Bitcoin was invented as a peer-to-peer system for online payments that does not require a trusted central authority. Since its inception in 2008, Bitcoin has grown into a technology, a currency, an investment vehicle, and a community of users. In this guide we hope to explain what Bitcoin is and how it works as well as describe how you can use it to improve your life.
What is Bitcoin?
Since anything digital can be copied over and over again, the hard part about implementing a digital payment system is making sure that nobody spends the same money more than once. Traditionally, this is done by having a trusted central authority (like PayPal) that verifies all of the transactions. The core innovation that makes Bitcoin special is that it uses consensus in a massive peer-to-peer network to verify transactions. This results in a system where payments are non-reversible, accounts cannot be frozen, and transaction fees are much lower.
How to get started with Bitcoin and open your WALLET:
A “wallet” is basically the Bitcoin equivalent of a bank account. It allows you to receive bitcoins, store them, and then send them to others. There are two main types of wallets. A software wallet is one that you install on your own computer or mobile device. You are in complete control over the security of your coins, but they can sometimes be tricky to install and maintain. A web wallet or hosted wallet is one that is hosted by a third party. They are often much easier to use, but you have to trust the provider to maintain high levels of security to protect your coins. There are four main wallets that we recommend for beginners.
The easiest and cheapest way to get your hands on some bitcoins is to sign up with Coinbase and link your bank account. Coinbase charges a low 1% fee and you receive your bitcoins as soon as the transfer from your bank account clears. Coinbase doubles as a web wallet with a mobile Android app. This allows you to easily purchase and sell bitcoins from your office, on the go, or from the comfort of your own home.
Another great way to get bitcoins today is LocalBitcoins.com. It operates like a craigslist for bitcoins allowing buyers and sellers in the same geographical areas to find each other and trade bitcoins for cash. While this can be very simple and quick, we recommend taking the same precautions you should take whenever meeting a stranger from the internet. LocalBitcoins.com has a rating system that should help you find a trustworthy buyer or seller, but maybe don’t meet them in a dark alley or under a bridge.
Sending bitcoins is as easy as copying and pasting someone else’s address, choosing an amount, and clicking send. This may seem backwards to people used to supplying credit card information to purchase things online, but this method allows the sender to be in complete control of the payment process. Transactions are also irreversible. Essentially, sending a bitcoin is a lot like sending an email. You put in someone else’s address and there’s no going back after you hit send.
Don’t worry if it takes a few minutes for the recipient to see the payment that you have made. Depending on the network and on the wallet applications the two parties are using, it can take up to ten minutes for the first "confirmation" of the transaction.
To receive bitcoins, choose a receiving address from your wallet, provide it to the other party and wait for them to send payment. As mentioned above, it can take around ten minutes for the transaction to be confirmed by the Bitcoin network, and it is standard to consider transactions that have been confirmed six times to be fully confirmed.