bank, Bitfinex began banking with HSBC. On October 15th, Bitfinex tweeted that their fiat deposit system was re-enabled. Overall, Bitfinex is still in the midst of reorganizing itself as an exchange with proper banking liquidity. For this reason we are of the opinion that it is best to stay away from Bitfinex until they are more solvent in their banking partnerships. Tether (USDT) on the other hand is suffering from a lack of proper banking structures. Binance paused all USDT withdrawals and KuCoin, the exchange, also paused USDT deposits and withdrawals. Tether is currently at around 2.1bn dollar market cap. Tether holders are having a difficult time cashing out of their Tether for USD. It is expected that unless Tether gets its banking situation sorted out, we will see movement out of Tether. This situation has caused the price of Tether to hit a low of $0.90 to the USD. As of writing this, Tether is trading at around $0.97 to the dollar. The situation for Tether is dire at the present moment. We expect to see many Tether holders drop their Tether for Bitcoin, or other more cryptographically secure cryptocurrencies. This will more than likely be one of the main strategies that will be implemented in order to cash out of Tether. This overall situation is once again showing us how unstable things are when dealing with fiat. We hope for the market to realize that there is more security in cryptocurrencies than there is in fiat backed stablecoins. Stablecoins will always have the instability of the fiat currencies that they are pegged to. The time will eventually come when people will realize that cryptocurrencies are a better store of value than stablecoins. In spite of all of the issues circulating Tether, statist entrepreneurs are doubling down on their desire for stablecoins. We are seeing the beginning of what we believe will be a trend in the upcoming future; that is, stable coins pegged to various countries’ fiat and assets like precious metals. The new USD stablecoins recently announced to the market are GeminiUSD, TrueUSD, and Paxos Standard. Volatility as a Sign of Life in the Market Contrary to the statist perception on volatility, one can also view volatility in crypto as proper to a market that is fully alive. Crypto, for the first time in history, freed the market from bankster manipulation. Arguably, volatility is to be expected in an unregulated free-market where everyone in the world is for the first time welcomed to participate. In comparison to the legacy financial system, crypto is fully alive while the former is handicapped by regulations, coercion, and disconnected from true free-market signals. That is, volatility signals of a free-market that breathes freely for the first time. Volatility is indicative of a market that is fully alive. The desire for individuals to attach crypto to the legacy financial system, under the pretense of “less volatility,” is indicative of individuals that will have a hard time operating outside the bounds of regulation and government coercion. As long as we have statists uncomfortable with Anarchy, we will have stablecoins pegged to fiat. Various Libertarian entrepreneurs are also beginning to dabble with the idea of a stablecoin that is pegged to precious metals. The challenge of these projects will be the same regulation that oversees fiat. Remember that the difference offered to the world by cryptocurrencies resides in crypto’s ability to operate freely within System D, without regulation. It is this new market, the true free-market, that for the first time is unstoppable. Bitfinex’s Effect on EOS Bitfinex is one of the entities that holds the greatest amount of votes for EOS Block Producers (BPs). For this and other reasons, we are currently expecting a shakeup of votes for selected top BPs. It is important that you remain attentive to the happenings within EOS and move your votes accordingly. We will soon be coming out with more details on our perceptions regarding various BPs. There are various discussions regarding BPs pending arbitration. This is a good thing. All shakeups lead us closer to more transparency and accountability. This should not directly affect the price of EOS, aside from what will result from the expected FUD of future BP shake-ups. The Resilience of CryptoAnarchy after Blockstream’s Fake Sidechain Amongst the various innovations within Bitcoin, sidechains have- for the past 5 years- existed as one of the holy grails of innovation. Blockstream, as a company, was put together to manifest sidechains. They sold us the concept of a sidechain as they were sourcing capital during their first rounds of investment; this was in October of 2014. Sidechains were supposed to be delivered by Blockstream as a way to make Bitcoin innovation competitive to that of altcoin innovation. Sidechains were supposed to be “the Altcoin killer.” After all of this time, Blockstream only delivered Liquid - which is not a sidechain- and called it a “sidechain.” That is, Liquid is not a sidechain when properly defined. Liquid is a multi-signature layer that allows for multiple exchanges to pool their money together to transfer funds amongst themselves. Liquid is not a true sidechain, it is more precisely a multi-signature wallet. Calling Liquid a “sidechain” was just a marketing scheme by Blockstream in order to impress the illusion that they had delivered what they had promised. They didn’t. Blockstream gave up in attempting to create a true sidechain and created a multi-signature wallet instead. Keep in mind that Liquid is a “private sidechain.” Note that a proper sidechain ought to be made with open-source innovation in mind. Many of us see the actions of Blockstream as a bait and switch marketing scheme. (For the rest of this article I will use the words “Drivechains” and “sidechains” interchangeably as synonyms. Drivechains are what sidechains originally were supposed to be- according to the original Blockstream Sidechain white paper. Blockstream’s bait and switch marketing scheme led to them calling “sidechain” a multisignature wallet that is not at all what they promoted on their white paper. Paul Sztorc, in an attempt to differentiate himself from the Blockstream perversion of the word “sidechains,” called his development of true sidechains “Drivechains.”) Drivechain