What is Bitcoin? – Simple Explanation & Function [2024]

22 Dec, 2023 · 27 min read

Bitcoin, often referred to as a decentralized digital asset, has revolutionized the world of finance by introducing a new form of currency that operates independently of traditional financial institutions. Unlike traditional currencies issued by governments, Bitcoin operates on a decentralized and “trustless” model, eliminating the need for intermediaries like banks.

  • Bitcoin is a decentralized digital asset.
  • It can be used as a medium of exchange or a store of value.
  • Bitcoin operates on a “trustless” model, eliminating the need for intermediaries.
  • The total supply of Bitcoin is capped at 21 million.
  • Bitcoin transactions are verified by a decentralized network of nodes.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a unique digital blend of traditional assets like cash and gold. It can be used as a medium of exchange, similar to money, or as a store of value. What sets Bitcoin apart is its decentralized nature. Unlike traditional financial systems where transactions involve intermediaries, Bitcoin allows for direct peer-to-peer transactions. This decentralized model means that no single entity has control over the Bitcoin network. Instead, transactions are verified by a global network of independently operated computers. Furthermore, Bitcoin’s supply is programmatically limited to 21 million, ensuring its rarity.

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What Gives Bitcoin a Value?

The value of Bitcoin is derived from a combination of its unique features and the network effects it enjoys. Historically, items like seashells and gold have been used as money due to their rarity, durability, and divisibility. Bitcoin shares similar characteristics:

  • Limited Supply: There will only ever be 21 million bitcoins, ensuring its rarity.
  • Divisibility: One bitcoin can be divided into 100 million smaller units (sats), ensuring it can cater to various transaction sizes.
  • Durability: Bitcoin operates on a global network, ensuring its longevity and resistance to loss.

Additionally, Bitcoin’s value is bolstered by its portability, ease of verification, and strong network effects. As more people adopt and use Bitcoin, its utility and, by extension, its value increases.

How Does Bitcoin Work?

Bitcoin operates as a decentralized digital asset, allowing peer-to-peer transactions without the need for intermediaries. Its underlying technology and mechanisms ensure its security, transparency, and decentralized nature.

Blockchain Technology

At the heart of Bitcoin lies the blockchain, a distributed ledger that records all transactions across a network of computers. Every transaction is grouped into blocks, and once a block is filled with transactions, it’s added to the blockchain in a linear, chronological order. Each block is cryptographically linked to the previous block, forming a chain of blocks, commonly referred to as a “blockchain.”

This continuous chain of blocks creates an unbroken record dating back to the initial transaction. This ensures that every transaction is transparent and immutable, meaning once it’s added to the blockchain, it cannot be altered.

The Decentralized Currency

Unlike traditional currencies controlled by governments or financial institutions, Bitcoin operates on a decentralized network. This means no single entity or authority has control over the entire network. Instead, transactions and the issuance of new bitcoins are managed collectively by the network.

Bitcoin Transactions

When a Bitcoin transaction is made, it’s broadcasted to the huge network of nodes and placed into a pool of unconfirmed transactions. Miners then select transactions from this pool, verify them, and add them to a new block. Once the block is filled with transactions, it’s added to the blockchain. In the decentralized network, nodes must reach an agreement that transactions are valid before these transactions can be added to the ledger. This process of nodes reaching agreement is referred to as “consensus.”

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Bitcoin Mining

Mining is the process by which new bitcoins are introduced into circulation and transactions are added to the blockchain. To validate the transactions, it is necessary to solve complex mathematical problems, for which the miners need powerful computers. The first miner to successfully solve the problem is allowed to add a new block to the blockchain and is rewarded with newly generated Bitcoins. This process not only introduces new bitcoins but also secures and verifies transactions.

Private & Public Key

Every Bitcoin user has a private key and a public key. The private key is a secret number that allows bitcoins to be spent and should be kept private. The public key, on the other hand, is used to receive transactions. Together, they ensure the security and ownership of bitcoins.

Bitcoin Wallets

A Bitcoin wallet is a digital tool that allows users to manage their Bitcoins. It stores the user’s private and public keys, allowing them to send and receive bitcoins. Wallets can be hardware-based, software-based, or even paper-based. It’s essential to keep wallets secure to prevent unauthorized access and potential loss of bitcoins.

The wallet stores both the private and public keys, which are essential to access your public address on the blockchain and, consequently, your digital assets like Bitcoin.

How to Buy and Safely Store Bitcoin

Bitcoin, being the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, can be purchased through various platforms and methods. However, once acquired, securing it is crucial to prevent potential losses.

How and Where to Buy Bitcoin

Bitcoin can be purchased through cryptocurrency exchanges. These platforms allow users to buy Bitcoin using fiat currency, such as U.S. dollars. Some popular exchanges include Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken. To buy Bitcoin:

  • Create an Account: Register on a reputable cryptocurrency exchange.
  • Verify Your Identity (KYC): Due to regulatory requirements, most exchanges will ask for personal details and documentation to verify your identity.
  • Deposit Funds: Fund your account using bank transfers, credit cards, or other payment methods offered by the exchange.
  • Purchase Bitcoin: Once funded, you can buy Bitcoin. Some exchanges offer a simple buy/sell interface, while others might offer advanced trading features.
  • Withdraw to Your Wallet: For added security, it’s recommended to withdraw your Bitcoin to a personal wallet rather than leaving it on the exchange.

