What is Bitcoin (BTC)?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a worldwide payment system. It is the first decentralised digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator. The network is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly through the use of cryptography, without an intermediary, such as banks. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open-source software in 2009.
How are Bitcoins created?
Bitcoin is a digital currency that does not exist in a physical form and is not centrally controlled by a bank or any institution. Instead, Bitcoins are created digitally through a process called “mining”. Thus, Bitcoins are mined using computing power to solve difficult cryptographic puzzles. When the correct solution of the hashing algorithm has been found, a block is formed and brand new Bitcoins are released into the system as a reward for the miner. At the current time of writing, 4th of January 2018, the Bitcoin block reward is 12.5 Bitcoins per block.
So, as long as there are miners, new coins will be added?
There are only 21 million Bitcoins that will ever exist. As of January 2018, there are almost 17 million coins in circulation. The Bitcoin protocol was designed in such a way that every 210,000 blocks (or approximately every 4 years) the block reward will be halved. Eventually, this halving will decrease the block reward to 0 as the limit of 21 million Bitcoins is reached. Supposedly, then, miners will be incentified to keep the network safe and legitimate only with transaction fees.
So, how does Bitcoin work?
Bitcoin mining is a peer-to-peer computer process used to secure and verify Bitcoin transactions, in other words, to verify payments made by one user to another on the Bitcoin network. Mining is the tool used to add Bitcoin transactions data to Bitcoin’s public distributed ledger. Each set of transactions added to the ledger is called a “block”. The newly formed blocks are added onto the chain of previous blocks and thus extending the blockchain. The blockchain confirms transactions with the rest of the network as having taken place. Bitcoin nodes use the blockchain to verify transactions based on the previous blocks and to prevent users from double-spending their coins. The mining consensus used by Bitcoin is called “proof-of-work”.
What makes Bitcoin special? How is it different from conventional currencies?
Bitcoin has multiple features that set it apart from the conventional government-backed currencies. Let’s explore those in detail.
First and probably the most important Bitcoin feature is that it’s a decentralised peer-to-peer monetary system. In other words, the Bitcoin network is not controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines Bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network and thus, makes it impossible for one central authority to choose or enact monetary policies. The decentralised nature of the Bitcoin blockchain makes it more robust than conventional monetary systems. If one part of the network goes offline, the rest will keep on running and supporting the system.
Second, Bitcoin makes it easier for everyone around the globe to set up an account and use their funds without going through the bureaucratic steps necessary for establishing and using a bank account. Anyone can set up a Bitcoin account within seconds, for free.
Third, the Bitcoin blockchain is completely transparent. All the transactions that have taken place in the Bitcoin network since the birth of Bitcoin in 2009, are publicly accessible. Moreover, if you have publicly used a Bitcoin address, anyone can check how many Bitcoins are stored in your wallet, however, your name and private data stays anonymous.
The fourth Bitcoin advantage over conventional currencies is that Bitcoin is transnational. There are no exchange rates and 1 Bitcoin is always worth 1 Bitcoin, regardless of the country it is spent in. Thus, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have the potential to eliminate exchange rates and international transfer fees.
Is Bitcoin the perfect global currency?
Even though, Bitcoin has many advantages over conventional currencies, there are two key issues that the Bitcoin community is facing.
First, there are transaction fees. Bitcoin was initially envisioned as a peer-to-peer monetary system with close to instant, free transactions. At this particular time, January 2018, Bitcoin users are paying an average of $28 USD to make a transaction, according to data by BitInfoCharts. Thus, transaction fees are proving to be profitable for miners, at the same time, hurting the users and making Bitcoin unsuitable for micro-transactions and daily usage.
Second, the transaction times. Usually, it takes around 10 minutes for a block to be added to the blockchain. However, with the growing adoption of the Bitcoin network, more and more transactions have take place on the blockchain and thus, causing a congestion. For example, according to Blockchain.info, on the 3rd of January 2018, the average confirmation time was 70 minutes, whereas, on the 1st of January 2018, the Bitcoin network reached the record slow confirmation average of 3,327 minutes, the equivalent of 2 days, 7 hours and 27 minutes.
