The Bitcoin Nodes Exploration Journey
The Bitcoin Nodes Exploration Journey
I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of Bitcoin nodes ever since I reached that level in my Bitcoin Journey. Since then, I've been astonished at how, even though they're the core component of the Bitcoin Network, so few seem to fully understand its role, the game theory behind them and even the value they can bring when running one.
Back when many of my Bull Bitcoin colleagues and I were actively working on Veriphi Inc, we published many of our thoughts on the subject that you can read if you want to deep dive into the subject of Why to Run a Bitcoin Node and how does a Bitcoin Light Wallet compare to a Bitcoin Node.
In this article, I will begin by explaining why you would want to run a Bitcoin Node, followed by a tutorial so that you can do it yourself.
This article is made for regular non-technical bitcoin users so we will avoid any command line usage.
Before understanding why to run a Bitcoin Node
If you’re asking yourself if you should run a Bitcoin Node, you should first be able to answer all the following questions affirmatively.
Do I own Bitcoin?
Do I hold my own keys and have I made the right backup?
Am I protecting my privacy in Bitcoin?
If you haven’t bought Bitcoin yet, you should read the following article by my colleague Tristan to know why to do so and you should use Bull Bitcoin to buy Bitcoin if you’re in Canada.
If you don't have your own keys yet, you should just go to BitcoinSupport.com and go through the info there. Towards the bottom, you will find yourself with the option of reading our free educational guides or purchasing a wallet setup support package.
If you aren’t protecting your privacy, begin by reading our article on The Benefits of Privacy in general and in particular in Bitcoin. I advise everyone, even those that think they don’t need to, to read our latest article on How to Use Bitcoin privately. You could've missed a step even if you think you haven’t.
If you answered yes to these questions, you’re at the point in your Bitcoin Journey where you’re ready to run your own Node.
Why Run Your Own Bitcoin Node
I could write a whole article just on this topic alone and this has been done in the past, so I’m just going to give a short explanation on why you would want to run your own Bitcoin Node.
Let me begin by saying that contrary to holding your own keys, I don’t think (anymore) that running your own Bitcoin Node is for everyone. Why?
When you withdraw your coins from an exchange, you go from 0 to 1. You go from having no direct ownership of your assets to being the sole responsible. When you run your own Bitcoin Node, you go from 99% to 100%. It’s basically impossible that you incorrectly believe that you’re the owner of Bitcoin, but it’s not impossible. Let me explain.
Verifying Protocol Rules
Bitcoin has some core protocol rules that you might be familiar with, such as the total amount of bitcoin, the issuance schedule, the mining algorithm, etc. It has many more rules that are more technical and are less known such as the block size, the block weight, the timestamp rule, and so forth.
Rules by themselves are useless if they’re not enforced through verification and that’s exactly what a Bitcoin Node does. When you run a Bitcoin Node, the open-source software you’ve installed (that you can build from source and inspect every line of code) on some hardware (that you can also inspect to a very advanced level to make sure it’s not compromised) will verify that every transaction and every block that regroups them, basically all data on the bitcoin network, is following all of the Bitcoin protocol rules.
If you receive some Bitcoin to an address that you control and it’s added into a block, thus confirmed on the network, your node will make sure that it’s an authentic Bitcoin transaction and that those Bitcoins are yours beyond any theoretical and practical doubt. A reorganization of blocks remains possible at 1 confirmation which is why it’s highly recommended to wait for 3 to 6 confirmations before considering a transaction basically, but not impossibly, irreversible.
If you don’t use your own Bitcoin Node, you are trusting someone else’s. You have no guarantee that they’ve played with the code and changed the protocol rules on their software. Yes, you can look up your transaction on block explorers and across different sources, but you can never be sure that some form of collusion hasn’t happened.
That’s what I meant by going from 99% to 100%. It’s a probabilistic improvement but not practical for all.
Then I’d ask, what about the future? With today’s rapid changing events, trust minimization in third parties and individual monetary verification through mathematics is something that might seem unnecessary but could be game-changing tomorrow.
Finally, there’s some additional benefits to running a node but they’re not impossible to achieve without it, such as potential additional privacy and censorship-resistance. You connect directly to the Bitcoin Network and bypass third-party reliance, thus winning those benefits. When it comes to privacy, the word “potential” is crucial since you still have to follow other steps in your Bitcoin journey in general and in your Node exploration journey in particular, which I’ll get into detail later in this article.
Now that it has been made clear what the goal of running a Bitcoin Node is, you’re ready to begin the practical conversation on how to go about it.
Prerequisites for Running a Bitcoin Node
This is a very short section to say that you have to be prepared for three challenges :
Running Bitcoin on your Computer
A lot of people will talk about running a Bitcoin Node by trying to sell you a hardware product or getting you to install a fancy user interface software that supposedly is needed to simplify the user experience of Bitcoin Core, the overwhelmingly dominant Bitcoin Node software on the market, but they’re using the “it’s too technical for the mainstream because it’s not fashionable” fallacy. Here’s the truth:
Bitcoin Core is super easy to install and most modern computers can handle it with ease. It’s available across desktop platforms and has an easy installer available. It’s not only a Bitcoin Node, but it’s also a very well functioning Bitcoin wallet, all done through a graphical interface that’s self-explanatory for the most part, if you’re already familiar with basic wallet concepts. As said earlier, if you’re not familiar with that, visit BitcoinSupport.com, read through it and set up a wallet with a free guide or with a paid support session.
Know that if you’re using BlueWallet, you will need extra software to connect your wallet to your Bitcoin Node so I advise you to skip the following section. To use the Bitcoin Core wallet or Wasabi Wallet, read the next section.