Sidechains Paul Sztorc, the creator of decentralized prediction markets, was very much looking forward to Blockstream’s creation of sidechains. It was his hope that his decentralized prediction market would run as a Bitcoin sidechain. At about the end of 2015 Sztorc was done with BitcoinHiveMind, his decentralized predictions market (previously known as TruthCoin). After realizing that Blockstream was not going to deliver on sidechains, as promised, Sztorc felt he needed to build it himself. The creation of his Drivechains started off as a means to an end for Sztorc; he needed true Sidechains for his decentralized predictions market- so he build it himself. On September 24, 2018 Paul Sztorc announced the launch of the first Drivechain release. This release was accompanied with fervent followingof old-school Bitcoiners that immediately jumped into experimenting with Drivechains on the testnet known as “Testdrive.” The Drivechain protocol is an alternative to the sidechain project originally proposed by Blockstream. It is a simpler design that enables blockchain compatibility in which the system still utilizes the same 21 million bitcoin ruleset- the Nakamoto consensus. Drivechains are intended to allow for permissionless innovation without diluting or challenging the value of the main cryptocurrency. Contrary to other means of innovation within crypto, any innovation that comes from a Drivechain sidechain actually adds value to the Bitcoin protocol- for it does not dilute the main cryptocurrency. Satoshi vaguely discussed the importance of the ideas of sidechains and multi-blockchain connectivity on June 17, 2010. This creation, of providing varied market options, make infighting and political discourses regarding consensus upgrades now seem infantile. Drivechains will provide the market with ongoing competitive solutions for blockchain development. Investors will now be exposed to options that would otherwise have been shunned in a less free environment. The strategic advantage of Drivechain sidechains is that they will offer investors various options in the form of alternative chains. It is important to keep in mind that Drivechains are available for blockchains with the same UTXO set. That is, Drivechains are available for both BitcoinCore (BTC) and BitcoinCash (BCH). How Drivechains work Namecoin was the vision of early Bitcoin adopters of creating a DNS and identity infrastructure based on Bitcoin; that is, .bit DNS. This technology piggy backed on top of Bitcoin mining. That is, if you so chose you could merged-mined Namecoin alongside BTC or BCH. Namecoin can absorb hashrate from BTC or BCH without needing its own miners. Merge-mining with BTC or BCH is also the process of validating and safeguarding Drivechain sidechains. Unlike Namecoin, Drivechain sidechains don’t require miners to run special software. For Drivechain sidechains miners implement what is known as blind-merge-mining. In blind-merge-mining the nodes of the sidechain run the software, not the miners. This operates under the assumption that the nodes running the software also hold BTC or BCH. A payment fee is paid to miners to blind-merge-mine the sidechain, in a similar way that Namecoin merge-mining pays a fee. In this process, miners don’t have to run any software- they just passively make money for blind-merge-mining blocks with sidechains. The main difference with sidechains is that you are not mining another coin like Namecoin, but rather you are mining the same BTC or BCH in another sidechain when you do the blind-merge-mining. Miners don’t get paid with the sidechain, they receive payment from the mainchain that they already trust when they blind-merge-mine. Miners are also economically benefited by always getting paid in the superior coin that they are already intentionally mining; BTC or BCH. As BTC or BCH moves in and out from the mainchain to a sidechain, there might be claims of ownership that may cause disputes. Drivechain prevents this by emphasizing the superiority of the mainchain over sidechains. Sidechains have to report on exactly what it is doing- at all times- to the main chain. Whenever a sidechain wants to transfer money back to the mainchain it has to do it very slowly. This safeguards the network from theft. The slow movement of funds from the sidechain to the mainchain can be arbitrage by individuals who will be willing to purchase sidechain receipts for BTC or BCH coming from sidechains at a discount. People will also be able to do atomic swaps between chains in the near future. (Atomic swaps, or atomic cross chain trading, is the exchange of one cryptocurrency to another cryptocurrency, without the need of trusting a third-party). It is the intent of Drivechains to create the interaction of miners with sidechains as seamless as possible. However, it is still important to have guarantee that money ends up in the right place. This is the reason for the slow movement of funds from sidechains to the mainchain. The movement of a certain amount of transactions coming from a sidechain to the mainchain is batched up into one transaction with its own transaction ID. This transaction is frozen in place where miners and developers can examine it for at least a month (there are talks of even making this process longer between 3 to 6 months). During this time miners vote on whether to allow the payment to go through or not. Upon receiving enough upvotes, the batched up transactions are released unto the mainchain. The slowing down of movement of BTC or BCH from sidechains to mainchain decreases the threat of miners stealing BTC or BCH from a sidechain. The sidechains are always watching the mainchain, so they know to credit people immediately when the mainchain sends money to it. Sidechains also know when the miners have accepted the release of batched up locked funds that are released unto the mainchain. Once the sidechain receives notification of the miners acceptance of funds in the mainchain, the sidechain destroys the funds that were frozen awaiting miner upvotes. It is overall acknowledged that sidechains increase the value of BTC and BCH, which eventually make mining more profitable. It would be counterproductive for miners to attack and steal funds from sidechains. That is, miners acting maliciously decreases