Bitcoin is not perfect, however, it’s advantages are numerous. Because of Bitcoin’s open-source algorithm, countless developers are constantly busy with trying to improve the system.
One of the most important projects that is going to be implemented on the Bitcoin Network soon is the Lightning Network. The Lightning Network will allow for instantaneous and almost free off-chain transactions. The Lightning Network would essentially allow users to send multiple transactions to and from, outside of the blockchain. It would work as a second layer on top of the existing distributed ledger network that underpins Bitcoin.
Many are hopeful about Bitcoin’s future, but only time will tell. Bitcoin and most alt-coins might not last forever, but one thing is for sure, blockchain and cryptographic currencies are here to stay.
What is Ethereum?
Ethereum is a decentralised platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference. Ethereum uses a public blockchain similar to Bitcoin, but also enables advanced programmable transactions types.
At its simplest, Ethereum is an open software platform based on blockchain technology that enables developers to build and deploy decentralised applications. The Ethereum platform was created by Vitalik Buterin.
How is Ethereum different from Bitcoin?
Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is a distributed public blockchain network. Although, there are multiple differences between the two, the most important difference to note is that Bitcoin and Ethereum differ in their purpose and capabilities. Ethereum’s blockchain is used to run the programming code of any decentralised application, while Bitcoin’s blockchain is solely used to track ownership of Bitcoins.
Similar to Bitcoin, Ethereum uses a proof-of-work consensus. However, instead of getting rewarded in Bitcoins upon completion of the cryptographic puzzle, Ethereum miners get Ether. Beyond a tradeable cryptocurrency, Ether is also used by application developers to pay for transaction fees and services on the Ethereum network.
Moreover, Ethereum is planning to move from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake in the near future. Proof-of-stake will allow Ethereum to handle more transaction.
What is Ether?
Ether (ETH) is the primary currency on the Ethereum network. Much like Bitcoin (BTC), it is created by computerised mining. Ether can be sent from one address on the Ethereum network to another, and can also be used in smart contracts.
What are smart contracts?
Smart contracts is a phrase used to describe computer code that can facilitate the exchange of money, content, property, shares, or anything of value. Smart contracts run on the blockchain and thus, run exactly as programmed without any possibility of censorship, downtime, fraud or third party interference. Most of the current blockchains have limited ability to process code. Ethereum, on the other hand, allows developers to build any applications on their blockchain.
So, what is Ethereum used for?
Ethereum enables developers to build and deploy decentralised applications or Dapps. For example, Bitcoin is a Dapp that provides users with a peer-to-peer electronic cash system that enables Bitcoin payments. Because decentralised applications are made up of code that runs on a blockchain network, there is not a central authority.
Ethereum Network aims at decentralising intermediary services that exist across most industries. From bank loans, to voting systems, to notary services and more.
Ethereum can also be used to build Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO). A DAO is fully autonomous, decentralised organisation with no single leader. A DAO is designed to replace the rules and structure of traditional organisations, eliminating the need for bureaucracy and centralised control. A DAO is owned by anyone who purchases its tokens, thus, giving every token holder an equity share and also a voting right.
Why use Ethereum?
Ethereum decentralised applications run on the blockchain and thus, enjoy all the benefits that come with blockchain technology.
First, Dapps are immutable, meaning that a third party cannot make any changes to the data.
Second, Dapps are based on a network formed around the principle of consensus, making censorship impossible.
Third, with no central point of failure and being secured with cryptography, applications are well protected against hacking attacks and fraudulent activities.
Ethereum sounds great, doesn’t it?
Well, even though, Ethereum has many advantageous there are some negative aspects that need to be considered.
Smart contracts are written by humans and are only as flawless as the people who write them. Code bugs can lead to unintended adverse actions being taken. In other words, if a mistake in the code gets exploited, there is no efficient way in which an attack or exploitation can be stopped other than obtaining a network consensus and rewriting the underlying code. However, this goes against the essence of the blockchain – it’s immutability.
Ethereum is still in its early days but we can already see that it is a truly transformational platform. With many applications yet to be developed. We can only begin to wonder whether Ethereum has the capacity to influence the future.