Steps to Install Bitcoin Core on your Computer
Visit bitcoincore.org and choose your operating system and the installer associated with it (e.g. for Windows, select exe). Click on it and save the file.
Follow through all the software installation steps and if you’re not certain, just stick with the default settings.
Launch Bitcoin Core if it didn’t launch automatically after installation.
Choose the Data directory (advised : leave default) and choose whether to prune or not. If you’re using Bitcoin Core as a wallet, you could prune. If you’re using an external wallet, it’s better not to.
Wait (hours or days) for synchronization to be complete.
Once fully synchronized, you’re ready to use your node.
Why not other Node implementations?
Yes it’s true that there are other Bitcoin Node implementations out there other than Bitcoin Core. Here are a few of the most known ones :
None of these implementations provide a graphical user interface, except for Bitcoin Knots, and they’re advisable only for advanced users, often developers. Bitcoin Core is used by over 98.5% of the market, a figure you can observe here.
Connect Wasabi Wallet to Bitcoin Core
I won’t go in detail on how to use Bitcoin Core as a wallet, I will rather show you the steps on how to link with Wasabi Wallet which is our recommended Desktop Wallet (read why here) to use by itself or with a Coldcard, our recommended Hardware Wallet (read why here).
If you’re using Wasabi on the same computer as you’re using Bitcoin Core, you only need to turn Wasabi on and it will detect your Bitcoin Node and connect to it.
If you’re running Bitcoin Core on another computer, open Wasabi and click on ‘Tools’ in the top menu, then ‘Settings’. A new page will appear and under ‘Bitcoin P2P Endpoint’, enter the I.P. Address and Port Number (or domain name) of your Bitcoin Core node. You will need to restart the application for changes to be applied.
If you want to use BlueWallet with your own Bitcoin Node or if you simply want to buy a pre-built Bitcoin Node, read the instructions below.
Dedicated Device: Choosing a Model
The goal achieved by using a dedicated device (either pre-built or building it yourself) from a specific brand is to have access to a full stack of softwares and interfaces that can make your life simpler. For example, if you want to connect BlueWallet to a Bitcoin Node, you need an Electrum Server and a lot of configurations. Using a stack, like Umbrel’s, will turn command line operations into buttons and file configurations into user interface settings.
The most popular implementation of a Bitcoin hardware node presently is Umbrel. There also remains a share of the market taken by The Embassy, MyNode, Raspiblitz and Nodl. Umbrel started as a simple Bitcoin and Lightning Node but has grown to match a bigger vision, one started by The Embassy.
Start9 Labs launched The Embassy with a different architectural approach to fit a vision they call Sovereign Computing. Beyond Bitcoin software and beyond financial use cases, all from your own metal, to offer you superpowers in the new era where cloud computing’s risks are coming to light. With privacy and censorship-resistance, “it is your sovereign territory in the land of the Internet”, as mentioned on their website.
I really like Start9’s vision and all that their product offers. It opens a lot of doors and gives a lot of control to the user. However, they don’t offer an easy way to connect your own node to BlueWallet so we will follow up with Umbrel as an example.
Buying vs Building
You can purchase a pre-built Umbrel node that you pay for and that is shipped to you. You plug to a power outlet and to your router with an ethernet cable, you turn on and it works.
You can also build it yourself by purchasing each piece of hardware. This second option will probably be more affordable, but more complicated (although not that much) so it’s really up to you to decide which one you want to pursue.
Buying a Pre-built Node
For $429 USD, you can purchase The Bitcoin Machine by Umbrel here. It comes with a sleek design case, a Raspberry Pi 4 (8GB RAM), 1TB SSD and a 1.8” display. Their processing time is up to 30 days and it takes 5 to 7 days for it to ship to you.
It’s more than a month for you to receive your device but you would do zero work beyond plugging it and using it. Let’s look into building it ourselves.
How to Build it?
If you’d like to use the same specifications as the pre-built device, here’s the price breakdown from Amazon (without the display):
Raspberry Pi 4 (8GB) Kit (includes Case, Power Supply) : $229 USD
1TB SSD : $105 USD
Ethernet Cable : $10 USD
It comes out $85 cheaper than buying it pre-built, which is a considerable amount of saved dollars that you can then stack Sats with. Then, you would have to wait a week for it to get delivered to you. It’s much faster than ordering a pre-built device.
Once you’ve received the items, you simply have to go on Umbrel’s website and they have a step by step setup guide for building, installing and launching.
Connecting BlueWallet to your Umbrel Node
Once you’ve launched your Umbrel Node, you will have to wait for the syncing to complete which can take several days. Follow the syncing progress on your dashboard.
Once you’ve completed that step, you will be able to connect your BlueWallet to your Node, here are the steps.
Go on the Menu and click on “Connect Wallet”.
On the list, select BlueWallet.
A list of 9 steps will appear. Follow the instructions to connect your BlueWallet to your Umbrel.
You’ve completed linking your wallet to your node. Congratulations!
Keep in mind that you’ve also linked your Lightning Wallet on BlueWallet to your own Node so you will be able to use Lightning non-custodially. Keep an eye on our blog for future Lightning guides.
Holding your own keys is for everyone, running your own node is for first grade Bitcoiners. Now that I’ve helped you reach this level in your Bitcoin Journey too, you’re ready to continue onto the next adventure.
You own Bitcoin, you hold your own keys, you protect your privacy and now, you run your own node. You might wonder, what’s next?
Setting up Lightning and purchasing through the Network with Bull Bitcoin in Canada seems like the right next step to me to increase your preparedness for a post-hyperbitcoinization world.
Finally, you can also gift a Bitcoinsupport.com Package (1-on-1 phone support to setup a Bitcoin Wallet) to your newcomer friends, to get them correctly started on their journey.
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