the value of their own equipment. In spite of this fact, it is good that Drivechains make it increasingly more difficult for theft to occur. Miners, through their voting process, also get to punish bad sidechain actors. Any malicious sidechain will be cleaned out by miners. This is the opposite of the Ethereum model where anyone can code anything into the Ethereum blockchain, to the point that it could become a detriment to the Ethereum mainchain itself. That is, anyone can create a new ERC20 or ERC721 token without any vetting from the network. Coins are moved from the mainchain to the sidechain by means of sending coins to an address that represents the sending of funds from the mainchain to the sidechain. Anyone running the given sidechain software will recognize that funds were sent to the sidechain- this will automatically credit the person with the same amount of BTC or BCH on the sidechain. Also, the sidechain is programmed to recognize the reception of funds unto the mainchain address from where it will automatically credit the user the same amount of BTC or BCH unto a sidechain wallet. People on the mainchain don’t have to know anything about this particular address. As far as they know, it is just another address. Embrace the Spontaneous Order of Market Anarchy It is important that people within BTC and BCH take on a more Hayekian approach to entrepreneurship. Many within crypto are uncomfortable with the mere notion of spontaneous order. It is important that we as Ancaps lead the way in motivating people to experiment with their entrepreneurship. In the past few years, the desire of individuals to covet the development of crypto has become more apparent. These people need to be ignored. No one is the leader of Bitcoin or crypto development. The best innovators within crypto are those that create tools that empower other entrepreneurs to create more options. It is this spontaneous order that we should welcome and promote at all times. Many within BTC and BCH will not accept or feel comfortable with the radical spontaneous order enabled by Drivechains. This is good reasonto brush up on your Austrian Economics in order to properly confront minds that are fearful of human freedom. The Ancap entrepreneurs who are most comfortable with spontaneous order will be the same ones who will produce the greatest amount of value. The development of CryptoAnarchy is guided by the science of praxeology and Austrian Economics. Drivechains are testament to the augmentation of our libertarian order are necessary for CryptoAnarchy to thrive. Drivechains and Investment Strategy The philosophical and economic advantage of sidechain innovation is that it enables the development of BTC and BCH with an investor-centric intention. It is the market’s investment that now decides the best means for scaling and development. Politics and propaganda take an almost insignificant backseat to that of market forces. The technology is now readily available for investors to test drive with their BTC or BCH on any given proposed sidechain. That is, you actually get to experience the value, or lack of value of a new innovation without jeopardizing your position as an investor. All investment decisions are about strategy. Sidechains empower the investor’s strategy by allowing the investor to survey all of the possible value propositions of his/her original investment without having to incur any actual costs. In a similar way, sidechains also provide developers with quick market feedback on the aspects of development that are most favored by the market. Drivechains are a pivotal step in maturing the crypto space into becoming more conscientious in considering the investment strategy of those buying the coins. It is important for innovators to start taking the investor’s strategy into account. Drivechains force developers to consider what is best for the investor, not just what is desired by a given team of developers. Here we have not only a better proposition for investors, but also an incentive for developers to use Drivechains in future crypto experimentation. When experimenting with an altcoin, the measure of success is contingent on this new altcoin gathering a new pool of investors to literally buy into the project. With a sidechain you are already dealing with a more seasoned group of investors that will provide you with more accurate market feedback, being that their investment is now fortified by all other sidechain experimentations that they have already tested at no cost. Altcoins will soon no longer be the locus of innovation within crypto. All future innovation will be offered the option to experiment within BTC or BCH via sidechains. Keep in mind that all previous innovations, already tested in the market by successful altcoins, are now easily adopted by BTC or BCH. It is also important to note that creative experimentation on sidechains do not at all jeopardize the mainnets of BTC or BCH. On the contrary, sidechains will make BTC and BCH much more valuable. When the Drivechain craze begins we will see a BTC and BCH bull run. Don’t be surprised if sidechains are the main reason for the next all time highs. Statists Failing & Anarchists Thriving It is important that we understand that the legacy banking system is completely dead. They are barely adopting simulations of cryptocurrencies unto their banking structures to stay alive. Stablecoins are a manifestation of this bankster angst to remain current. True market innovation is found in the embrace of Market Anarchy. CryptoAnarchy is growing exponentially with tools that are beyond the reach of state megalomaniacs. Drivechains are an example of the CryptoAnarchist tools that will result in further anti-fragility of this new crypto free-market. Proper Austrian Economic incentive structures coupled with applied cryptography is our lethal weapon against nation states and central banks. Arguably, our Ancap philosophy is what guides applied cryptography in the market towards success. For this reason it is important that we keep revisiting the texts of Rothbard, Mises, Hayek, and Konkin throughout our crypto endeavors. Peace! by Rafael LaVerde Source TL;DR: How familiar are you with thermodynamics and silent weapons for secret wars? How familiar are you with the Brave New World Order?