What is Ripple?
Ripple is both a payment network (RippleNet) and a cryptocurrency (Ripple XRP), created in 2012. RippleNet connects banks and other big institutions and allows them to transfer money and other assets through the Ripple network. Thereafter, all transactions are recorded on the XRP Ledger.
The XRP ledger is an open-source product created by Ripple to solve a major point of friction in international payments. XRP can be used by banks to source liquidity on demand, in real time. It also allows payment providers to lower foreign exchange costs, provide faster payment settlements and expand their reach into new markets.
What is XRP?
Ripple XRP is the cryptocurrency used in the payment network for all transactions, reducing the time and money associated with cross-border payments. Each transaction through the system is processed in only 4 seconds. For comparison, Ethereum takes more than 2 minutes, Bitcoin over an hour, while traditional systems can take between 3 and 5 days.
XRP can handle 1,500 transactions per second. Bitcoin, on the other hand, can reportedly only handle 7 in the same time. In addition to being fast and scalable, the Ripple network also offers low transaction fees. Because of its benefits, the system is already being used by more than 75 financial institutions across the globe.
The amount of Ripple in existence is a key element to know about Ripple (XRP). All XRP have already been created with a total supply of 100 billion. It must be noted that on December 7th, 2017, Ripple Labs placed 55 billion XRP in cryptographically-secured escrow accounts in order to ensure a steady supply release of 1 billion XRPs per month. Thus, with this decision, Ripple reassures its users that it will not flood the market with the 55 billion XRP at once, creating stability and trust for its currency.
What are xVia, xRapid and xCurrent?
xVia is for corporates, payment providers and banks that want to send payments across various networks using a standard interface. xVia’s simple API doesn’t require software installation and enables users to seamlessly send payments globally with transparent payment status and with additional information, like invoices, attached.
In other words, xVia is what businesses use to plug into the Ripple Network and with this feature users can seamlessly send payments all over the world with complete transparency.
xRapid, using XRP, is for payment providers and other financial institutions who want to minimise liquidity costs while improving their customer experience.
xCurrent is an enterprise software solution that enables banks to instantly settle cross-border payments with end-to-end tracking. Using xCurrent, banks message each other in real-time to confirm payment details prior to initiating the transaction and to confirm delivery once it settles.
XRP vs Bitcoin
So, you might be wondering, what is the difference between XRP and Bitcoin?
Ripple is a payment network for financial institutions and is a competitor to systems like SWIFT. It can also be traded, but was never intended to be a payment method for buying things online. Bitcoin aims to become a globally adopted currency that could improve or even replace conventional money.
Moreover, Bitcoins are a new way of making payments that bypass banks and other financial institutions. Ripple, on the other hand, is working with banks to help them speed up cross-border payments and reduce corresponding fees.
Ripple is a viable competitor to the traditional financial system. Ripple (XRP) and RippleNet can be a very useful tool for banks and other financial institutions, as well as, businesses of all types. Ripple simplifies the payments for corporate entities, banks can use it to get new revenue, while payment providers benefit from expanding their reach.
So, what is Litecoin and how does it work?
Litecoin is similar to Bitcoin, and in some ways, a direct competitor. Like Bitcoin, Litecoin exists as a blockchain where participating nodes process transactions, and miners provide security and verification for each of those transactions.
Litecoin was originally conceived and developed by Charlie Lee in 2011. Since its launch in 2011, Litecoin has seen steady adoption with an active community of traders, merchants, and developers. Many believe Litecoin is here to stay and will continue to play an important role in cryptocurrency and digital asset development.
While Bitcoin is seen as “gold” and a store of value for long-term purposes, Litecoin is seen as the “silver” and a means of transactions for cheaper and everyday purposes. The Litecoin Network went live on October 13th, 2011. It is basically a fork of the Bitcoin Core blockchain. In order to understand the Litecoin Network better, a comparison with Bitcoin’s protocol is necessary. The differences between Bitcoin and Litecoin are discussed below.
Litecoin and Bitcoin Mining Differences
Both Bitcoin and Litecoin use the Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism. Thus, the miners use their computational power to solve extremely hard cryptographic puzzles.
