Learning Bitcoin

3.2 (5 reviews total)
By Richard Caetano
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  1. Free Chapter
    Setting up a Wallet
About this book

The financial crisis of 2008 raised attention to the need for transparency and accountability in the financial world. As banks and governments were scrambling to stay solvent while seeking a sustainable plan, a powerfully new and resilient technology emerged.

Bitcoin, built on a fundamentally new technology called “The Blockchain,” offered the promise of a new financial system where transactions are sent directly between two parties without the need for central control.

Bitcoin exists as an open and transparent financial system without banks, governments, or corporate support. Simply put, Bitcoin is “programmable money” that has the potential to change the world on the same scale as the Internet itself.

This book arms you with immense knowledge of Bitcoin and helps you implement the technology in your money matters, enabling secure transactions.

We first walk through the fundamentals of Bitcoin, illustrate how the technology works, and exemplify how to interact with this powerful and new financial technology. You will learn how to set up your online Bitcoin wallet, indulge in buying and selling of bitcoins, and manage their storage. We then get to grips with the most powerful algorithm of all times: the Blockchain, and learn how crypto-currencies can reduce the risk of fraud for e-commerce merchants and consumers.

With a solid base of Blockchain, you will write and execute your own custom transactions. Most importantly, you will be able to protect and secure your Bitcoin with the help of effective solutions provided in the book. Packed with plenty of screenshots, Learning Bitcoin is a simple and painless guide to working with Bitcoin.

Publication date:
October 2015
Publisher
Packt
Pages
236
ISBN
9781785287305

 

Chapter 1. Setting up a Wallet

 

"When bitcoin currency is converted from currency into cash, that interface has to remain under some regulatory safeguards. I think the fact that within the bitcoin universe an algorithm replaces the functions of the government …[that] is actually pretty cool."

 
 --Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States

Bitcoin's potential is quickly becoming apparent in the rapidly changing world of Internet finance. In just the few short years since its launch, we have seen an explosion of interest in this new, and somewhat mysterious, Internet money. Yet, several questions quickly come to mind: How does it work? Where does it come from? How do I buy it?

In this chapter, we will illustrate, in simple terms, most of what anyone new to Bitcoin will need to know to start. We will start by covering the following core topics:

  • Buying your first bitcoin, in 15 minutes

  • Explaining Bitcoin addresses

  • Sending and receiving

  • Private keys and wallets

  • Transactions and confirmations

  • Comparing Bitcoin wallets

 

A brief history of money


Humans have been trading various forms of money for thousands of years. Many types of precious objects, acting as a Medium of Exchange, have been used. In the early ages, we traded grain, cattle, shells, and gems for other goods and services. This type of money, which we can touch and see, can be considered Physical Money.

As civilization progressed, so did our political systems. Eventually, sparse tribes and villages consolidated into kingdoms, states, and empires. Through the transformation, we saw our money shift into Political Money; money that's governed and issued by a central body such as the King, Emperor or, as in today's society, a Central Bank. State issued coins, bills, and notes, as well as taxation, regulation, and monetary policy—all emerged from this shift.

Today, Internet technology connects us directly to each other, opening a vast range of possibilities. By dissolving pre-existing physical and political boundaries, for the first time in history, the entire planet has access to the same information. This level of access is guaranteed by the Internet's decentralized design. Without a centralized hub, there is no single point of failure or control.

Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, leveraged this powerful network to implement a peer-to-peer (P2P) system for exchanging virtual cash. Built on a decentralized design and protected by powerful cryptography, this new type of money is no longer physical, yet resilient against corruption and manipulation.

No single group of individuals, including governments, banks, and corporations, control Bitcoin because all the peers are equal actors, participating through the same protocol. Its monetary policy is defined and self-regulated by its open network of computers. Thus, with Bitcoin we're seeing the emergence of a new phase of money. This P2P money is called cryptographic money or simply Crypto-Currency.

We're going to start exploring the world of Bitcoin by purchasing a small amount.