Top 50 Cryptocurrencies I thought this might be of real help for the ones that are just joining crypto and still want to read. Let’s face it: there are a lot of cryptocurrencies out there, with new ones coming out almost daily and old ones disappearing seemingly just as fast as they appeared. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you are new to cryptocurrencies, this is an excellent starting point to learn about each of the top 50 cryptocurrencies (by market cap). Even if you’re a crypto veteran, this is a great resource to reference if you ever get any of the top 50 confused, or if you want to read more about a new coin which has joined the ranks. Our hope is to point you in the right direction, spur your interest to do more research, and steer you away from the potential scams out there (And yes, there are potential scam coins in the top 50!) Here at Invest In Blockchain, we are obsessed with researching the internet for all things crypto. The information found in this post is the result of hundreds of hours of painstaking research by me and other writers on our team. Note that this list is constantly changing and I will do my best to keep it up-to-date, but the top 50 moves almost daily! Please refer to coinmarketcap.com for the latest information on the top 50 cryptocurrencies and their prices. Let’s get started! (Information accurate as of May 23, 2018)
#1 – Bitcoin (BTC)
📷 The king of the crypto world, Bitcoin is now a household name; to many, it is synonymous with “cryptocurrency”. Its purpose is to provide a peer-to-peer electronic version of cash to allow payments to be sent online without the need for a third party (such as Mastercard). The rapid rise in Bitcoin’s price has brought about an explosion of new Bitcoin investors. With the huge increase in interest has come a rise in merchants accepting Bitcoin as a legitimate form of payment. Bitcoin is fast moving towards its goal of becoming a currency accepted worldwide. Bitcoin’s development is led by Bitcoin Core developer Wladimir J. van der Laan, who took over the role on April 8, 2014. Bitcoin’s changes are decided democratically by the community. For an in-depth look at Bitcoin, including an explanation of Bitcoin mining, Bitcoin’s history, an analysis of Bitcoins’ value and a description on how bitcoin actually works, see our comprehensive guide “What is Bitcoin? Everything You Need to Know About Bitcoin, Explained“. For a more detailed description of Bitcoin’s economics, what makes money and how Bitcoin works in the economy as a whole see: “Bitcoin Explained” and “Bitcoin is a Deflationary Currency”.
#2 – Ethereum (ETH)
📷 Ethereum is the revolutionary platform which brought the concept of “smart contracts” to the blockchain. First released to the world in July 2015 by then 21-year-old Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum has quickly risen from obscurity to cryptocurrency celebrity status. Buterin has a full team of developers working behind him to further develop the Ethereum platform. For more background information on Buterin, read our article, “Vitalik Buterin: The Face of Blockchain”. Ethereum has the ability to process transactions quickly and cheaply over the blockchain similar to Bitcoin, but also has the ability to run smart contracts. For future reading on smart contracts, see “What’s the Difference Between Bitcoin and Ethereum”; but for now, think automated processes which can do just about anything. For further reading on Ethereum, including an analysis of the platform’s strengths and future prospects, read “What is Ethereum, Everything You Need to Know Explained“.
#3 – Ripple (XRP)
📷 Ripple aims to improve the speed of financial transactions, specifically international banking transactions. Anyone who has ever sent money internationally knows that today it currently takes anywhere from 3-5 business days for a transaction to clear. It is faster to withdraw money, get on a plane, and fly it to your destination than it is to send it electronically! Not to mention you will be paying exorbitant transaction fees — usually somewhere around 6% but it can vary depending on the financial institution. Ripple’s goal is to make these transactions fast (it only takes around 4 seconds for a transaction to clear) and cheap. The Ripple team currently comprises over 150 people, making it one of the biggest in the cryptocurrency world. They are led by CEO Brad Garlinghouse, who has an impressive resume which includes high positions in other organizations such as Yahoo and Hightail. Check out “What is Ripple” for more information, including a closer look at what they do, controversies and future prospects.