Bitcoin and Litecoin have adopted slightly different approaches to the Proof-of-Work consensus. Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hashing algorithm for its mining purposes.
Not long after the Bitcoin’s Network went live, miners discovered that they could exponentially increase their mining power by joining together and forming mining pools via parallel processing.
In this parallel processing, program instructions are divided among multiple processors. By doing this, miners decreased the running time of the program and thus, established mining pools.
Moreover, the SHA 256 puzzles require a lot of processing power, and that gave rise to specialised “application-specific integrated circuits” aka ASICs. These ASICs are specifically designed with the sole reason of mining Bitcoins.
On the other hand, Litecoin uses “Scrypt” (pronounced as “script”) as its hashing algorithm. Even though, “Scrypt” uses SHA-256, its calculations are way more serialised than the SHA-256 used by the Bitcoin Network. Thus, this makes parallelising the calculations impossible.
What does all of this mean?
Let’s say that mining consists of two processes called A and B.
In Bitcoin mining, it is possible for the ASICs to do A and B at the same time by parallelising them. However, in Litecoin, miners have to first calculate A before proceeding to B. Parallelisation is possible, however, it requires an immense amount of memory. Thus, “Scrypt” is also referred to as a “memory hard problem.”
Litecoin mining through “Scrypt” has been specifically designed to make sure that mining is accessible to an average user and also as decentralised as possible. Unfortunately, companies like Zeus and Flower Technology have recently managed to create “Scrypt” ASICs. Thus, endangering Litecoin’s dream of democratised mining.
When compared to Bitcoin, Litecoin’s block mining speed is 4 times faster. It takes 10 min and 2.5 min respectively to add a new block to the chain. This Litecoin quality is extremely useful for merchants who need to perform multiple mini-transactions. Using Litecoin, they can get two confirmations within 5 minutes while just 1 confirmation in Bitcoin will take at least 10 minutes.
Another advantage of the faster block creation is the variance in miner rewards. Since the time between blocks is so small, more and more miners get the opportunity to mine blocks and earn the mining rewards. What this means is that the mining rewards should theoretically be better distributed in Litecoin and, by extension, it should be more decentralised.
What does the future of Litecoin look like?
One of the most exciting features that Litecoin is introducing is the “Atomic Swaps”.
“Atomic Swaps” enables cross-chain exchange of coins without the need of a third party such as exchanges. Let’s imagine that Alice has 1 BTC and Bob has 100 LTCs, with the implementation of Atomic Swaps, Alice and Bob could directly swap coins without the need of going to an exchange.
Despite its dramatic price rise, many consider Litecoin to be far more valuable. Designed as Bitcoin’s “younger brother,” Litecoin has outgrown its purpose and is now looking towards the future.
Over the last year or so, Litecoin has taken the risks needed to show the masses what the true scope and potential of cryptocurrencies is. Litecoin Network was one of the first cryptocurrencies to implement SegWit, to test out Atomic Swaps and to activate Lightning Network.
Bitcoin Cash is a fork of the original Bitcoin blockchain with some changes and additional features.
With a new name to Bitcoin’s offspring, i.e. Bitcoin Cash, it seems to appeal to a stratum of users who believe that Bitcoin should be a cash-like thing that’s easy to exchange with minimal or no fees. Suffixing ‘Cash’ to Bitcoin encourages this usage.
In addition, Bitcoin cash increased its block size limit in order to increase the maximum amount of transactions that can be processed by the system in 24 hours. A certain group of users, miners, and developers have always advocated for a bigger block size in BTC. Now with Bitcoin Cash, they have increased the block size limit from 1MB to 8MB. Thus, enabling Bitcoin Cash to process around 2 million transaction per day, compared to 250,000 Bitcoin transactions per day.
What is IOTA?
According to IOTA website, IOTA is a revolutionary new transactional settlement and data transfer layer for the Internet of Things: It’s based on a new distributed ledger, the Tangle, which overcomes the inefficiencies of current Blockchain designs and introduces a new way of reaching consensus in a decentralised peer-to-peer system.”
