Bitcoin is a decentralized alternative to the banking system. This means that the system can operate and transfer funds from one account to the other without any central authority.
With a trusted central authority, transferring money is easy. Just tell the bank you want to remove $50 from your account and add it to someone else’s account. In this example, the bank has all the power because the bank is the only one that is allowed to update the ledger that holds the balances of everyone in the system.
But how do you create a system that has a decentralized ledger? How do you give someone the ability to update the ledger without giving them too much power—in case they become corrupt or negligent in their work?
Well, Bitcoin’s rules—also known as the Bitcoin protocol—solves this in a very creative way I like to call “Who Wants to Be a Banker?”
How Bitcoin mining works
In short, anyone who wants to participate in updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, known as the blockchain, can do so. All you need is to guess a random number that solves an equation generated by the system. Sounds simple, right?
Of course, this guessing is all done by your computer. The more powerful your computer is, the more guesses you can make in a second, increasing your chances of winning this game. If you manage to guess right, you earn bitcoins and get to write the “next page” of Bitcoin transactions on the blockchain.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the mining process:
1. Once your mining computer comes up with the right guess, your mining program determines which of the current pending transactions will be grouped together into the next block of transactions. Compiling this block represents your moment of glory, as you’ve now become a temporary banker of Bitcoin who gets to update the Bitcoin transaction ledger known as the blockchain.
2. The block you’ve created, along with your solution, is sent to the whole network so other computers can validate it. It’s a bit similar to a Rubik’s cube: The solution is very hard to achieve but very easy to validate.
3. Each computer that validates your solution updates its copy of the Bitcoin transaction ledger with the transactions that you chose to include in the block.
4. The system generates a fixed amount of bitcoins (currently 12.5) and rewards them to you as compensation for the time and energy you spent solving the math problem.
5. Additionally, you get paid any transaction fees that were attached to the transactions you inserted into the next block.
6. All the transactions in the block you’ve just entered are now confirmed by the Bitcoin network and are virtually irreversible.
So that’s Bitcoin mining in a nutshell. It’s called mining because of the fact that this process helps “mine” new Bitcoins from the system. But if you think about it, the mining part is just a by-product of the transaction confirmation process. So the name is a bit misleading, since the main goal of mining is to maintain the ledger in a decentralized manner.
As you can imagine, since mining is based on a form of guessing, for each block, a different miner will guess the number and be granted the right to update the blockchain. Of course, the miners with more computing power will succeed more often, but due to the law of statistical probability, it’s highly unlikely that the same miner will succeed every time.