#4 – Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
📷 Bitcoin Cash was created on August 1, 2017 after a “hard fork” of the Bitcoin blockchain. For years, a debate has been raging in the Bitcoin community on whether to increase the block size in the hope of alleviating some of the network bottleneck which has plagued Bitcoin due to its increased popularity. Because no agreement could be reached, the original Bitcoin blockchain was forked, leaving the Bitcoin chain untouched and in effect creating a new blockchain which would allow developers to modify some of Bitcoin’s original programmed features. Generally speaking, the argument for Bitcoin Cash is that by allowing the block size to increase, more transactions can be processed in the same amount of time. Those opposed to Bitcoin Cash argue that increasing the block size will increase the storage and bandwidth requirement, and in effect will price out normal users. This could lead to increased centralization, the exact thing Bitcoin set out to avoid. Bitcoin Cash does not have one single development team like Bitcoin. There are now multiple independent teams of developers. Read “What is Bitcoin Cash” for more information. You can also check out their reddit and official webpage.
#5 – EOS (EOS)
📷 Billed as a potential “Ethereum Killer”, EOS proposes improvements that can challenge Ethereum as the dominant smart contract platform. One main issue EOS looks to improve is the scalability problems which has plagued the Ethereum network during times of high transaction volume, specifically during popular ICOs. A perhaps more profound difference EOS has, compared to Ethereum, is the way in which you use the EOS network. With Ethereum, every time you make modifications or interact with the network, you need to pay a fee. With EOS, the creator of the DAPP (decentralized app) can foot the bill, while the user pays nothing. And if you think about it, this makes sense. Would you want to have to pay every time you post something on social media? No, of course not! In addition to this, EOS has a few other technical advantages over Ethereum such as delegated proof of stake and other protocol changes. Just know that EOS has some serious power under the hood to back up the claim of “Ethereum Killer”. EOS was created by Dan Larrimer who is no stranger to blockchain or start ups. He has been the driving force behind multiple successful projects in the past such as BitShares, Graphene and Steem. For more information on EOS such as how and where to buy EOS tokens, EOS’s vision and potential challenges, see “What is EOS”.
#6 – Litecoin (LTC)
📷 Similar to Bitcoin, Litecoin is a peer-to-peer transaction platform designed to be used as a digital currency. Due to some notable technical improvements, Litecoin is able to handle more transactions at lower costs. Litecoin has been designed to process the small transactions we make daily. Litecoin is sometimes referred to “digital silver” while Bitcoin is known as “digital gold”. This is because traditionally silver was used for small daily transactions while gold was used as a store of wealth and was not used in everyday life. The Litecoin blockchain is a fork from the Bitcoin chain. It was initially launched in 2011 when its founder, Charlie Lee, was still working for Google. Well-known as a cryptocurrency expert, Charlie Lee is backed by a strong development team who appear to be achieving what they set out to do. They have recently achieved a very notable accomplishment with the first successful atomic swap. For an in-depth discussion on what Litecoin does, how it is different than Bitcoin and the team backing up the development, see “What is Litecoin”.
#7 – Cardano (ADA)
📷 Cardano is a smart contract-focused blockchain. It was originally released under the name Input Output Hong Kong by Charles Hoskinson and Jeremy Wood, a few of the early team members of Ethereum, and later rebranded into Cardano. Cardano is trying to fix some of the largest problems the cryptocurrency world which have been causing ongoing issues for years such as scalability issues and democratized voting. They have the potential to challenge Ethereum’s dominance in the smart contract world. Cardano is developing their own programing language similar to Ethereum; however, they are focusing more heavily on being interoperable between other cryptocurrencies. While some cryptocurrencies are all bite but no bark, Cardano is quite the opposite. They are quietly focusing on a strong software which will be completely open-source. Cardano’s team comprises some of the best minds in the industry, and they seek to create a strong foundation which others can build upon for years to come. For up-to-date information on Cardano’s status see their Reddit page or official website. You can also read our article “What is Cardano” to learn more about them.