In order to understand IOTA and its purpose, we need to first explain the Internet of Things or IoT.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT refers to the network of internet-connected physical objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors. Computers, microchips, kitchen appliances, hospital devices and cars are all part of IoT. IOTA, the cryptocurrency, accurately refers to itself as the backbone of IoT.
For example, one day, your self-driving car will be able to connect to the parking meter and pay the corresponding amount of IOTAs without your direct involvement in the transaction. This machine to machine transactions will be recorded on the IOTA ledger.
How does IOTA work?
One of the central features of IOTA is that it does not have to be “mined”, like Bitcoin, because it’s totally decentralised and blockless. What does that mean? It means that IOTA transactions can be made by anyone or anything without fees and there is no limit of how many transactions can be confirmed per second.
By removing the traditional blockchain design and implementing Tangle, every transactions in IOTA requires that the sender approves two previously made transactions. Thus, making transactions extremely fast and avoiding scaling issues. In other words, the more users IOTA has, the faster and more secure the network becomes.
If you are wondering how the Tangle works, here is a short video:
So far, so good, but what’s next?
So far, so good. IOTA looks promising as it is without fees and infinitely scalable. The more users it has, the faster and more secure transactions become. IOTA seems to have multiple applications, especially in the future with a machine to machine based economy.
The Internet of Things is a glamorous buzzword, but it might be a while before a sensor-filled future of machines becomes reality. Moreover, IOTA’s technology is still under development and recently flaws in its code have been found. However, the team is working hard on improving the IOTA protocol. As IOTA is still in its development stage, even though the project offers multiple advantages over current blockchain projects, its success must not be take for granted.
What is Cardano and what is ADA?
Cardano is a smart contract platform, similar to Ethereum, with a focus on security through a layered architecture. Cardano can also be used to receive and send digital money and is home to the ADA cryptocurrency. A major innovation of Cardano is that it will balance the needs of users with those of regulators, and in doing so, combine privacy with regulation.
It’s the first blockchain project to be created from scientific philosophy and built on peer-reviewed academic research. Thus, Cardano is the only project to be designed and built by a global team of leading academics and engineers. It is essential to Cardano’s team that the technology is secure, flexible and scalable for use by many millions of users.
Thus, considerable thought and care from some of the leading experts in their fields has been devoted to the project. The scientific rigour applied to mission-critical systems such as aerospace and banking has been brought to the field of cryptocurrencies.
Cardano’s layered architecture
Cardano is being developed in two layers that separate the ledger of account values from the reason why values are moved from one account to the other. The main reason for building Cardano in two layers is to enable better flexibility of smart contracts. Thus, with Cardano, businesses can tailor the design, privacy and execution of each smart contract to better befit a specific use-case.
How does Cardano work? Is it minable?
Cardano uses the Ouroboros proof-of-stake algorithm to reach consensus on the state of the ledger. In this protocol, slot leaders generate new blocks in the blockchain and verify the transactions. Anyone holding a Cardano ADA coin can become a slot leader. The node automatically verifies transactions, thus, the users don’t have to manually verify each transaction.
As of January 2018, there are almost 26 bullion ADA coins in circulation and the Cardano team has said that there will be a maximum of 45 billion coins that will ever be created.
Cardano is an ambitious project tackling a large number of problems faced by Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The sheer scope of the project could be lethal to the project, as it leaves a lot of opportunity for error. However, Charles Hoskinson, ex-CEO of Ethereum, leading the Cardano team does help to bring some confidence that the team can handle a project of this magnitude.
What is Monero (XMR)
Monero (XMR) is a secure, private, and untraceable cryptocurrency. It is open-source and accessible to all. With Monero, you are your own bank. Only you control and are responsible for your funds. Your accounts and transactions are kept private from prying eyes!
What’s special about Monero (XMR)?
Monero uses ring signatures, ring confidential transactions, and stealth addresses to obfuscate the origins, amounts, and destinations of all transactions. Monero provides all the benefits of a decentralised cryptocurrency, without any of the typical privacy concerns.
Monero is a decentralised cryptocurrency, meaning it is secure digital cash operated by a network of users. Transactions are confirmed by distributed consensus and then immutably recorded on the blockchain. Third-parties do not need to be trusted to keep your Monero safe.