 

Buying your first bitcoin in 15 minutes


Buying bitcoin is similar to buying foreign currencies. When an American lands in Paris, the fist thing he/she may need to do is exchange dollars for Euros. While at the airport, it's likely he/she will be able to fid a currency exchange to help. Just as there are many exchanges for exchanging government currencies, there are many exchanges for exchanging bitcoins.

Today there are markets for exchanging bitcoin with most of the world's major currencies. Most of them are online markets through which you can connect your bank account or credit card. There are some markets where the buyer and seller meet in person to exchange by hand. For the more technical users, private markets exist on chat forums where anonymous users trade with the other users based on their online reputation.

Of all the diverse ways to buy bitcoin, using a reputable online exchange may be the likely option for most users. Online exchanges generally operate similar to conventional online banking systems and are easy to set up.

We're going to buy 25 dollars worth of bitcoin using a credit card with an online exchange called Circle. In 2013, Circle was launched by a team competent in technology and finance. Additionally, they are registered as a money transmitter with FinCEN, a US government agency responsible for safeguarding the financial system from illicit use. For US citizens, they offer an instant exchange with a user-friendly wallet service. To buy bitcoins with Circle, you'll need the following:

  • Valid photo ID

  • A US home or business address

  • A US bank account or credit card

  • An iOS or Android smartphone

  • 15 Minutes of free time

Buying and selling bitcoin on Circle is only available to users with a US address. As a registered money transmitter, Circle must follow standard banking practices such as Know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering laws (AML). These are the requirements to accept bank transfers from the US banking system.

Most European and Canadian customers can use Coinbase (http://coinbase.com) for direct wire transfers. We'll discuss buying and selling with Coinbase later in Chapter 2, Buying and Selling Bitcoins.

What's important to remember about Bitcoin is that the currency exists independently of any government's requirement for an individual's identity. Bitcoins can be exchanged with cash, hand-to-hand, thus by passing the registration process that we will describe in this chapter.

There are services such as Local Bitcoins (http://localbitcoins.com) where the users can buy and sell Bitcoin through direct exchange with the other users. While it is generally safe to do so, some users may be at risk from local regulations. It is important to research the local currency laws before transacting through these services, especially with large amount of cash.

Signing up for a wallet – five minutes

To begin the signup process, open http://circle.com in your web browser and follow the SIGN UP links. You will be prompted to enter your First Name, your name, your Email address, and a password. After submitting your details, Circle will send you an e-mail verification. Simply follow the instructions provided. If you don't receive the email, check the spam folder of the email address you provided.

After verifying your email address, you'll be asked to enable two-factor authentication using your mobile phone. This security system uses a code sent via SMS or through Google Authenticator to allow access to your account and confirm irreversible actions, such as sending bitcoin. This helps make your account more secure by combining your password with something you physically hold, that is, your phone.

Finally, Circle will prompt you to provide two security questions. In case you lose your password, these questions will be asked before you can reset it.

Figure 1.1 - Sign up with Circle to purchase bitcoin

Adding a funding source – ten minutes

To purchase bitcoin, Circle requires a funding source. You can link a US bank account or a credit card. For this purpose, we will choose the credit card option as it's the quickest to set up.

Note

To meet Circle's KYC requirements, you'll need to submit a personal photo plus a scanned copy of your driver's license or passport.

  1. On the ACCOUNT page, which should show your balance as zero, click on the Add Funds button.

    Circle will prompt you to verify your mailing address along with your birth date and the last four digits of your social security number. This information is used to help verify your identification.

  2. Next, Circle will ask you to install their mobile application (available for iOS or Android). Using their mobile app, you'll be prompted to take a picture of yourself and your photo ID. Ensure that you arrange for proper lighting so that the image clearly shows the details of each digit. Once submitted, a confirmation will be given within a few minutes.