#8 – Stellar Lumens (XLM)
📷 In a nutshell, Stellar Lumens seeks to use blockchain to make very fast international payments with small fees. The network can handle thousands of transactions a second with only a 3-5 second confirmation time. As you may know, Bitcoin can sometimes take 10-15 minutes for a transaction to confirm, can only handle a few transactions a second and, in turn, has very high transaction fees. If this sounds a lot like Ripple, you’re right! Stellar Lumens was based off of the Ripple protocol) and is attempting to do similar things. Some of Stellar Lumens’ main uses will be for making small daily payments (micropayments), sending money internationally, and mobile payments. Stellar Lumens is focusing on the developing world and, more specifically, the multi-billion dollar industry of migrant workers who send money back to their family in impoverished countries. The Stellar Lumens team is led by Jed McCaleb, who has worked in numerous successful startups in the past such as eDonkey, Overnet, Ripple, and the infamous Mt. Gox. For more information on Stellar Lumens, including the history and what sets Stellar Lumens apart, see “What are Stellar Lumens”. You can also learn about the differences between Stellar Lumens and Ripple.
#9 – TRON (TRX)
📷 As stated in TRON’s whitepaper, “TRON is an attempt to heal the internet”. The TRON founders believe that the internet has deviated from its original intention of allowing people to freely create content and post as they please; instead, the internet has been taken over by huge corporations like Amazon, Google, Alibaba and others. TRON is attempting to take the internet back from these companies by constructing a free content entertainment system. This will enable users to freely store, publish and own data, giving them the power to decide where and how to share. The project is led by founder Justin Sun, who has been listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list twice (in 2015 and 2017). In addition, Sun is a protégé of Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, China’s former Ripple representative and the founder of Peiwo APP. Sun has assembled a strong team with heavy hitters including Binshen Tang (founder of Clash of King), Wei Dai (founder of ofo, the biggest shared bicycles provider in China), and Chaoyong Wang (founder of ChinaEquity Group). Sun has also secured the support of a few notable angel investors such as Xue Manzi. For up-to-date information on Tron and further discussion of the technology and team, see “What is Tron” and their website.
#10 – IOTA (MIOTA)
📷 IOTA has seen many of the issues Bitcoin and Ethereum have with the POW (proof-of-work) and POI (proof-of-importance) models and looks to improve them with their revolutionary transaction validation network simply called “tangle”. When issuing a transaction in IOTA, you validate 2 previous transactions. This means you no longer outsource validation to miners which requires wasteful amounts of computing power and usually a large stake of coins. These required resources are, in effect, centralizing the currencies which many believe were created to be decentralized in the first place. With IOTA, the more active a ledger is, the more validation there is. In other words, the more people who use it, the faster it gets. You don’t have to subsidize miners, so there are no fees on transactions. That’s right: zero. The IOTA team has been actively developing blockchain technology since 2011, and created the IOTA foundation and company in 2016. Since its emergence, the team has been continuously growing, attracting exceptional talent from around the world. For more information on IOTA’s team and their revolutionary“tangle” technology, check out “What is IOTA”.
#11 – NEO (NEO)
📷 A leading platform for smart contracts and sometimes referred to as “China’s Ethereum”. NEO (formally Antshares) hopes to digitize many types of assets which were formerly kept in more traditional means, and therefore make it possible to use them in smart contracts. To imagine a potential use case of NEO, think digitizing the title to a house into a smart asset, and then setting up that asset to automatically transfer to another person after payment for the house has been received. This would be, in effect, a simple smart contract. NEO founder Da Hongfei is a leading figure in the cryptocurrency world and has worked on numerous blockchain projects in the past. The development team consists of 6 in-house investors and a large community of third-party developers. For a complete overview of NEO, including the team, history and competitive analysis, check out “What is NEO”.
#12 – Dash (DASH)
📷 Dash (which comes from ‘digital cash’) aims to be the most user-friendly and scalable cryptocurrency in the world. It has the ability to send funds instantly confirmed by “double-send-proof” security with the added functionality of erasable transaction history and the ability to send transactions anonymously. Like Bitcoin, Dash is meant to be used as a digital currency but has some added values such as much faster transaction times and lower fees. For a slightly higher fee, Dash has the added function of “instant send” which allows transactions to be confirmed almost instantly. This is one of the main selling points of Dash because many believe that this feature would allow it to be used in brick and mortar establishments. The Dash development team consists of over 50 members and is led by former financial services professional Evan Duffield. For the latest on Dash, see their official website and reddit page. You can also read “What is Dash” to learn more about the project.
#13 – Monero (XMR)
📷 Monero is a digital currency designed to be used as a completely anonymous payment system. A common misconception with Bitcoin is that it is completely anonymous. In reality, all payments processed on the Bitcoin network are recorded on a public ledger (blockchain), so Bitcoin is actually only partially anonymous or “pseudonymous”. This means that you can, in theory, trace back every transaction a coin has been involved with from its creation. Though users aren’t able to inherently link the public key on the blockchain with the private keys used to store the coins themselves, there will always exist a correlation between the two. Monero has solved this problem by implementing cryptonic hashing of receiving addresses, therefore separating the coin from the address it is going to. This can be hugely valuable for anyone wishing to conceal their purchases. The Monero development team consists of 7 core developers, only two of which are publicly known. There have been over 200 additional contributors to the project and software updates are implemented every six months or so. To learn more about Monero including its competitors and challenges, read “What is Monero”. If you’re thinking about investing in Monero, check out our opinion piece “Should You Invest In Monero?“.
