Bitcoin explained: Here’s everything you need to know

After cresting the $65,000 mark in November 2021, bitcoin — together with a complete lot of different cryptocurrencies — has once again crashed in value, falling below $20,000 in June 2022. That dramatic swing is quintessential of crypto, and a helpful reminder to traders that that is among the many most risky belongings round. Still, 2022 has been an inflection level for bitcoin and cryptocurrency, because it has penetrated extra deeply into monetary providers and tradition, gaining an expansive foothold in common artwork, commerce and different corners of the mainstream. 

If you’re in search of a primer on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, you’re in the best place. We’ll check out the fundamentals — what bitcoin is, the place it comes from and the way to purchase it — in addition to a spread of different matters together with valuation, legality and its sensible purposes.

Read extra: Bitcoin Plunges Below $20,000 for First Time Since End of 2020

Gold bitcoin

Every bitcoin story should embody a picture of a bodily bitcoin. Note: Physical bitcoin cash do probably not exist. 

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But first: A fast backstory

Bitcoin was invented in 2009 by an individual (or group) who referred to as himself Satoshi Nakamoto. His stated goal was to create “a brand new digital money system” that was “fully decentralized with no server or central authority.” After cultivating the idea and know-how, in 2011, Nakamoto turned over the supply code and domains to others within the bitcoin neighborhood, and subsequently vanished. (Check out the New Yorker’s great profile of Nakamoto from 2011.) 

It’s really slightly extra difficult than that.


What is bitcoin?

Simply put, bitcoin is a digital forex. No payments to print or cash to mint. It’s decentralized — there is not any authorities, establishment (like a financial institution) or different authority that controls it. Owners are nameless; as an alternative of utilizing names, tax IDs or social safety numbers, bitcoin connects patrons and sellers via encryption keys. And it is not issued from the highest down like conventional forex; somewhat, bitcoin is “mined” by highly effective computer systems linked to the web. 

How does one ‘mine’ bitcoin?

An individual (or group, or firm) mines bitcoin by doing a mix of superior math and record-keeping. Here’s the way it works. When somebody sends a bitcoin to another person, the community information that transaction, and all the opposite transactions revamped a sure time period, in a “block.” Computers operating particular software program — the “miners” — inscribe these transactions in a huge digital ledger. These blocks are recognized, collectively, because the “blockchain,” an eternal, openly accessible record of all of the transactions which have ever been made. 

Read: Blockchain Explained


Using specialised software program and more and more highly effective (and energy-intensive) {hardware}, miners convert these blocks into sequences of code, generally known as a “hash.” This is extra dramatic than it sounds; producing a hash requires critical computational energy, and thousands of miners compete concurrently to do it. It’s like a large number of cooks feverishly racing to put together a brand new, extraordinarily difficult dish — and solely the primary one to serve up an ideal model of it finally ends up getting paid.

When a brand new hash is generated, it is positioned on the finish of the blockchain, which is then publicly up to date and propagated. For their hassle, the miner at the moment will get 12.5 bitcoins, which, in February 2018, was value roughly $100,000. Note that the amount of awarded bitcoins decreases over time.

What determines the worth of a bitcoin?

Ultimately, the worth of a bitcoin is decided by what folks can pay for it. In this fashion, there is a similarity to how shares are priced. 

The protocol established by Satoshi Nakamoto dictates that solely 21 million bitcoins can ever be mined — virtually 19 million have been mined to this point — so there’s a restricted provide, like with gold and different valuable metals, however no actual intrinsic worth. (There are numerous mathematical and economic theories about why Nakamoto selected the quantity 21 million.) This makes bitcoin completely different from shares, which often have some relationship to an organization’s precise or potential earnings.


No, they don’t seem to be bitcoins. They’re pistachios.

Pistachios/YouTube screenshot by CNET

Without a authorities or central authority on the helm controlling provide, “worth” is completely open to interpretation. This strategy of “value discovery,” the first driver of volatility in bitcoin’s value, additionally invitations hypothesis (do not mortgage your own home to purchase bitcoin) and manipulation (therefore the well-documented talk of tulips and bubbles).

Bitcoin has made Satoshi Nakamoto a billionaire many occasions over, at the least on paper. It’s minted loads of millionaires among the many technological pioneers, traders and early bitcoin miners. The Winklevoss twins, who parlayed a $65 million Facebook payout right into a enterprise capital fund that made early investments in bitcoin, are actually well-known billionaires, according to Fortune

How do I purchase bitcoin?