  3. If the app doesn't prompt you to verify your photo ID, you can manually upload the images. Open the mobile app under the Account table and click on the Settings icon. Under the Settings, click on Link Accounts. By following the instructions, you'll be prompted to upload the photos of your documents and credit card.

    At any stage, if you're experiencing issues, Circle offers support through online messaging. It also has toll free phone support for urgent issues.

  4. After your identification has been verified, you're ready to add your credit card as a funding source. Return to your Circle account page and click on Add Funds. Circle will prompt you to enter your credit card information and will save it for future use.

    Figure 1.2 - Adding a credit card as a funding source

Buying bitcoin – less than a minute

Once added, you're ready to buy bitcoin! Simply enter a dollar amount ($25 for our example), and review the bitcoin amount. You can preview and confirm any additional fees or charges below. Accepting the order will initiate an instant deposit to your online bitcoin wallet.

Figure 1.3 - Buy bitcoin instantly with Circle

Looking at your Bitcoin balance

On your Circle account page, you can find the exact bitcoin balance under your dollar balance, as shown in the following figure:

Figure 1.4 - Your Bitcoin account and balance

Also indicated on your account page, under the balance, is the current USD to BTC exchange rate for Circle. The exchange rate can vary between services, depending on the supply and demand.

Also, in Figure 1.4, you can see that our account balance is currently $25.05, slightly higher that what we first purchased - $25.00 worth of bitcoin. This is due to a real time change in the exchange rate.

Note

IMPORTANT

ONLY exchange money that's at your disposal. Bitcoin exchange rates can be quite volatile.

Bitcoin amounts are usually noted with the abbreviation BTC. This is similar to other currencies, such as USD and EUR. There are a few other symbols generally accepted by the Bitcoin community. Listed in the following table are the two most common ones:

First symbol used. Was released by early adopters and is available as an image. Only available as an image or through Font-Awesome.

Ƀ

Proposed by the community as an improvement to the original Bitcoin logo. Available on most devices as a standard Unicode character.

Table 1 - Bitcoin currency logos

Tip

When expressing bitcoin amounts in plain text, using BTC is the easiest to type and universally accepted. However, if you would like to use the single character, check out Bitcoin Symbol (http://bitcoinsymbol.org) for more information on how to access the symbol.

On the account page shown in Figure 1.3, the exact Bitcoin balance account is presented as a decimal number:

0.10110406 BTC

Bitcoin amounts can have up to eight digits of precision. While every Bitcoin wallet must account for each digit of precision, the minimum amount that you can send may vary. Circle's minimum send amount is 0.00005460 BTC which is current with the amount proposed by the Bitcoin community.

Bitcoin units follow the standard metric system. The following prefixes can be used when expressing Bitcoin amounts:

Unit

Abbreviation

Decimal

bitcoin

BTC

1.0

bitcent or centi-bitcoin

cBTC

0.01

millibit or milli-bitcoin

mBTC

0.001

bit or micro-bitcoin

μBTC

0.000001

satoshi

-

0.00000001

Table 2 - Bitcoin abbreviations and units

Referring to the preceding table, you can write 0.44234 BTC as 442.34 mBTC. Some services and exchanges have adopted this format to make your account balance easier to read. Because amounts listed in whole numbers are generally easier to hold in one's mind, displaying the amounts in mBTC can be ideal. A cup of coffee at the time of this writing costs around 10mBTC.

Note

The smallest unit of bitcoin, 0.00000001 BTC, is called a Satoshi, named after the developer of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Some wallets allow you to change the unit of bitcoin presented in settings. This may make accounting and calculations easier, depending on your use case, especially if the exchange rate has many decimal places.

Note

The accepted convention is to use Bitcoin (uppercase B) to refer to the technology and community, and bitcoin (lowercase) for the currency.

Do you have a Bitcoin wallet? I will send you 2.5 bitcoin.