#14 – Tether (UDST)
📷 Tether is a cryptocurrency token issued on the Bitcoin blockchain. Each Tether coin is allegedly backed by one US Dollar. The goal is to facilitate transactions with a rate fixed to the USD. Amongst other things, Tether looks to fix some of the legal issues which can arise when trading cryptocurrencies and it aims to protect people from market volatility. Tether has faced controversy regarding their business model, and some consider it a scam. More info can be seen on reddit posts such as this.
#15 – NEM (XEM)
📷 NEM (New Economy Movement) is the world’s first proof-of-importance (POI) enterprise based on blockchain technology. With a focus on business use cases, the software was built from the ground up with adaptability in mind. NEM’s goal is for companies to use their “smart asset system” to implement customizable blockchains. A smart asset can be almost anything: a cryptocurrency token, a business’s stock or a company’s invoicing and records. Some potential use cases for NEM’s technology include: voting, crowdfunding, stock ownership, keeping secure records, loyalty rewards point programs, mobile payments and escrow services. A list of NEM’s use cases can be found here. The development of NEM is monitored by the Singapore-based NEM Foundation. For more information on what NEM does and what sets NEM apart from its competitors, see “What is NEM”.
#16 – VeChain (VEN)
📷 As described in VeChain’s development plan, the organization’s purpose is to build “a trustfree and distributed business ecosystem based on the Blockchain technology self-circulated and expanding”. They plan to do this by creating an efficient trustless business ecosystem to significantly reduce the wasteful information transfer systems of today. Some of the areas and industries the VeChain platform is focusing on include eliminating counterfeiting in the fashion and luxury industry, food safety tracking systems, digitizing maintenance in the car industry and many other global supply chain processes. For more information on VeChain, see their reddit and website. Read “What is Vechain” to learn about the project, and our investment opinion piece “5 Reasons to Invest in Vechain“.
#17 – Ethereum Classic (ETC)
📷 Ethereum Classic came about after a hard fork of Ethereum in 2016. The fork was a result of the infamous DOA hack where around 50 million dollars worth of Ethereum was stolen due to what was considered an oversight in the code. The blockchain was forked in order to recoup the losses from this attack, but a small portion of the community did not wish to go back and change the original blockchain. Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, and subsequently the development team chose to go with the hard fork and work on what is now “Ethereum” today. There is a lot of ongoing controversy with Ethereum Classic which can be better described on this reddit thread. For an in-depth discussion of Ethereum Classic, see”What is Ethereum Classic“.
#18 – Binance Coin (BNB)
📷 Binance Coin is the coin used to facilitate operations on the Binance platform, a cryptocurrency exchange that is capable of processing 1.4 million orders per second. The name “Binance” is derived from the combination of the terms “binary” and “finance”, referring to the integration of digital technology and finance. The BNB coin is used to pay exchange fees, withdrawal fees, listing fees, and all other possible transaction expenses on the Binance platform. In order to incentivize new users to do their cryptocurrency trading on Binance, the team is offering discounts when BNB is used to pay fees. The discount will be 50% in the first year, 25% in the second, 12.5% in the third, and 6.25% in the fourth year before the discount ends. Binance was primarily marketed to Chinese cryptocurrency investors at first, but they also have English, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Russian versions of the platform. For a deeper look into Binance, you can read the whitepaper or check out the trading platform here.
#19 – Bytecoin (BCN)
📷 Bytecoindescribes itself as “a private, decentralized cryptocurrency with with open source code that allows everyone to take part in the Bytecoin network development”. It is the first coin to offer untraceable payments, unlinkable transactions and resistance to blockchain analysis. With Bytecoin, it is possible to send instant transactions anywhere around the world, which are totally untraceable and don’t require additional fees. Bytecoin’s development is community-driven and a list of all of the different community websites can be found here. For more information on Bytecoin, see: “What is Bytecoin“.
#20 – QTUM (QTUM)
📷 QTUM (pronounced Quantum) is an open-source value transfer platform which focuses on mobile decentralized apps or Dapps. QTUM is the world’s first proof-of-stake smart contracts platform. QTUM is meant to be used as both a value transfer protocol, like Bitcoin, and a smart contract platform, like Ethereum. They have a number of technical innovations which some consider to make it superior to Ethereum, and they are focusing on mobile applications. The platform itself is very new. It came about in March 2017, after a highly successful crowdfunding campaign raised them nearly 16 million dollars in only 5 days. QTUM has a small but strong development team and an impressive list of investors backing their ideas. QTUM’s development is lead by the Singapore based QTUM Foundation. For further reading on the background of QTUM and what sets them apart, see “What is QTUM”.
