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Bitcoin

How Do Bitcoin Transactions Work?

Author

Kayelee Rosales

Tags

Reading time

5 mins
Last update

Author

Kayelee Rosales

Tags

Category

Bitcoin

Reading time

5 mins
Last update

Author

Kayelee Rosales

Tags

Reading time

5 mins
Last update


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Key Takeaways

  • Bitcoins don’t exist physically. Ownership is tracked through a chain of verified transactions on the blockchain.
  • Transactions are broadcasted, verified by the network, and recorded permanently on a blockchain public ledger, ensuring security and transparency.
  • Transactions take time to confirm due to block size limitations. Higher fees incentivize faster confirmation by miners.

Overview of Bitcoin Transactions

Bitcoin lets you send money directly, peer-to-peer. Here’s how it works:

  1. Create a Transaction: Using your digital wallet, you initiate a transaction specifying the amount, the recipient’s address (like a crypto email), and a miner fee.
  2. Sign with Your Secret Key: Imagine a super-secret password. This is your private key, used to sign the transaction, proving you own the Bitcoin digitally.
  3. Broadcast and Wait: The signed transaction enters a waiting pool on the Bitcoin network. Miners, particularly computers, compete to solve a complex puzzle to validate transactions.
  4. Block Added, Transaction Confirmed: The winning miner adds a block containing your transaction to the public ledger, the blockchain. Once confirmed, the transaction is considered final (usually takes a few minutes).

Security and Transparency

  • Everyone on the network verifies transactions, making them secure and difficult to tamper with.
  • Transactions are permanent and publicly viewable on the blockchain, ensuring transparency.

It’s common practice to wait for extra confirmations (typically 6) to ensure absolute certainty that the transaction is final.

What exactly is a Bitcoin?

Unlike physical cash, Bitcoins don’t exist as objects. Instead, consider them as entries in a large public record called the blockchain. This record tracks every single Bitcoin transaction ever made. Each transaction acts like a verification step, proving who owns a specific Bitcoin at any given time.

How does Ownership Work?

In the Bitcoin world, instead of deeds and paperwork, you transfer ownership by adding a new record to the blockchain. This record proves you received the Bitcoin and now have the authority to transfer it further.

So, while there are no physical Bitcoins, ownership is securely tracked on the blockchain through a verified transaction chain.

Public and Private keys

Bitcoin uses a public-key cryptography system for security.

  • Public Key (Address): This acts like your Bitcoin account number. Share it freely to receive Bitcoin. Like a transparent safety deposit box address – anyone can see what’s inside (your balance) but needs a private key to access it.
  • Private Key (Password): This is your secret key, which is essential for spending your Bitcoin. Keep it confidential, like your bank password. A lost private key means lost Bitcoin.

Bitcoin Transactions Inputs and Outputs

Bitcoin transactions involve moving Bitcoin from one address to another, but they work differently than traditional bank transfers.

  • Inputs: These reference previous transactions that sent Bitcoin to your address.
  • Amount: This is the total amount of Bitcoin you’re sending.
  • Outputs: These determine where the Bitcoin goes:
    • The main output is sent to the recipient’s address.
    • Any leftover Bitcoin (considered change) is returned to your address.

This process might seem complicated, but your Bitcoin wallet handles the complex parts. You simply specify the amount and recipient, and your wallet takes care of the inputs and outputs.

Sending a Bitcoin

Once you have Bitcoin and want to send some to someone, here’s a simplified breakdown:

  1. Broadcast the Transaction: Your Bitcoin wallet broadcasts a message to the network announcing you want to send Bitcoin.
  2. Miners Verify: Special computers called miners check to make sure you have the Bitcoin you’re trying to send (like verifying your receipts).
  3. Block Creation: Miners bundle your transaction with others into a “block.”
  4. Adding the Block: The first miner to solve a complex math problem gets to add the block to the public ledger, the blockchain.
  5. Confirmations: Other miners confirm the new block, solidifying your transaction. The more confirmations a transaction has (usually six or more), the more secure it is.

Even though the technical details are complex, your Bitcoin wallet handles most of them. You just tell your wallet who and how much to send, and it takes care of the rest.

What Causes Slow Bitcoin Transaction Confirmations?

Bitcoin transactions can take time to confirm because of congestion in the system. Here’s why:

  • Limited Block Size: Each block on the Bitcoin blockchain can only hold a specific amount of data, similar to how a lane on a highway can only hold a certain number of cars.
  • Transaction Fees: Since space is limited, miners prioritize transactions with higher fees.
  • Confirmation Wait Time: If your transaction has a low fee, it might wait in line for a while before a miner includes it in a block, leading to slower confirmation times.
  • Alternatives Exist: Other cryptocurrencies have larger block sizes to handle more transactions and potentially lower fees.
  • The Trade-Off: While a larger block size might speed things up, it also makes it harder for people to participate in the Bitcoin network.

Transaction fees play a significant role in how quickly your Bitcoin transaction is confirmed.

How Much are Bitcoin Fees?

Bitcoin transaction fees vary significantly, ranging from a few cents to even $100. This fluctuation depends on two main factors:

  • Network Congestion: When many people use Bitcoin at once, the network gets congested, and miners prioritize transactions with higher fees.
  • Transaction Size: This refers to the amount of data your transaction carries. Transactions with multiple inputs (like sending 10 BTC from various sources) are larger and require higher fees than simpler ones (like sending 1 BTC).
  • Taking Control of Fees: Many wallets, like Bitcoin.com Wallet, empower you to set transaction fees manually. This lets you:
  • Save Money: If you’re not in a hurry, you can set a lower fee and wait for a less congested time for miners to pick it up.
  • Prioritize Speed: Need your transaction confirmed quickly? Increase your fee to incentivize miners to include it sooner.

Understanding network congestion and transaction size empowers you to manage Bitcoin transaction fees effectively.

Final Thoughts

Bitcoin transactions cut out the middleman by letting you send money directly to anyone. You broadcast a signed message specifying the amount and receiver’s address. Miners verify it and bundle it with others into blocks added to a public ledger, the blockchain. This secure and transparent system lets you skip banks as a way to transfer value. While transaction speeds can be affected by network congestion, Bitcoin offers a glimpse into the future of finance.