Today I am going to talk about the “Lightning Network” which is a proposed solution to the issue of scaling Bitcoin faces. Lightning Network (I will use the acronym “LN” to refer to the Lightning network from this point forth) LN has its fair share of criticism in the crypto space. Some claim its brilliant, while others claim it is the antithesis of what Bitcoin was supposed to be. I am going to try my best to touch on the reasoning both crowds use to come to these conclusions. First things first, lets discuss how the whole thing got started.
The LN was first proposed in 2015 by Thaddeus Dryja and Joseph Poon in a white paper they wrote (White paper for LN can be viewed at the following linkhttps://www.weusecoins.com/assets/pdf/library/Lightning%20Network%20Whitepaper.pdf ) They decided that Bitcoin has a scalability issue and were looking for the best way to solve that issue without ultimately sacrificing the fundamentals that make BTC such a great currency. They decided that building a 2nd layer on top of Bitcoin was the best solution (rather than another useless hard fork to add to the 103 or so other Bitcoin forks out there) Many claim that coins like Bitcoin SV and Bitcoin Cash are the solution to scaling issues, but they are forks and centralized when compared to Bitcoin which sacrifices decentralization for scalability. Lightning is different than a fork as it is basically a payment channel that connects 2 or more parties directly. This makes payments almost instant, which is something people using Bitcoin core have desired since its creation. How does it work? Lets discuss that!
How does the Lightning Network work?
Okay so you have been hearing your friend Phil go on and on about how great the LN is, but why is he so excited? Lets figure it out! The LN is a payment channel that is set up between 2 or more parties. They start by creating the payment channel which is a multisig wallet (a multisig wallet is a BTC wallet that cannot be accessed by just one party as it takes “multiple signatures” to access the funds. Now that Phil and I have set up the payment channel we can now transact with each other as much as we like with no transaction fees (until we close the channel). The payment channel gets updated every time a payment is made. So if Phil and I have 2 Bitcoin on the channel, lets say I have 1 BTC and Phil has 1 Bitcoin in the multisig wallet me and him created for the Lightning channel. I could send Phil ½ of a BTC and the ledger would show that Phil now has 1.5 Bitcoin while I only hold .5 Bitcoin. This transaction occurred off the Bitcoin blockchain so it avoided the hefty transaction fees that accompany Bitcoin core transactions at times. The channel can be left open and the ledger will update every time me and Phil transact with each other (until we decide to close the channel) This layer makes micro transactions more feasible as people are not paying a 3 $ transaction fee for a 1$ transaction.
People that would like to use the LN can get a node (Casanode, Raspberry Pi 3 etc.) which will also act as a BTC core node along with a lightning node. This is a popular way to be a part of Lightning payments. It is not the only way though. There are wallets that can be used to access the LN without having to own a casanode or raspberry pi. You can still use the LN without owning a casanode by downloading an app like “Blue Wallet” which will allow you to access LN without necessarily owning a node. Apps like this make LN more available to the general public that may not quite grasp the reason people own casanodes. Either way removing barriers that could potentially hinder people from using LN is a big part of wide spread adoption. Lightning is still in its infancy really so more and more apps should pop up similar to Blue Wallet in the near future. (This is not an endorsement of Blue Wallet, I simply used it as an example) If you would like to order a casanode it can easily be found with a simple google search. I personally know a few people that paid for the node and most of them did it just to help the LN network grow and to actually be able to use it! They typically run for around $300 USD. (I see the price going down in the future as LN becomes more used and the casanodes become more in demand)
Now just because you aren’t connected to someone directly through a payment channel you can still send payments to someone in many cases. So, Lets say Phil and I want to transact with each other but we don’t have a channel connecting us. We could utilize a 3rd party to connect the payment channels. For example, I am trying to send Phil 1 BTC, but we don’t have a channel set up, but we want to transact with each other. The node will find the fastest path it can to Phil so I do not necessarily need to create a channel with him. We could use anyone to bridge the gap and transact with each other in this way. This is referred to as a “Hop”. Some people may worry that the link between me and Phil may act maliciously and attempt to take the payment, but that’s the beauty of LN. It can’t be taken in this way. So I send Phil .1 BTC. A 3rd party would first receive the .1 BTC and would send it to Phil automatically. The 3rd party cannot stop the transaction in the middle if he were to try and steal the funds. LN doesn’t allow that.
LN offers almost instant payments with Bitcoin (and soon many altcoins will also utilize LN) with minimal fees. Some think the LN is absolutely a terrible idea. They believe transaction fees will be severely diminished in the wake of LN due to the fact payments made on LN do not post to the BTC chain until the channel has been closed charging a one-time fee for multiple transactions. I would say that with LN we will see a surge of new adoption that will increase the use of BTC and in the long run should increase the amount of transaction fees collected by miners for the work the perform. People like to claim LN is centralized and the antithesis of what Satoshi was thinking when he created BTC. I have to say I disagree. LN is a layer on top of BTC. It doesn’t effect the fundamentals of BTC core and that is important to me and many others. Bitcoin is a work of art because of decentralization. LN doesn’t hinder this. It is simply an option for people that want BTC payments faster to have a means to do so. In the future people will most likely do plenty of transactions on LN (I think most dealings will be done via LN) But the big transfers will still likely be done on BTC core itself. Bitcoin is a work in progress and LN is a step towards adoption.
Right now, LN is very new and still untested in many ways. It is an experiment in my eyes that is likely to succeed. Even if LN went belly up tomorrow BTC will still be here. I have a lot of faith in LN and I think it will be a huge part of mass adoption in the future. Nobody can see the future… But we can speculate! I enjoyed writing this and I hope you learned something. I sure did.
Written by: Tim Pace 2/13/2019