What is Bitcoin Mining?
Bitcoin mining is the process by which transactions are verified and added to the public ledger, known as the block chain, and also the means through which new bitcoin are released. Anyone with access to the internet and suitable hardware can participate in mining. The mining process involves compiling recent transactions into blocks and trying to solve a computationally difficult puzzle. The participant who first solves the puzzle gets to place the next block on the block chain and claim the rewards. The rewards, which incentivize mining, are both the transaction fees associated with the transactions compiled in the block as well as newly released bitcoin.
One of the fundamental questions many people have about Bitcoin revolves around the tokens themselves. Questions about its value, security and history, all eventually lead to one place: Where do bitcoins come from?
While traditional money is created through (central) banks, bitcoins are “mined” by Bitcoin miners: network participants that perform extra tasks. Specifically, they chronologically order transactions by including them in the Bitcoin blocks they find. This prevents a user from spending the same bitcoin twice; it solves the “double spend” problem.
Skipping over the technical details, finding a block most closely resembles a type of network lottery. For each attempt to try and find a new block, which is basically a random guess for a lucky number, a miner has to spend a tiny amount of energy. Most of the attempts fail and a miner will have wasted that energy. Only once about every ten minutes will a miner somewhere succeed and thus add a new block to the blockchain.
This also means that any time a miner finds a valid block, it must have statistically burned much more energy for all the failed attempts. This “proof of work” is at the heart of Bitcoin’s success.
For one, proof of work prevents miners from creating bitcoins out of thin air: they must burn real energy to earn them. And two, proof of work ossifies Bitcoin’s history. If an attacker were to try and change a transaction that happened in the past, that attacker would have to redo all of the work that has been done since to catch up and establish the longest chain. This is practically impossible and is why miners are said to “secure” the Bitcoin network.
Anyone can become a Bitcoin miner to try and earn these coins. However, Bitcoin mining has become increasingly specialized over the years and is nowadays mostly done by dedicated professionals with specialized hardware, cheap electricity and often big data centers.
To mine competitively today, you need to know what you’re doing, you must be willing to invest significant resources and time, and — last but not least — you need access to cheap electricity. If you have all of this, you too can give it a shot and become a Bitcoin miner.