Bitcoin mining is the process by which new bitcoins enter into circulation, but it is also a critical component of the maintenance and development of the blockchain ledger. It is performed using very sophisticated computers that solve extremely complex computational math problems.
Cryptocurrency mining is painstaking, costly, and only sporadically rewarding. Nevertheless, mining has a magnetic appeal for many investors interested in cryptocurrency because of the fact that miners are rewarded for their work with crypto tokens. This may be because entrepreneurial types see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1849. And if you are technologically inclined, why not do it?
However, before you invest the time and equipment, read this explainer to see whether mining is really for you. Our primary focus will be on Bitcoin (throughout, we'll use "Bitcoin" when referring to the network or the cryptocurrency as a concept, and "bitcoin" when we're referring to a quantity of individual tokens).
What advantage do Bitcoin Miners have?
- By mining, you can earn cryptocurrency without having to put down money for it.
- Bitcoin miners receive Bitcoin as a reward for completing "blocks" of verified transactions, which are added to the blockchain.
- Mining rewards are paid to the miner who discovers a solution to a complex hashing puzzle first, and the probability that a participant will be the one to discover the solution is related to the portion of the total mining power on the network.
- You need either a GPU (graphics processing unit) or an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) in order to set up a mining rig.
The primary draw for many mining is the prospect of being rewarded with Bitcoin. That is, you certainly don't have to be a miner to own cryptocurrency tokens. You can also buy cryptocurrencies using fiat currency; you can trade it on an exchange like Bitstamp using another crypto (as an example, using Ethereum or NEO to buy Bitcoin); you even can earn it by shopping, publishing blog posts on platforms that pay users in cryptocurrency, or even set up interest-earning crypto accounts.
The Bitcoin reward that miners receive is an incentive that motivates people to assist in the primary purpose of mining: to legitimize and monitor Bitcoin transactions, ensuring their validity. Because these responsibilities are spread among many users all over the world, Bitcoin is a "decentralized" cryptocurrency, or one that does not rely on any central authority like a central bank or government to oversee its regulation.
How do we mine Bitcoins?
Miners are getting paid for their work as auditors. They are doing the work of verifying the legitimacy of Bitcoin transactions. This convention is meant to keep Bitcoin users honest and was conceived by Bitcoin's founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. By verifying transactions, miners are helping to prevent the "double-spending problem."
Double spending is a scenario in which a Bitcoin owner illicitly spends the same bitcoin twice. With physical currency, this isn't an issue: once you hand someone a $20 bill to buy a bottle of vodka, you no longer have it, so there's no danger you could use that same $20 bill to buy lotto tickets next door. While there is the possibility of counterfeit cash being made, it is not exactly the same as literally spending the same dollar twice. With digital currency, however, as the Investopedia dictionary explains, "there is a risk that the holder could make a copy of the digital token and send it to a merchant or another party while retaining the original."
Let's say you had one legitimate $20 bill and one counterfeit of that same $20. If you were to try to spend both the real bill and the fake one, someone that took the trouble of looking at both of the bills' serial numbers would see that they were the same number, and thus one of them had to be false. What a Bitcoin miner does is analogous to that—they check transactions to make sure that users have not illegitimately tried to spend the same bitcoin twice. This isn't a perfect analogy—we'll explain in more detail below.
Once miners have verified 1 MB (megabyte) worth of Bitcoin transactions, known as a "block," those miners are eligible to be rewarded with a quantity of bitcoins (more about the bitcoin reward below as well). The 1 MB limit was set by Satoshi Nakamoto, and is a matter of controversy, as some miners believe the block size should be increased to accommodate more data, which would effectively mean that the bitcoin network could process and verify transactions more quickly.
Note that verifying 1 MB worth of transactions makes a coin miner eligible to earn bitcoin—not everyone who verifies transactions will get paid out.
1MB of transactions can theoretically be as small as one transaction (though this is not at all common) or several thousand. It depends on how much data the transactions take up.
"So after all that work of verifying transactions, I might still not get any bitcoin for it?"