Securing Your Bitcoin

Securing your Bitcoin is paramount. Here are some steps to ensure the safety of your investment:

  • Use a Hardware Wallet: These are physical devices that store your private keys offline, making them immune to online hacks.
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Always enable 2FA on your exchange accounts and wallets.
  • Use safe passwords: It’s important to use unique passwords for each platform you use. Password managers help you to create and manage secure passwords.
  • Keep Your Private Key Private: Never share your private key with anyone. If someone gains access to it, they can access your Bitcoin.
  • Use only safe networks: Exercise extra caution, especially when connecting to a public network. Prioritize verifying that it is a secure and reputable network before proceeding. In general, private networks should be preferred.
  • Stay Updated: Ensure your wallet software is always up-to-date to benefit from the latest security enhancements.
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Bitcoin as an Investment

Bitcoin’s meteoric rise has garnered significant attention from investors worldwide. However, like all investments, it comes with its set of risks and rewards.

Bitcoin as an Investment Asset

Bitcoin has evolved from a niche digital currency to a mainstream investment asset. Its decentralized nature, limited supply, and global acceptance have made it an attractive option for investors. Many view Bitcoin as a hedge against inflation and a store of value, similar to gold. Additionally, its historical price appreciation has led many to see it as a potential source of significant returns.

Risks and Volatility

While Bitcoin has shown the potential for substantial returns, it’s also known for its volatility. Some factors contributing to its risks include:

  • Market Fluctuations: Bitcoin’s price can be highly sensitive to news events, regulatory changes, and market sentiment.
  • Regulatory Risks: The lack of uniform cryptocurrency regulations can impact Bitcoin’s acceptance and use.
  • Security Concerns: Despite the inherent security of the blockchain, exchanges and wallets can be vulnerable to hacks.
  • Economic Factors: Global economic conditions, such as inflation, interest rates, and geopolitical events, can influence Bitcoin’s price.
  • Competing Cryptocurrencies: The rise of other cryptocurrencies can impact Bitcoin’s market dominance and value.

Investors should conduct thorough research before investing in Bitcoin to ensure it aligns with their investment goals and risk tolerance.

Bitcoin as a Means of Payment

Bitcoin, initially designed as a peer-to-peer payment method, has seen its use cases expand significantly due to its rising value and the emergence of other cryptocurrencies. Its decentralized nature and global acceptance have made it a viable option for various transactions, from online shopping to brick-and-mortar purchases.

Where Can I Use Bitcoins to Make Payments?

Bitcoin is accepted by a growing number of merchants, retailers, and service providers worldwide. Here are some ways you can use Bitcoin for payments:

  • Online Retailers: Some online businesses have integrated Bitcoin as a payment option alongside traditional methods like credit cards and PayPal.
  • Physical Stores: Brick-and-mortar stores that accept Bitcoin usually display a sign indicating “Bitcoin Accepted Here.” Transactions in such stores can be facilitated using hardware terminals, QR codes, or touchscreen apps.
  • Service Providers: Various service providers, from web hosting companies to graphic designers, now accept Bitcoin as payment for their services.
  • Restaurants and Cafes: A growing number of eateries are opening up to the idea of accepting Bitcoin, especially in major cities.
  • Travel and Tourism: Some travel agencies, airlines, and hotel chains accept Bitcoin, making it possible to book flights, accommodations, and even car rentals using the cryptocurrency.

It’s worth noting that the acceptance of Bitcoin can vary based on the region and the regulatory environment. Always check with the merchant or service provider beforehand to ensure they accept Bitcoin as a form of payment.

Genesis and History of Bitcoin

Bitcoin, the world’s most renowned cryptocurrency, was introduced to the public in 2009 by an anonymous developer or group of developers using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The idea behind Bitcoin was first announced in October 2008 through a white paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” This paper laid the foundation for how Bitcoin operates today. The first Bitcoin block, known as the “genesis block,” was mined on January 3, 2009, and contained a reference to a headline from The Times: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” This reference is believed to signify the economic turmoil of the time and the need for a decentralized currency. Over the years, Bitcoin has undergone several reward halvings, reducing the number of new bitcoins introduced into circulation.

Bitcoin (BTC) Price Development

Bitcoin’s journey in the financial market has been a rollercoaster. From its inception in 2009 until 2017, Bitcoin experienced a series of boom and bust cycles. In 2022, Bitcoin’s price saw a significant drop from a high of $47,454 in March to $15,731 by November. However, it rebounded in 2023, reaching a peak of $31,474 before falling below $30,000 again. Factors such as inflation, rising interest rates, global events like the war in Ukraine, and issues in the crypto world have influenced Bitcoin’s price volatility. Its all-time high was recorded in November 2021 at $68,990.

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Is Bitcoin Secure?

Bitcoin’s security is anchored in its underlying technology, the blockchain. The decentralized nature of the blockchain and the cryptographic techniques employed ensure that transactions are transparent, immutable, and secure.

