Most people misunderstand what bitcoin miners actually do, and as a result they don’t fully grasp the level of security provided by bitcoin’s hashrate.
In this article, we’ll explain proof of work in a non-technical way so that you’ll be able to counter the misinformation about supercomputers and quantum computers attacking the Bitcoin network in the future.
Simply put, mining is a lottery to create new blocks in the Bitcoin blockchain. There are two main purposes for mining:
- To permanently add transactions to the blockchain without the permission of any entity.
- To fairly distribute the 21 million bitcoin supply by rewarding new coins to miners who spend real world resources (i.e. electricity) to secure the network.
To understand what is actually happening in this lottery system, let’s look at a simple analogy where every Bitcoin hash is equivalent to a dice roll.
Luck, Gambling, and SHA-256
Imagine that miners in the Bitcoin Network are all individuals gambling at a casino. In this example, each of these gamblers have a 1000 sided dice. They roll their die as quickly as possible, trying to get a number less than 10. Statistically, this may take a very long time, but as more gamblers join the game, the time it takes to hit a number less than 10 gets reduced. In short, more gamblers equals quicker rounds.
Once somebody successfully rolls a number less than 10, all gamblers at the table can look down and verify the number. This lucky gambler takes the prize money and the next round begins.
Ultimately, the process of mining bitcoin is very similar. All miners on the network are using Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which are specialized computers designed to compute hashes as quickly as possible.
To “compute a hash” simply means plugging any random input into a mathematical function and producing an output.
More hashes per second (i.e. higher hashrate) is equivalent to more dice rolls per second, and thus a greater probability of success.
Miners propose a potential Bitcoin block of transactions, and use this for an input. The block is plugged into the SHA256 hash function which yields a fixed-sized output, known as a hash. A single hash can be computed in less than a millisecond, as it involves no complex math.
If the hash value is lower than the Bitcoin Network difficulty, then the miner who proposed the block wins. If not, then the miner continues trying by computing more hashes.
The successful miner’s block is then added to the blockchain, the miner is rewarded with newly issued bitcoin for their work, and the “next round” begins.
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