 

Explaining Bitcoin addresses


Similar to an email address, a Bitcoin address, or simply address, is used to receive and hold bitcoin. While people typically have one primary email address, Bitcoin users have many addresses. They are created at no cost by your Bitcoin wallet each time you request to receive money. Anyone with access to a Bitcoin wallet can create an unlimited number of addresses.

Bitcoin addresses usually have 26-35 characters and are case sensitive, as in the following example:

1MgErLiH1DuGMrd58fuL4CLQHc4VSboqKn

The address can contain numbers and letters, both uppercase and lowercase. To help reduce confusion, there are no capital O's, zeros 0's, lower case l's, and capital 'I's'. These characters are removed to reduce the errors made from writing with pen and paper, as often encountered in the past. The result is a format that is easy to share digitally and/or physically.

Bitcoin addresses have an error-checking code called a checksum. Computing the checksum of an address will detect if any single character is incorrect. This helps to prevent errors when sharing your address. Most wallets will validate and reject an invalid address. As an example, note the following two addresses:

  • Valid Bitcoin address:

    1MgErLiH1DuGMrd58fuL4CLQHc4VSboqKn

  • Invalid Bitcoin address:

    1MgErLiH1DuGMrd58fuL4CLQHc4VSboqKN

They both appear valid, yet the second address does not compute a valid checksum. They are nearly identical except for the uppercase N at the end of the second address.

Note

Checksums have been used in finance for many years. All credit card numbers have a built in checksum digit, specific to the issuing bank.

Your Bitcoin wallet will typically hold many Bitcoin addresses. It's important to know that a single Bitcoin address is not a wallet nor is it your account; rather, it's simply a way to receive money.

 

Sending and receiving bitcoins


Your wallet's total spendable balance is a combination of the balances from all the Bitcoin addresses listed in the wallet. When spending bitcoins, the wallet is able to combine the balances of multiple addresses into one transaction.

Note

It is important to note that Bitcoin was designed for its users to hold and manage their own keys. This makes it virtually impossible for another party to block, steal, or confiscate their money.

Intended as a gentle introduction to Bitcoin, this chapter introduces a centralized service, Circle, to help one get started with Bitcoin.

Circle's wallet service simplifies using Bitcoin by managing the addresses and private keys for you. This results in a clean online banking-like experience. However, it's important to realize that there is no requirement to use a service like Circle to store your bitcoins.

Later in the book, we will discuss how to manage your own wallet.

Sending bitcoins

From your Circle account, simply click the SEND MONEY link from the menu above to access the send options. Circle offers two ways to send bitcoin. You can either send it to a Bitcoin address or an email address.

If you are sending it to an email address, Circle will check to see if the address has a valid account registered to it and make an instant deposit into that user's wallet. If the receiver is not registered, an invitation will be sent with instructions on how to set up an account.

Figure 1.5 - Send bitcoin from your Circle account

In the To field, simply enter the Bitcoin address or the email address of the user you'd like to pay. For the amount, you can specify either USD or BTC. If you enter an amount in USD, Circle will automatically calculate the exchange rate. Optionally, you can provide a memo to describe your transaction.

Figure 1.6 - Circle sending a confirmation

Continuing to the next step, Circle will prompt you to enter your two-factor authentication code. This code will be sent to your mobile phone. Using this two-factor authentication helps protect your wallet from unauthorized access.

Once submitted, your transaction will be recorded instantly.

For payments between two Circle users, the transaction will be confirmed immediately. Circle maintains an internal ledger and will record the transaction off the Bitcoin network.

Note

Circle to Circle payments are called off-chain payments. Chain in this case refers to the Blockchain, the data structure used to store all the Bitcoin transactions. Off-chain means that a payment was recorded outside the Blockchain, using a private ledger.

For payments sent to a Bitcoin address, there will be a short period of time before the transaction is confirmed and accepted by the network. Generally, this takes about 10 minutes, but it can vary depending on the network's computing power.

You can review all your payments by clicking TRANSACTIONS from the main menu.