Can Bitcoin Be Stolen?

Yes. While the Bitcoin protocol itself is highly secure, external factors can lead to theft. Most Bitcoin thefts have occurred due to breaches in cryptocurrency exchanges, malware attacks, or phishing scams targeting individual wallets. It’s essential for users to employ best practices, such as using hardware wallets, enabling two-factor authentication, and being cautious of phishing attempts, to safeguard their bitcoins.

Could There Be a Bug in the Bitcoin Code?

While the core Bitcoin protocol has proven to be robust and secure, no software is entirely immune to bugs. Over the years, developers have identified and rectified vulnerabilities in the Bitcoin code. The open-source nature of Bitcoin allows for continuous scrutiny and improvement by the global developer community, further bolstering its security.

In the event of a catastrophic bug exploit, the decentralized node network has the potential to collectively decide to revert to a state prior to the exploit, thereby safeguarding against loss or theft of funds.

Risks and Challenges

Bitcoin, like all investments, comes with its set of risks and challenges. While it has shown the potential for substantial returns, its decentralized nature and the evolving regulatory landscape pose unique challenges to investors.

Volatility in the Bitcoin Market

Bitcoin is known for its price volatility. Its value can experience significant fluctuations within short periods, influenced by various factors such as market sentiment, regulatory news, and global economic conditions. For instance, Bitcoin’s price saw a rapid appreciation in recent years, reaching an all-time high of $68,990 in November 2021. However, it has also experienced sharp declines, as seen in 2022 when its price dropped from $47,454 in March to $15,731 by November. Such volatility can result in substantial gains or losses for investors in a short time frame.

Regulation and Legal Aspects

The regulatory landscape for Bitcoin varies across countries and is continuously evolving. In some jurisdictions, Bitcoin is embraced, while in others, it faces strict regulations or outright bans. Regulatory risks arise from the lack of uniform cryptocurrency regulations, which can impact Bitcoin’s acceptance, use, and value. Additionally, concerns about the potential use of Bitcoin for illegal activities have led to increased scrutiny by governments and regulatory bodies.

Taxes and Legal Aspects

The taxation and legal treatment of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are areas of interest for many, especially as the adoption of digital currencies grows. Different countries have varying approaches to the taxation and legal status of cryptocurrencies.

Taxation of Bitcoin Gains in the US

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as property for tax purposes. This means that any gains realized from the sale or exchange of Bitcoin are subject to capital gains tax. If Bitcoin is held for more than a year before selling or exchanging, any gain is treated as long-term capital gains, which may be taxed at a more favorable rate. Conversely, gains from Bitcoin held for less than a year are considered short-term and are taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

Treatment of Cryptocurrencies in the US

In the US, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not considered legal tender. However, they are recognized as a form of property, making them subject to federal property laws. Transactions involving Bitcoin must be reported on tax returns, and failure to do so can result in penalties. Additionally, the US has been focused on regulating crypto and its criminal usage overseas, such as sanctioning cryptocurrency exchanges and individual cryptocurrency wallets and recovering crypto payments made to criminals.

Frequently Asked Questions
about Bitcoin

What Is Bitcoin?2023-12-21T19:16:32+01:00

Bitcoin is a decentralized digital asset, without a central bank or single administrator, that can be sent from user to user on the peer-to-peer Bitcoin network without the need for intermediaries. It operates on a technology called blockchain, which is a public ledger containing all transaction data from anyone who uses Bitcoin.

How Does Bitcoin Work?2023-12-21T19:15:44+01:00

Bitcoin operates on a decentralized platform called the blockchain. Every transaction made with Bitcoin is broadcasted to the network and recorded in blocks. These blocks are then added to a chain in a linear, chronological order. This process ensures the security and integrity of transactions.

How Secure Is Bitcoin?2023-12-21T19:14:50+01:00

The Bitcoin network itself is highly secure due to the decentralized nature of the blockchain and cryptographic techniques employed. However, external factors, such as the security of individual wallets or cryptocurrency exchanges, can pose risks.

Who Invented Bitcoin (BTC)?2023-12-21T19:13:44+01:00

Bitcoin was invented by an anonymous person or group of people using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The identity of Satoshi remains one of the greatest mysteries in the world of cryptocurrencies.

When Was Bitcoin (BTC) Invented?2023-12-21T19:12:43+01:00

Bitcoin was introduced to the public in January 2009. The concept was first presented in a white paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” released in October 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto.


Bitcoin has transformed the financial landscape with its decentralized approach, offering an alternative to traditional currencies. While its journey has been marked by innovation and growth, it also faces challenges like regulatory concerns and market volatility. Tools like CoinTracking provide essential support for those navigating the crypto world, simplifying portfolio management and tax compliance. As the crypto ecosystem evolves, staying informed and utilizing the right resources is crucial for success.


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Luis Schilli: SEO Manager
Content Manager & Crypto Blogger
Crypto trader and blockchain enthusiast with a passion for innovative technologies in the cryptocurrency market.
Crypto trader and blockchain enthusiast with a passion for innovative technologies in the cryptocurrency market.


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