If you’re keen to assume the danger related to proudly owning bitcoin, there are many digital currency exchanges like Coinbase and FTX the place you can purchase, promote and retailer bitcoins. 

Getting began is as minimally difficult as establishing a Paypal account. With Coinbase, for instance, you can use your financial institution (or Paypal account) to make a deposit right into a digital pockets, of which there are a lot of to select from. Once your account is funded, which often takes a couple of days, you can then alternate conventional forex for bitcoin.

Speaking of Paypal, numerous established money services now offer in-app bitcoin purchasing, which makes it fast and simple for novices to get their ft moist. It’s additionally value noting that some platforms cost significantly increased charges to make sure transactions, which might find yourself eroding your funding if you do quite a lot of buying and selling. So you ought to learn the phrases fastidiously earlier than shopping for to be sure you perceive the constraints of service.

Read extra: Buying Bitcoin Is Easier Than Ever

What can I do with bitcoin?

While there are some locations the place you can spend bitcoin, many individuals simply cling on to them, like you would with different long-term investments. The value volatility of bitcoin makes it tough to transact day-to-day purchases — although a handful of crypto-powered debit and bank cards are starting to change that.

Read extra: Best Crypto Exchanges to Buy and Sell Bitcoin, Ether and More

Is all of this authorized?


The former Silk Road homepage.


Short, certified reply: Yes, for now, so long as — like several forex — you do not do unlawful issues with it. For occasion, bitcoin was the only forex accepted on Silk Road, the Dark Web market for medication and different illicit items and providers that was shuttered by the FBI in 2013.

Since then, bitcoin has largely evaded regulation and legislation enforcement within the US, though it’s under increased scrutiny because it attracts the mainstream consideration of institutional traders. Though it is authorized to purchase and promote bitcoin, many points of the business, resembling tax concerns for investors, nonetheless occupy a grey space that may very well be susceptible to future regulation and/or legislation enforcement motion.

What are the dangers?

Legal and regulatory hazards apart, as each an funding and forex, bitcoin may be very dangerous. When you get up within the morning, you know fairly exactly how a lot a greenback can purchase. The monetary worth of a bitcoin, nevertheless, is very erratic and should swing broadly from day to day and even hour to hour.

It’s tough, although definitely not not possible, for bitcoin transactions to be traced again to people. As cryptocurrency has caught on with mainstream investors and because the federal authorities has began to crack down on crypto-related crime, the concept of totally non-public transactions will get dicey. Rather than namelesscryptocurrency is more pseudonymous. For instance, transactions are recorded on a blockchain, which is mostly public, and changing bitcoin into US {dollars} creates a definite paper path. 

Still, this pseudonymity might be interesting, particularly with firms and entrepreneurs more and more monitoring our each buy, but it surely additionally comes with drawbacks. You can by no means make certain who’s promoting you bitcoin or shopping for them from you. Opportunities for money laundering abound. Theft is also a risk, and there are restricted avenues for pursuing refunds, difficult a transaction or recovering such losses. Once a transaction hits the blockchain, it is closing.

Read extra: Are Cryptocurrency Transactions Actually Anonymous? 


Coinbase has been examined by an enormous rise in curiosity in bitcoin.


OK, so what about — wait, there are extra dangers?

Because bitcoin remains to be comparatively new decentralized know-how, there’s loads of murkiness and plenty of unknowns. Even the technical guidelines for mining are nonetheless evolving and up for debate.

The IRS views bitcoins as property, not forex, and there are tax implications. In 2017, a federal choose dominated that Coinbase must surrender records to the IRS on transactions of $20,000 or extra. Coinbase’s regulation troubles have continued into this 12 months, with the SEC blocking a brand new lending product Coinbase deliberate to launch in September 2021.

Then there’s the basic query of whether or not you ought to trust a particular exchange. The federal rules surrounding cryptocurrency exchanges are nonetheless being hashed out, and exchanges have been hacked as recently as late 2021

Are there different cryptocurrencies?

Yes. There are thousands, with extra sprouting up on daily basis. Aside from bitcoin, which is the actual progenitor of all of them, different well-known different currencies embody ether, sol and ada. 

Read subsequent: What Are Stablecoins and Are They Less Risky? What Crypto Investors Should Know 

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