Figure 1.7 - Circle's account transactions page

Receiving bitcoins

Circle provides two ways to receive bitcoin. Similar to sending bitcoin, you can send a request via email or share your Bitcoin address.

To start, click the REQUEST MONEY link from the main menu above. You'll be prompted to create a request:

Figure 1.8 - Requesting money

If you submit an email address, the recipient will receive an email providing them with instructions on how to pay. They will be given the following options:

  • Sign into their Circle account and pay

  • Open a new Circle account, fund it, and pay

  • Pay with another service using a Bitcoin address

If you select the option to Create an address and QR code, Circle will generate a new Bitcoin address for you and present a QR code to scan. You can either copy/paste the address and share it with the sender, or allow them to scan the QR using a mobile device.

Figure 1.9 - Requesting money using a QR code

 

Private keys and wallets


While Bitcoin addresses appear to be a string of random numbers, they are actually computed from a private key. Private keys are long strings of random characters generated by your Bitcoin wallet software. There can only be one address generated from your private key, thus your private key is both the seed and password to your Bitcoin address.

Note

IMPORTANT

The private keys are normally hidden by your Bitcoin wallet, but they can be occasionally printed on paper as a physical backup. They should never be shared publicly as they control access to your funds.

Bitcoin private keys generally contain 51 characters and start with a 5, such as in the following example:

5Jd54v5mVLvyRsjDGTFbTZFGvwLosYKayRosbLYMxZFBLfEpCS7

Similar to your pocket wallet with credit cards, your Bitcoin wallet is a collection of addresses and private keys. Each address is used to receive and hold bitcoin.

Bitcoin Address

Private Key

Bitcoin Amount

12yuztN6Ci1p3h334YSKDFWWuexRtGu1f6

5KgtRmuFSgqcjhiE4TLD1pPFvKVLbmfjyavrBwnGV5eW8eRgoKM

3.14000000

1L3cM9UTdEtKVp5nMjgvdNr5wNyBon8kzB

5HrfH1Za4kNEZFmhMe3LKwbztAScAGFkiGZqpq5aGigwX8vsSAh

0.22340000

1EKMiayzXDbLFRVCiMZowewnHNvgWEet16

5HrfH1Za4kNEZFmhMe3LKwbztAScAGFkiGZqpq5aGigwX8vsSAh

1.22395800

1JWk1RG6hgbHCTv85eXvHWjCfebN64PHwV

5JzquBknRfsyiynxjCSho4AWBfuT3nd5LfZxT9VRoq5NCsRcedd

0.00398840

Total wallet balance:

4.59134640

Table 3 - Bitcoin addresses and private keys

In the preceding table, we can see how the balance in a typical wallet is composed of multiple Bitcoin addresses (in bold) with their corresponding private keys. Each address holds a balance that can be combined for a payout.

While most Bitcoin software holding your bitcoin are called wallets, they are technically keychains. Keychains are designed to manage and protect your Bitcoin keys. The term wallet is a convention carried over from Bitcoin legacy software.

Note

IMPORTANT

It is not possible to recover lost private keys. If you choose to manage your own private keys, be sure that you're able to backup and restore them.

Due to the risk of loss, it should also be mentioned that online wallets are subject to the same risks. Without proper security and procedures, some online wallets have been hacked, resulting in losses.

Therefore, it is advisable to choose online services that have a good reputation and offer insurance against loss. Circle and Coinbase, mentioned later in the book, both carry insurance to help protect their customers from fraud and theft.

Reputable online wallets take the necessary precautions to protect your private keys. Most online wallets use a technique called Cold storage. Holding private keys in cold storage means that your keys are physically stored offline in a vault. Access to the vault is required to interact with the keys.

Additionally, multi-signature addresses are used to protect the coins in cold storage. Typically, an address will require one key to transfer its bitcoins. Multi-signature addresses usually require two or more keys to sign a transfer. With cold-storage, there will often be a two of three requirement so that no one employee has full access to the funds.