That is correct. To earn bitcoins, you need to meet two conditions. One is a matter of effort; one is a matter of luck:
- You have to verify ~1MB worth of transactions. This is the easy part.
- You have to be the first miner to arrive at the right answer, or closest answer, to a numeric problem. This process is also known as proof of work.
For the Good news, No advanced math or computation is involved. You may have heard that miners are solving difficult mathematical problems—that's not actually true. What they are actually doing is trying to be the first miner to come up with a 64-digit hexadecimal number that is less than or equal to the target hash. This we can say its basically guesswork.
For the Bad news, It's guesswork, but with the total number of possible guesses for each of these problems being on the order of trillions, it's incredibly arduous work. In order to solve a problem first, miners need a lot of computing power. To mine successfully, you need to have a high "hash rate," which is measured in terms of megahashes per second (MH/s), gigahashes per second (GH/s), and terahashes per second (TH/s).
Mining and Bitcoin Circulation
In addition to lining the pockets of miners and supporting the Bitcoin ecosystem, mining serves another vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically "minting" currency. For example, as of Nov. 2020, there were around 18.5 million bitcoins in circulation.1
Aside from the coins minted via the genesis block (the very first block, which was created by founder Satoshi Nakamoto), every single one of those bitcoins came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin as a network would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional bitcoin. There will eventually come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the total number of bitcoins will be capped at 21 million.
Aside from the short-term Bitcoin payoff, being a coin miner can give you "voting" power when changes are proposed in the Bitcoin network protocol. In other words, miners have a degree of influence on the decision-making process on such matters as forking.
How Much does a Miner Earns?
The rewards for Bitcoin mining are reduced by half every four years. When bitcoin was first mined in 2009, mining one block would earn you 50 BTC. In 2012, this was halved to 25 BTC. By 2016, this was halved again to 12.5 BTC. On May 11, 2020, the reward halved again to 6.25 BTC. In November of 2020, the price of Bitcoin was about $17,900 per bitcoin, which means you'd earn $111,875 (6.25 x 17,900) for completing a block. Not a bad incentive to solve that complex hash problem detailed above, it might seem.
If you want to keep track of precisely when these halvings will occur, you can consult the Bitcoin Clock, which updates this information in real-time. Interestingly, the market price of Bitcoin has, throughout its history, tended to correspond closely to the reduction of new coins entered into circulation. This lowering inflation rate increased scarcity and historically the price has risen with it.
If you are interested in seeing how many blocks have been mined thus far, there are several sites, including Blockchain.info, that will give you that information in real-time.
What requirements does One need to Mine Bitcoin?
Although early on in Bitcoin's history individuals may have been able to compete for blocks with a regular at-home computer, this is no longer the case. The reason for this is that the difficulty of mining Bitcoin changes over time.
In order to ensure the smooth functioning of the blockchain and its ability to process and verify transactions, the Bitcoin network aims to have one block produced every 10 minutes or so. Perhaps, if there are one million mining rigs competing to solve the hash problem, they'll likely reach a solution faster than a scenario in which 10 mining rigs are working on the same problem. For that reason, Bitcoin is designed to evaluate and adjust the difficulty of mining every 2,016 blocks, or roughly every two weeks.
When there is more computing power collectively working to mine for bitcoins, the difficulty level of mining increases in order to keep block production at a stable rate. Less computing power means the difficulty level decreases. To get a sense of just how much computing power is involved, when Bitcoin launched in 2009 the initial difficulty level was one.
All of this is to say that, in order to mine competitively, miners must now invest in powerful computer equipment like a GPU (graphics processing unit) or, more realistically, an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). These can run from $500 to the tens of thousands. Some miners—particularly Ethereum miners—buy individual graphics cards (GPUs) as a low-cost way to cobble together mining operations.
Bitcoin Mining today has brought about so many changes in the world, many other Crypto currencies are been discovered and I know so many others are still to. Bitcoin Mining seems difficult because of the mathematical problems we face but critically it isn't. Though the case that some Bitcoin Miners will face challenges because of not sufficient requirements. So before engaging into Bitcoin Mining, the first thing we should ask our self is if its meant for us.