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Bitcoin is a decentralized network for peer-to-peer value transfer created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Nakamoto first introduced the white paper for Bitcoin to a mailing list on October 31, 2008. Bitcoin borrows from nearly three decades of research by academics, cypherpunk practitioners, and hobbyists who tried to create similar payment protocols. Some of the most prominent projects that preceded Bitcoin include: Digicash, b-money, Hashcash, and e-gold. Bitcoin is often associated with Austrian economic theories, anarcho-capitalist principles, and general libertarian politicking by virtue of the exclusive developer community to whom Nakamoto first released their white paper, certain protocol design characteristics, and the central tendency of political affiliations among early Bitcoin investors. Nakamoto included a now-famous The Times headline in Bitcoin’s genesis block coinbase to prove the network’s fair launch. Many bitcoiners misinterpret The Times headline as a signal of support to anyone seeking alternatives to legacy financial services and sovereign monies.
"Bitcoin" is a label used for a protocol and a currency. Bitcoin, the currency, is bits of data usable outside the limitations of the protocol a la scaling solutions like Lightning Network payment channels. Bitcoin, the protocol, is a distributed, time-stamped ledger of unspent transaction output (UTXO) transfers stored in an append-only chain of 1MB data blocks. A network of mining and economic nodes maintains this blockchain by validating, propagating, and fighting to include mempool transactions in new blocks. Economic nodes (aka "full nodes") receive transactions from other network participants, validate them against network consensus rules and double-spend vectors, and propagate the transactions to other full nodes that also validate and propagate. Valid transactions are sent to the network's mempool waiting for mining nodes to confirm them via inclusion in the next block. Mining nodes work to empty the mempool usually in a highest-to-lowest fee order by picking transactions to include in the next block and racing against each other to generate a hash less than the target number set by Bitcoin's difficulty adjustment algorithm. Bitcoin uses a Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism to establish the chain of blocks with the most accumulated “work” (a.k.a., energy spent on solved hashes) as the valid chain. Other network peers can costlessly verify the chain’s work. Mining difficulty regularly adjusts to maintain Bitcoin's average ten-minute block schedule. Mining nodes add new blocks to whatever chain has the largest accumulated proof of work maintained by a network of economic nodes with downloaded copies of the same chain.
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