Private keys are generated from large amounts of random data, called entropy in computer science, and are very difficult to crack. With all the computing power available today, it is not possible to find the private key of a Bitcoin address using brute force methods. Even if computing power were to exponentially increase to the point where that's possible, the Bitcoin software can be upgraded to include new cryptographic methods to match.

 

Transactions and confirmations


The Bitcoin network is essentially a public ledger that's able to record and validate millions of transactions. Transactions validated by the network are irreversible and impossible to change or alter. In this section, we're going to look at two core aspects of the network: transactions and confirmations.

Transactions

A Bitcoin transaction is a record of a transfer between two or more bitcoin addresses. Similar to a credit or debit on your bank statement, the transaction records the sender, the receiver, and a date/time stamp.

All Bitcoin transactions are publicly accessible. However, the user's identify is never stored. Similar to a Swiss Bank account, only their public addresses are recorded. This makes it difficult to trace the address back to its owner. Therefore, we say that Bitcoin is pseudonymous.

Note

Bitcoin has been used to fund illegal online markets, such as the Silk Road, with a special internet protocol call Tor. Using Tor allows the users to hide their computers' IP addresses, making it difficult to discover their physical location.

Using Tor, the users are able to place orders for illegal items. With payments made in Bitcoin and the shipping addresses encrypted, it is very difficult to link customers with their orders.

While Bitcoin's design hides the owner of an address, if an identity can be associated with a previous transaction, it can be possible to link a purchase with a user.

More flexible than a simple bank transfer, a Bitcoin transaction can withdraw from multiple addresses to pay a list of addresses. The transaction records every address used and must account for the full balance. Any unspent bitcoin must be sent back to a "change address". It works like paying for an item that costs 12 dollars with two 10 dollar bills. The merchant accepts the two bills and returns 8 dollars in change.

Figure 1.10 - Bitcoin transaction with change address

In Figure 1.10, we show a starting balance of 5BTC between two addresses in our bitcoin wallet. We then send 4BTC to the receiver. To account for the full balance, the transaction returns 1BTC to our change address. After the transaction, the two funding addresses will contain 0BTC each.

The change address is optional as we can reuse an existing bitcoin address. However, most wallets create a new address as it's recommended to increase your privacy.

Before sending a transaction to the Bitcoin network for confirmation, it must be signed with the private keys of the input addresses listed. Similar to your bank requiring your signature on a check, the Bitcoin network requires you to sign your transaction before confirming it.

Figure 1.11 -A transaction with a digital signature

Bitcoin uses a digital signature to sign your transaction. The signature can only be generated by the holder of the private key. Illustrated in Figure 1.9, we can see how this signature is created and stored in the transaction.

The digital signature is used by the network to verify that the transaction was created by someone who has access to the private key. Without this verification, the transaction would be rejected from the public ledger.

The process of computing the digital signature is handled automatically by your Bitcoin wallet. The digitally signed transaction is now ready for confirmation by the network. We will discuss digital signatures in detail later in Chapter 4, Understanding the Blockchain.

Note

Bitcoin wallet software is designed to handle the complexities of sending/receiving bitcoin. The example is given here to help deepen our understanding of how transactions work.

Confirmations

After it's digitally signed, the transaction is broadcasted to the Bitcoin network and reviewed by many nodes on the network. Each node is essentially a computer with a copy of the ledger, with access to all the transactions since the beginning. The node's job is to listen for new transactions and relay them to the other nodes on the network.

Some nodes serve as miners. Miners perform computational work to ensure that each transaction is valid that it does not double the, or spend more than the available. Each miner must then prove the results to the other miners. Any discrepancies will cause the network to reject a miner's results.

Note

Miners have a financial incentive to do this work. Along with confirming the transactions, there is a cryptographic puzzle to solve. If the miner can prove their solution, they are awarded new Bitcoins and/or transaction fees. The solution to the puzzle is called proof-of-work.