Sending and receiving addresses, as well as, transacted amounts are obfuscated by default. Transactions on the Monero blockchain cannot be linked to a particular user or real-world identity.
Monero is fungible because it is private by default. Units of Monero cannot be blacklisted by vendors or exchanges due to their association in previous transactions.
Fungibility is an advantage Monero has over Bitcoin and almost every other cryptocurrency, due to the privacy inherent in the Monero blockchain and the permanently traceable nature of the Bitcoin blockchain.
With Bitcoin, any BTC can be tracked by anyone back to its creation in a block. Therefore, if a coin has been used for an illegal purpose in the past, this history will be contained in the blockchain for eternity. This lack of fungibility means that certain businesses will be obligated to avoid accepting BTC that have been previously used for purposes which are illegal. Currently some large Bitcoin companies are blocking, suspending, or closing accounts that have received Bitcoin used in online gambling or other purposes deemed shady by said companies.
What is DASH?
Dash aims to be the most user-friendly and scalable payments-focused cryptocurrency in the world. The Dash network features instant transaction confirmation, double spend protection, anonymity equal to that of physical cash, a self-governing and self-funding model driven by incentivised full nodes, and a clear roadmap for on-chain scaling up to 400MB blocks using custom-developed open source hardware. While Dash is based on Bitcoin and compatible with many key components of the Bitcoin ecosystem, its two-tier network structure offers significant improvements in transaction speed, anonymity and governance.
Why choose Dash (DASH)?
Dash is a cryptocurrency based on Bitcoin. However, there are a few advantages to using DASH which are listed below.
Dash keep your payments private so nobody can track you. Your transactions and balances are nobody else’s business. With Dash’s ahead-of-time anonymization, only you have access to your financial information.
Dash harnesses the power of its Masternode network (https://www.dash.org/masternodes2/) to power an innovative technology called InstantX. When sending money, users can select the “Use InstantX” box in their wallet and transactions will be fully sent and irreversible within four seconds.
Dash has implemented advanced encryption and a trustless protocol for complete security in your payments and anonymization process.
Most transactions only cost a few cents to send, which is considerably cheaper than services like Western Union, PayPal, or Moneygram.
What is Bitcoin Gold?
Bitcoin Gold (BTG), is a cryptocurrency that began in 2017 as a fork of the Bitcoin blockchain, but has been independent since then.
Because Bitcoin Gold began as a fork, it contains the full transaction history of the Bitcoin blockchain up until the fork. This includes the exact balances of Bitcoins held in wallets at that time by users and organizations around the world. Anyone who held a Bitcoin balance immediately before the the fork held an equivalent balance of Bitcoin Gold immediately after the fork. The original Bitcoin blockchain continued, unaffected and unimpeded by this process. The Bitcoin Gold blockchain begin running as a distinct new branch about two weeks later.
As a result of this process, a new cryptocurrency was born.
What is the purpose of Bitcoin Gold (BTG)
The purpose behind creating Bitcoin Gold was to make mining decentralised again.
Bitcoin Gold has changed the Bitcoin proof-of-work algorithm from SHA-256 to Equihash.
What does that mean?
The Equihash algorithm is more resistant to ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) chips and runs on GPU’s, which are easily available to the public. Thus, leading to a more decentralised, democratic mining infrastructure and complying with Satoshi Nakamoto’s idealistic vision of “one CPU, one vote” for Bitcoin.
Bitcoin Gold was created with that vision in mind.
So, are Bitcoin Gold and Bitcoin competitors?
Bitcoin Cash and B2X are hostile forks that use the same PoW algorithm as Bitcoin – SHA256 – which results in a permanent state of conflict over a finite amount of ASIC mining hardware that is required for solving SHA256 proof-of-work.
Bitcoin Gold, on the other hand, uses the Equihash PoW algorithm, which cannot be solved using ASICs that have been designed for Bitcoin’s SHA256. This ensures that Bitcoin Gold is not in competition with Bitcoin over limited resources. Instead, Bitcoin Gold has an entirely different mining infrastructure, consisting of general purpose computer hardware (GPUs).