The Bitcoin network is a large operation, and many people do not understand what makes the engine run under the hood. Mining is a concept that takes a little bit longer for some to learn how miners confirm transactions, find blocks and secure the network. Another important, intricate part of the system is nodes. Miners processing transactions and keeping the blockchain going needs to be relayed by a network of nodes.
Running a Bitcoin Node
The permissionless distributed ledger used in Bitcoin is a chain of communication, which require nodes to validate actions within its protocol. They are essential to the ecosystem just as much as miners who are finding blocks and processing the data. There are currently 5,796 nodes acting as connectors and redistribution points that fully confirm transactions and blocks. Bittorrent is a protocol that is very similar to how the digital currency operates. The system is a giant collaboration of home computers, servers, and hosts acting as nodes to help lighten the weight of peer-to-peer file sharing. This helps the Bittorrent network become resilient from attack and speed up its processes. In the Bitcoin network, the actions of home computers and servers hosting full nodes also protects the currency from a single point of failure.
Running a Bitcoin node comes with a few requirements and also some costs at times if running it continuously. This includes the electricity to operate the host device the blockchain is kept on and the cost of a constant internet connection running the software. Any desktop can perform the function of hosting a node like Windows, Mac, and various Linux operating systems. It can also be held on smaller devices that are capable of holding the entire blockchain with enough memory to perform the functions. Gadgets like the inexpensive Raspberry Pi can also house the distributed ledger when the Bitcoin protocol is applied to the operating system. Full nodes need at least 90 gigabytes of storage space and 2 gigabytes of memory (RAM) to keep up with the network. A recommended 6 hours of run-time per day is suggested by forums and community members concerning the subject.
The more nodes there are within the network, the more trustless and decentralized the system becomes. The validation provided by these nodes assures that double spending doesn’t happen, and all the protocol is adhered to. Bitcoin miners are offered an incentive to process transactions, which include freshly created digital coins as well as transaction fees.
Rewarding Full Nodes
Currently, there is no incentive to run a full node within the ecosystem, but some have thought of ways to handle the method by offering a reward. There have been ideas to add this incentive to the code itself and other solutions outside the blockchain’s operations. Theoretically, a reward for running a full node by an individual would help bolster the network, add security, and speed up verifications.
Not only can individuals host a node but companies and organizations can also participate in securing the network. Recently the Bitcoin exchange BTCC has helped the network by hosting 100 dispersed full nodes worldwide. Last January the payment processor BitPay announced its new feature service with Microsoft’s Azure blockchain as a service (BaaS) platform and will enable individual users or organizations to run a full Bitcoin node on the distributed cloud. Other companies such as 21inc enable the community to run nodes, and there’s also altcoins that want to incentivize the network as well. For example, Spreadcoin is a token that uses what the creators call “Proof of Bitcoin Node” that adds a reward to those operating a full Bitcoin node.
Nodes also help form a consensus. The node count at over 5,000 is far below the all-time high of above 10,000. This has caused concern for some and is the reason why people have discussed offering rewards. With the block size debate, nodes running a different Bitcoin client are also helping bring consensus to the infrastructure with hard or soft fork implementations. Currently, some users have started running nodes for Bitcoin Classic, Unlimited, and XT. These alternative code structures could decide the new rules for the system including increasing the block size. Miners and those running full nodes will be part of the “voting” process during a code change when the majority comes to consensus. This means that either Bitcoin Classic or another version could be the protocol used over Core.
The digital currency created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 is a grand creation with an array of functions that are supported by those hosting full Bitcoin nodes. Most people would agree the more, the merrier. However, how to actually keep this number up and increasing is a problem in itself — one that will rise in importance as the currency grows and gains more users.
Do you run a full node? What do you think about incentivizing full nodes? Let us know in the comments below.
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