This process is what makes the Bitcoin network both resilient and trustworthy. The larger the network of miners with consensus, the more we can trust the validity of the ledger. This is how Satoshi was able to design a network for exchanging virtual cash without a single point of control or failure.

Unconfirmed transactions start with zero confirmations. When a miner's work is accepted by the network, the number of confirmations for each transaction is incremented by one. Confirmations are generally accepted every 10 minutes but can vary depending on the various computational aspects of the network.

As more miners confirm the results of the previous miners, the number of confirmations for your transaction continues to increase. After some time, your transaction can have hundreds or even thousands of confirmations. With such a large number of confirmations, you can be assured that your transaction cannot be reversed.

Note

The more confirmations your transaction has, the more difficult it is to break, or hack. Mathematically speaking, a total of six confirmations is accepted as unchangeable but as few as one confirmation is sufficient for most small transactions.

The Bitcoin network is a very powerful network, especially when there is a large number of miners working together to validate and confirm the transactions on a public ledger. The entire ledger is copied by new miners joining the network. Transactions confirmed by an increasing number of miners results in more trust in the network. This design creates redundancy to guard against transaction fraud. Once a transaction is confirmed in the ledger, it cannot be deleted or changed.

Now that we have a basic understanding of how Bitcoin works, let's look at some wallet services and compare their differences.

 

Comparing Bitcoin wallets


We have been using Circle as an online wallet to help make the introduction to Bitcoin gentler and safer. Yet there are other options we can use for sending and receiving Bitcoin. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Let's briefly discuss them now.

Online wallets

Services such as Circle are called online wallets. Online wallets are web-based services that manage and store a small amount of your Bitcoins on a public web server. The rest are stored offline in a physical vault. They generally have the following characteristics:

  • Available through a web browser or mobile application

  • Create and store your private keys online

  • Offer the option to send/receive via email address

  • Have a built-in exchange to buy/sell bitcoin

  • Offer quick and easy account signup

  • Can be secured via two-factor authentication

  • May offer insurance for loss of coins

While these are nice features to offer the public, some of the more proficient users are not in favor of having an organization control their funds.

In the past, some exchanges have suffered security breaches. While some of the services were able to cover the losses, others were not solvent and were unable to reimburse its users. That resulted in many users losing their funds.

When choosing an online wallet, be sure to do your research on the company, the team, and its history.

Service

Description

Circle

http://circle.com

Great user experience, offers insurance and mobile application

Coinbase

http://coinbase.com

Offers many additional features, merchant tools, a mobile app, and full exchange

Xapo

http://xapo.com

Great user experience, strong offline storage, and Bitcoin debit card

CoinKite

http://coinkite.com

Online wallet with a Bitcoin payment terminal and debit card

ANXPro

http://anxpro.com

Online wallet, offers debit card in USD/EUR/GBP

Table 3 - Online wallets

Desktop wallets

For users who would like more control over their bitcoin, desktop wallets may be a better choice than online wallets.

Desktop wallets are applications that run on your computer and connect directly to the Bitcoin network. Having the application installed locally gives the users full control of their Bitcoin wallet and their private keys.

Some desktop wallets, such as Bitcoin Core, download a full copy of the Bitcoin ledger to disk. This can require more than 10 gigabytes of local storage and can take a couple of days to download and verify.

More efficient desktop wallets, called lightweight clients, connect to an online copy of the ledger. This reduces the storage requirements and the setup time. In most cases, your wallet can be ready within a few minutes.

The risk of using a desktop wallet includes hardware failures, computer viruses, and unauthorized access. Before accepting any Bitcoin to your desktop wallet, you should be familiar with the backup and restore process, and you must ensure that your computer is safe from malicious attacks.

For more advanced users, many desktop wallets offer a console where they can interact with their wallet by issuing commands. Users can generate various kinds of transactions and directly manipulate their list of private keys and addresses.

Service

Description

MulitBit

http://multibit.org

Lightweight client, easy to set up for non-technical users.

