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For instance, the SHA-256 of the term BUTTERFLY (source) is 8c62ace4f9ef8ccd08ca6fb992a8524bb7dbdc0530654bd254c9da07a660949a (HASH). This seemingly random string of letters and numbers contains three important properties:

Bitcoin mining involves three variables: the cube, the mining difficulty and a random number. Heres how it all comes together:

Imagine our cube consists of the term BUTTERFLY discussed earlier. In fact, the cube would contain a list of recent, unverified transactions, but lets keep it simple. In order for the block to be solved, bitcoin utilizes a deceptively simple test: If the HASH result of the block begins with a certain number of zeros, then the block is considered confirmed.

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For our example, lets say that we've a mining difficulty of simply two, ie, our HASH must start with two zeros. .

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The problem: BUTTERFLY will always return the same HASH, and it doesnt begin with two zeros. Thus what we need is the next factor, a random number (called a NONCE). We take this number, combine it with BUTTERFLY, and HASH again. If it doesnt start with two zeros, we change the number and try again, and because changing one small number changes the whole HASH outcome, there is no way to predict the number well need to solve this! .

We repeat this procedure over and over until we find a number that, when combined with BUTTERFLY, provides us a HASH that begins with two zeros. That number is the solution to the block. Here are some tries:

This arduous process of randomly trying to find a number that supplies the solution is the thing that creates bitcoin mining such a computationally expensive process, and as more miners join the network, the harder it gets. As of November 2017, a normal home computer working alone, ie, not an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and not a part of a cloud mining network, would take 2.7 million years into mine one block. .

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This has led to the rise of ASIC computers built specifically for mining and to an increase in cloud mining.

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CPU mining. In the first days of bitcoin, mining difficulty was reduced and not a great deal of miners were competing for blocks and rewards. This made it rewarding to use your computers own central processing unit (CPU) to mine bitcoin. However, that strategy was soon replaced by GPU mining.

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GPU mining. A graphics processing unit (GPU) is a powerful processor whose sole objective is to assist your computers graphics card in rendering 3D graphics. GPUs are not built for executive decisions (such as CPUs) but to be very great labourers, hence GPUs are able to execute over 800 times find more instructions in the exact same amount of time as a CPU.

FPGA mining. Next came mining with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These significantly outperformed GPUs and CPUs in the mining process as FPGAs are chips that can be programmed to execute certain instructions and only those instructions (instead of being repurposed for mining, like GPUs were).

ASIC mining. Similar to FPGAs, application-specific integrated circuits are processors designed for a particular purpose, in our situation mining bitcoin, and nothing else. ASICs for bitcoin were introduced in 2013 and, as of November 2017, they're the best processors available for mining bitcoin and they outperform FPGAs in electricity consumption. .

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Mining pools. To offset the difficulty of mining a block, miners started organising in cloud or pools mining networks. Whenever a miner in one of these pools simplifies a cube, the reward is shared with everyone in the pool in a ratio representative of just how much work you put into the pool (even though you personally never solved the mystery ). .

Cloud mining. Clouds provide potential miners the capability to purchase mining rigs in a remote data centre location. There are many obvious advantages, the most obvious being: no energy expenses, no extra heat and nothing to sell when you decide to hang up your virtual pickaxe.

Once miners get bitcoin, they are given a virtual key to the bitcoin addresses. You can use this digital key to gain access and validate or approve transactions.

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Desktop wallets. Software like Bitcoin Core allows you to send and save bitcoin addresses and connects to the network to monitor transactions.

Online wallets. Bitcoin keys are stored online by exchange platforms such as Coinbase or Circle and can be accessed from anywhere.

Mobile wallets. Programs like Blockchain store and encrypt your own bitcoin keys so that you can make payments using your cellular device.

Paper wallets. Some websites offer paper wallet solutions, generating a bit of paper using two QR codes on it. One code is your public address where you get bitcoin and the other one is your personal address you can use for spending.

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