Introduction to Bitcoin Mining
Mid-19th century California gold miners were called “forty-niners” after the year 1849, but this rush actually spanned from 1848-1853; it took five years for a quarter million people to flood the state in search of “free wealth”. Satoshi Nakamoto first published the white paper on cryptocurrency back in 2008, and Bitcoin was launched in 2009. Today, in 2019, there are at least a million bitcoin miners around the world. A single bitcoin (or “1 BTC”) is worth almost $10,000, give or take a few hundred dollars, and there are around 1,800 new bitcoins mined every day, meaning there’s a whopping $18,000,000 being ‘created’ every day.
Not bad for ten years. No wonder everyone wants to learn how to mine bitcoin.
A Brief History on Money
Cryptocurrency is math that can be used as money.
Money is, fundamentally, an accounting of debt; you owe someone for a good or service, and giving them money erases that debt. Banks are giant ledgers, accounting for every transaction – when you paid for your coffee, this “ledger” sees that you lost $2 and the coffee shop gained $2.
Paper dollar bills do not record this specific transaction – who lost and who gained those $2 – but they act as evidence of a transaction having taken place at some point. In fiat currency, a state is the ultimate arbiter or holder of all the debts – and the one that mints, or makes, the currency in the first place. They account for how much currency they put out, and approximately how much is present now; the only road bump being that they do not know every transaction in between.
In cryptocurrency, no one person or entity controls a central ledger, because this “ledger” is effectively on every computer connected to the network of that currency; everyone has it. Since each unit of the cryptocurrency is composed of math, as opposed to physical substances like paper or gold, this math effectively records every transaction
So Where Does it Come From?
Fiat currencies are “made” (or rather, minted) by states, and accounted for by banks, but these currencies are often directly or indirectly made from precious metals that are mined from the Earth – which is why so many people flooded California in the mid-19th century. Minting is a middle step between the mining and the currency.
Cryptocurrency cuts out that middle step; bitcoin is “minted” and made from BTC mining.
If bitcoin is commercialized math, then mining is the process of solving all its equations. A common, yet accurate, joke explanation is, “imagine if you could solve puzzles, then use those solved puzzles as money”. Bitcoin is that, but on a much larger and astronomically more complex scale; bitcoin mining is both the process of solving puzzles, and the process of verifying other solves puzzles.
That said, these “puzzles” (called “blocks” in BTC mining) are operating on a very complicated scale. BTC mining is basically the process of racing to correctly the correct number out of 115,792,090,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible options – and doing so hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of times a day. This takes some pretty hefty computing power.
How to Mine Bitcoin
Despite a lot of chatter about bitcoin mining software, it is really a matter of hardware; software is just the most accessible way to access this hardware.
“Winning” or solving – and receiving payout for – is a combination of computational power and a bit of luck. If you accomplish this, you can get about 12.5 bitcoins, though starting in 2020, that will become 6.25. The number of bitcoins you receive for solving a block cuts in half every 210,000 blocks – which is roughly every four years, since the blocks get more and more complicated overtime. This will keep going until 21 million bitcoins have been mined, a cap built into the system. There are currently only 3.17 million bitcoin left to be mined.
How to Mine Bitcoin in the Hard(ware) Way
There are two types of “miners” you can buy: application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) or graphics-processing unit (GPU). These are not only very expensive to buy, they also take up a lot of electricity, and require a powerful network connection. This is why mining calculators exist – these are various apps and sites into which you can input details on your miner, your power cost, and your network cost, to figure out how much profit (if any, even) you will turn.
It is usually pretty low, and these days, mining with your own hardware is only really advised for people who already happen to have lots of hardware and great network on hand, and would not need to go out of their way to get those.
That just leaves…
How to Mine Bitcoin With Bitcoin Mining Software
At 12.5 BTC per block, when bitcoins are worth $10,000 each, that’s $1,250,000 on the line every time you are competing with other miners to “guess the right number” first. This takes far more computer power than most people can afford on their own.
As such, the most common way to get in on BTC mining is to join a collective of miners and “rent” the mining tools – known predominantly as cloud mining.
The biggest advantage is that there is a much lower barrier to entry when you cloud mine bitcoins. The biggest disadvantage is that instead of getting the reward all to yourself, you are splitting those bitcoins with other people, and typically a lot of them. Winning a million dollars doesn’t mean as much when you’re splitting it with a million people.
Step 1: Choose Your Wallet
Before you start working for a job, you want to know how you will be getting your pay. By the same token, before you start mining for bitcoins, you should know where you will keep your bitcoins once you earn them.
Online wallets are typically the most convenient, and easiest to use. They are also typically the most efficient for actually using your bitcoins to purchase goods and services, and you will have your bitcoins even if you lose all your devices. That said, this does put you in a similar position with a bank. If the host is experiencing heavy traffic or DDOS attacks, you may not be able to access your funds, and if they are hacked, you can lose your bitcoins entirely.
Hardware wallets are the opposite extreme. As physical objects, are completely offline, and thus cannot be hacked or otherwise remotely attacked. As long as you have your hardware wallet and a device to access it with, you will be able to access your funds. But what you gain in remote security is lost in personal security; if you lose your device or it’s physically stolen from you, you lose your bitcoins.
The middle-ground between these is “software wallets” or “desktop wallets” (though these can also be mobile apps). These are on your local device, so even if exchanges go down or are attacked, you still have your bitcoins, and the only way you can lose them to remote exploitation is if you, the specific individual, are targeted and hacked, which is very unlikely. But, it can still be used to conduct transactions and otherwise go online as necessary. That said, this is also vulnerable to loss, if you lose your physical device (i.e. if someone steals your computer).
Step 2: Find Your Cloud
Mining companies are the computing clouds or collectives of miners. While joining such a company might be couched in terms of renting the hardware, another way to look at it might be that you are investing.
The amount you invest, or the rate at which you rent, is known as a “mining package”, which you pick once you join a mining company. You can also invest ahead of time in new technology that will be coming out at a later date. That said, investing in something that doesn’t exist yet is always a heavy risk.
There are many sites in which you can find comparisons between companies, including user ratings and reviews. Be careful with the
reviews – while they can be insightful, many are also full of people attempting to get new ‘recruits’ specifically with referral codes, which will net the refer-er a small bonus or profit.
Step 3: Pick Your Pool
A “pool” is basically the team of miners that you choose to join up with, and contribute your invest or computing power. If you are just starting out mining bitcoins, you should start by joining an “older” (or rather, more established and vouched-for) pool, and perhaps one with lower fees. The payout or profit from these will usually be on the low side, but they are also less risky.
As you get the hang of bitcoin mining and learn how pools work, you can start venturing out to other pools that aren’t as established and carry higher risks, but also higher rewards.