Bitcoin/QT

https://bitcoin.org

Official Bitcoin desktop wallet. Downloads a full copy of the Bitcoin ledger. Discussed later in the book.

Electrum

http://electrum.org

Full featured desktop wallet. Synchronizes with an online service for quick ledger setup.

Armory

https://bitcoinarmory.com

Offers advanced features such as cold storage.

Table 4 - Desktop wallets

In Chapter 5, Installing a Bitcoin Node, we'll explain how to safely use and configure Bitcoin Core, the official Bitcoin client, as a desktop wallet.

Mobile wallets

Having access from your mobile phone is a practical way to carry and spend bitcoins on the go. Most of the online services mentioned previously have applications available for download on the iPhone and Android app stores. Because the Bitcoin keys are stored and managed on servers, your account is protected by your username and password.

Tip

To increase the security of bitcoins stored on a mobile device, make sure to setup a PIN code for unlocking the phone.

It's also worth mentioning that there are independent mobile wallets that store access to the keys on the phone. Because storing the private keys on your phone can be risky, in the event it's lost or stolen, the wallets offer a way to protect your bitcoin with 24 words that are randomly chosen. You will be able to restore your wallet, if lost, using the passphrase.

Service

Description

Breadwallet

http://breadwallet.com

Well designed standalone mobile wallet and open source.

Coinomi

https://coinomi.com

A lightweight wallet that supports multiple languages, alt-currency exchanges, and is open sourced.

Mycelium

https://mycelium.com

Popular mobile wallet for Android. Accompanying application, Local trader, offers trading bitcoins hand-to-hand.

Table 5 - Mobile wallets

Hardware wallets

As one of the most secure options, hardware wallets store and encrypt your private keys on removable USB devices. Because the keys are never copied to your computer or made available online, it makes it extremely difficult to hack.

During setup, the hardware wallet will generate 24 random words, similar to the mobile wallets, as the password to your bitcoin. Backing up your wallet is as simple as backing up the list of words. To restore your device, you simply provide the same set of words during setup.

The two commercially available hardware wallets are Ledger (https://www.ledgerwallet.com/) and Trezor (www.bitcointrezor.com). They both plug into your USB port and include a user-friendly interface.

Note

Wallets that use a 24-word passphrase implement a type of keychain, called a Hierarchical Deterministic Wallet, or HD Wallet. This type of keychain can produce an unlimited number of private keys and addresses, just from a master seed which is generated from the 24 random words. We will cover HD Wallets later in the book.

 

Summary


In this chapter, we covered some of the basics of getting started with Bitcoin. We walked through a simple tutorial of how to buy bitcoin instantly and discussed addresses, private keys, and transactions. With this understanding, you can safely transact using Bitcoin.

In the next chapter, we will dive deeper into buying and selling. We will cover how to track prices for various currencies and how to trade bitcoin through an online exchange.

About the Author
  • Richard Caetano

    Richard Caetano is an entrepreneur and software developer living in Paris, France, and was originally raised on a dairy farm in the middle of California. He discovered a strong interest in software development at an early age. Over the years, he has designed and developed systems ranging from agriculture process automation and government accounting to high-tech security, digital music, and mobile video games.

    In 2011, Richard found the Bitcoin whitepaper and experienced a paradigm shift. After realizing the potential of this new technology, he changed course, and since then has been evangelizing this powerful new technology to the world.

    He launched an early application called btcReport, which leverages good design to bring news and information to those interested in Bitcoin. Since then, he has been speaking at conferences and meetings to help spread the word about Bitcoin.

    In 2015, he launched Stratumn, a company focused on helping developers build transparent, easy-to-audit, and secure applications by using the blockchain, the technology that powers the Bitcoin currency.

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Latest Reviews (5 reviews total)
i havent read it yet.....
still rerading, but so far excellent
Bitcoin is rapidly changing & this book while very good at explaining cryptocurrency, the sites recommended have changed considerably since it was published. I'm glad that I only paid $5 for this title.
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