Quite a lot of people really managed to make a fortune out of Bitcoin mining. And many still manage to do so today. In this article, The Coin Shark will tell what mining is, how the most popular cryptocurrency is mined today, when the latest Bitcoin will be mined, what are the prospects of the digital currency mining industry and other things that every crypto-enthusiast is interested in.
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- What is mining?
- How is Bitcoin mined?
- How many Bitcoins can be mined and what’s the time period for that?
- Types of Bitcoin mining
- Prospects of Bitcoin mining
Today, even those who are not really familiar with cryptocurrencies have definitely heard something about mining. However, it is not always clear what it actually is.
Mining is a computing operation. In fact, this is a kind of an attempt to solve a complex mathematical problem. The particular “X” that must be found as the result of the calculations is called a hash. If it is successfully found a new block is generated in the cryptocurrency blockchain. A block is a structural unit where the information about cryptocurrency transactions is recorded. It is sometimes not that easy to get all those terms, so let`s take a look at a rather simple example: a block is a kind of a banknote. Any banknote is a legal tender only if it looks in a certain way. It has a special design, watermarks, other security features, particular density, etc. Each banknote must meet certain specified parameters, otherwise, you will not manage to buy something for it and it will be just a piece of paper. The same thing with cryptocurrencies! Transactions are confirmed by being recorded into the blocks, and the blocks must be valid, must have a particular form. To meet this form, to generate a valid block, a hash with required parameters should be found as the result of computing operations. And that is exactly what miners are responsible for!
Bitcoin is a Proof-of-Work algorithm-based digital currency, that is why BTC is mineable. Proof of work actually means that transactions are confirmed, and the blocks are generated only if a certain work is done – new coins are issued only when one has managed to find the hash and create a new valid block. Every new block is generated approximately once every ten minutes. The Bitcoin code is written in such a way that, depending on the computing power in the network, the difficulty of the hash varies. In other words, the more powerful the miners are, the more difficult it is for them to find the hash. That is how the system maintains the balance between the available computing power and the complexity of the calculations. It does not matter whether only several personal computers are engaged in Bitcoin mining (as it was in 2009) or huge industrial mining farms (as it is happening today) – it will always take approximately ten minutes to generate every new block.
So, when miners do their calculations successfully and manage to find the hash, they are rewarded. This reward used to be as huge as 50 BTC. However, back then the number of coins was not actually a significant fortune. According to the Bitcoin code, this reward decreases by half every 210 thousand blocks. Since each block of Bitcoin is generated in about 10 minutes, it takes about four years to get 210 thousand blocks. So, every four years the reward is reduced by half. In 2012, there was the first reduction from 50 BTC to 25. The next reduction took place in 2016. Today miners get 12.5 Bitcoins for each generated block.
It is only possible to mine a total of 21 million BTC. This maximum amount of cryptocurrency is provided by its programming code. First of all, this limitation is designed to prevent inflation and preserve the value of Bitcoin. Actually, those things are usually valuable, that have a limited supply, and if Bitcoin had an unlimited emission, like Ethereum and some other virtual currencies, it would have been potentially subject to inflation. As of mid-October 2018, according to coinmarketcap, the number of BTC coins in circulation reached 17,332,325, which means that only a bit more than 3.5 million coins remain to be mined. It would seem not a big deal – almost all Bitcoins have already been mined! But truth is, it will take more than a century to mine the remaining coins!
So, let’s see how long will it take for miners to get all Bitcoins. To calculate this, we should make several mathematical operations. Of course, these operations are not as complicated as those required to find Bitcoin hash. The computing power of your calculator will be enough! So that is what we have:
The reward is reduced by half every 210 thousand blocks (approximately once every four years). Accordingly, the number of coins issued will decrease every four years. So, 10.5 million BTC was issued during the first “four-year cycle”, when the reward for each block was 50 BTC. Then the number of coins is reduced by half with each cycle. According to this formula, the very last BTC will be mined about the year 2140! Interestingly, in the first seven “four-year cycles”, miners will extract 99% of the coins, and it will take more than a century to get the remaining 1%.
About ten years ago, when the first peer-to-peer decentralized payment system with a cryptographically protected digital cash (yep, it’s all about Bitcoin) was launched, there was only one, or perhaps several miners, in the network. Probably it was an ordinary PC or laptop owned by Satoshi Nakamoto – the mysterious Bitcoin developer – and maybe some other PCs owned by those involved in the development of Bitcoin. So initially users were able to mine Bitcoin using their own devices. The computing power of their processors was enough to perform necessary calculations and find Bitcoin hash. This type of mining was called CPU-mining. However, with the growing popularity of Bitcoin, more and more people joined the system, the load and difficulty increased, and eventually, it became clear that even the most powerful PC had not enough power to mine Bitcoin effectively. A casual user with his laptop was left behind. And the reason is that a probability of getting a reward is equal to the ratio of your individual computing power to the power of the entire network. So a new solution was found – users started mining Bitcoins using the computing power of video cards. That new type of mining was called GPU-mining. Several video cards were connected to a computer and the entire powerful device used special software to mine BTC. Today, a number of cryptocurrencies can still be mined using processors or video cards, but this is not working out with Bitcoin. To be able to find Bitcoin has users should make really complex calculations and special high-performance devices are required. These are ASIC-miners – a special equipment with high computing power and price.
Today users who have special equipment for BTC mining combine their computing power in special mining pools. Pools are groups of miners who use their computing power together and jointly perform the operations necessary to obtain Bitcoin hash. The probability of getting a reward is much higher than if users mine the cryptocurrency solely. This reward is then distributed in proportion to the computing power “invested” by each individual miner.
Moreover, cloud mining is also relatively popular. This, in fact, means that a user simply rents computing power from owners of large mining farms, who are often the manufacturers of mining equipment. Despite the fact that today this type of mining is gradually becoming less attractive, it still has its advantages – users do not need to buy equipment, place it, set up, maintain its operation, update hardware, pay for electricity, etc.
Many believe that the mining era is almost over and there are some reasons for this. After all, as we have already figured out, even the cryptocurrency code itself provides a reduction of the reward. If Bitcoin rate does not increase significantly, nobody will be interested in running expensive mining equipment and earning a couple of thousand satoshi (1 satoshi is 0.00000001 BTC).
Today mining is a fairly centralized industry with and it is rather difficult for beginners to join it. Especially for those who do not have a lot of money. Even owners of huge industrial mining farms experience some problems. For example, some of them realize that the equipment they used in 2017 cannot provide the same profitability in 2018. Today BTC mining is largely controlled by mining pools one hand and owners of huge industrial mining farms on the other and this tendency for mining to become more centralized is likely here to stay.
So, Bitcoin mining is not a “gold rush” anymore. The increased difficulty made it way more centralized and way less available for casual users. Today, mining still provides big profit for those who own huge mining farms or at least some high-performance equipment. The Bitcoin rate is far from the historical maximum, but nevertheless, it remains quite significant, and most importantly, according to many experts, has prospects for an even greater increase. However, today it is practically impossible to make money on mining without big preliminary investments. Mining prospects depend on the rate of cryptocurrency, and on the other hand, are also predetermined by the Bitcoin programming code itself. However, this predetermination can be defined differently. Yes, the reward is reduced every four years, so mining can become less appealing in the future. But this reduction can be compensated if Bitcoin price increases. Anyway, today many crypto enthusiasts consider other mining options. Sometimes it is easier to mine other coins, and then, if desired, exchange them for Bitcoin. One thing is clear – the mining industry has been changing, and the time will tell, what will happen to it in the medium term.
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