#21 – Zcash (ZEC)
📷 ZCash is a value transfer protocol forked off of the Bitcoin blockchain. ZCash can be used like Bitcoin, with a few added improvements. With “zero cash technology”, ZCash shields both the amount transferred and the senders, making transactions truly anonymous. ZCash is one of the new kids on the block in the world of “private transactions”. An interesting note is that Ethereum is in the process of implementing some of ZCash’s technologies to enable transactions on the Ethereum network to be anonymous as well. ZCash is being developed by the Zerocoin Electric Coin Company. They’ve had some great successes, most notably JP Morgan’s announcement that they would implement Zcash’s privacy technology to Quarum, a technology JP built on Ethereum. Interested in investing in ZCash? Here’s the opinion of one of our writers: Should You Invest In ZCash? ZCash was recently featured on the Radiolab episode The Ceremony.
#22 – OmiseGO (OMG)
📷 “Unbank the Banked” is the slogan of Omise’s online platform OmiseGo and that’s exactly what Omise has set out to do. Founded in 2013 off of the Ethereum blockchain, Omise aims to revolutionize the financial dynamics in Southeast Asia. Omise is targeting individuals and businesses of all sizes by improving the current financial system which is slow, outdated, and inaccessible to most “everyday” people in these countries. With their planned online exchange OmiseGO, Omise seeks to speed up the way money is spent and sent, both domestically and internationally in Southeast Asia and beyond. They have a lot to celebrate too. OmiseGo has been building partnerships in the region and recently partnered with McDonald’s and Credit Saison. Omise has established a strong team of over 130 staff members located in different countries. CEO and founder of Omise, Jun Hasegawa, has been involved in multiple startups and worked for Google for over 16 years. The OmiseGO platform has been endorsed by some of the heavy hitters in the cryptocurrency world such as Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood, the co-founders of Ethereum. For more information on what OmiseGO aims to do, see “What is OmiseGo”.
#23 – ICON (ICX)
📷 Fresh off a successful ICO, the Korea-based startup ICON is looking to provide a medium to connect all the different blockchains together. This puts ICON in the same field as Ark, which is attempting to accomplish similar goals. The main concept of ICON is their idea of a “loopchain”. As stated in their whitepaper, a loopchain can be described as a “high-performance blockchain that can provide real-time transaction, which is based on enhanced Smart Contract.” Through ICON, participants will be able to connect to any blockchain without relying on the current centralized exchanges. ICON has a relatively large team from various backgrounds. They have also secured the help of a few notable advisors such as Jason Best and Don Tapscott. For more information on ICON and the work they’re doing, see “What is ICON“.
#24 – Lisk (LSK)
📷 Lisk is a decentralized network, like Bitcoin and Litecoin, which enables developers to deploy their own side chains off the main Lisk blockchain. These side chains are fully customizable blockchains which enable you to change the parameters you want to fit your own blockchain application. This is similar to Ethereum and QTUM in some ways. With Lisk, the main difference is that the customizable blockchains split into their own separate side chains. This saves developers the grueling legwork of designing something from scratch. At the end of the day, side chains are only decentralized databases of blockchain applications. Lisk is being developed by a small but quickly growing Berlin-based team. They are led by co-founders Max Kordek and Olivier Beddows who are veterans in the cryptocurrency and development world. For a thorough look into Lisk including more on what Lisk does, its competitors, challenges and teams, see “What is Lisk”. You can also check out our case study of an accountant who invested all his life savings in Lisk: “Accountant Invests All in Lisk”.
#25 – Zilliqa – (ZIL)
📷 Zilliqa is a blockchain platform which focuses on solving the problem of scaling on public blockchains. With Zilliqa’s network, the number of transactions increases at a linear rate to the number of nodes. This means that as nodes increase, so will its ability to handle high transaction volume. Zilliqa has already run a successfultest on their network, where they were able to achieve 1,200 transactions per second with only 2,400 nodes. Zilliqa also is the first blockchain to successfully integrate “sharding” into a public blockchain. This concept is extremely useful in improving the rate of scalability, bandwidth and performance in blockchains. Sharding, in effect, splits nodes into “shards” which can then conduct micro-transactions in each blockchain block. In addition to this, Zilliqa claims to be more energy-efficient to mine. They also plan to implement dapps into their platform in the future. For more information on Zilliqa, see their website and reddit. Our article “What is Zilliqa” can provide you with an overview of the project.
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