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Understanding the Bitcoin lightning network

James
3 mn

The Lightning Network is a second layer solution that enables Bitcoin users to make fast and cheap transactions without compromising on security. The layer two technology allows users to enjoy the benefits of both the Bitcoin and Lightning Network layers simultaneously. Learn more about the Lightning Network solution below.

The Bitcoin Trilemma

In order to compete with other payment channels like Visa, the Bitcoin network must be able to process transactions much faster and at a fraction of the cost. However, this scaling cannot come at the expense of decentralization or security.

The "Bitcoin trilemma" is a term used to outline the conflict between these three principles, scaling, security, and decentralization. 

The aim of Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin SV, and other forks was to increase the block size in order to make Bitcoin transactions faster and more affordable on-chain.

However, these attempts failed to produce an effective method to transact quickly and inexpensively on-chain while still maintaining Satoshi's design. Hence, the Bitcoin Lightning Network.

The Lightning Network Payment Channels Solution

Is it possible for the Bitcoin network to have it both ways, to keep its original architecture while also functioning as a fast micropayments network? The answer is yes, and thanks to the advent of Lightning Network transactions, Bitcoin can be used for everyday transactions like paying for a cup of coffee.

The Lightning Network is a type of layer two solution that is compatible with the Bitcoin service. This off-chain solution was first conceptualized in 2015 by Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja.

The Lightning Network works by removing the burden of micropayments from the Bitcoin blockchain and instead utilizes multiple payment channels, which are controlled via multi-signature (multi-sig) Lightning Network wallets.

Why The Lightning Network?

How quickly can the Bitcoin network process transactions? Bitcoin is presently capable of processing between 2 and 7 transactions per second.

Visa, the current payment channel that drives your debit and credit card transactions, handles 150 million transactions each day, that's 24,000 transactions per second.

In order to make Bitcoin a competitive service to Visa, the Lightning Network needs to be implemented. This channel ensures that micropayments are instantly and cost-effectively executed, and is able to process thousands to hundreds of thousands of transactions instantly. 

The Core Concepts of how the Lightning Network Works

So how does the Lightning Network work? This layer 2 solution works on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, allowing thousands of micropayments to be executed at one time. This lowers the costs and increases the transaction speed of the initial transaction. There are three core components of the Lightning Network: the nodes, channels, and invoices. 

Lightning Network Nodes

This software connects with other nodes in order to form a network that connects to the Lightning Network to facilitate the sending and receiving of Bitcoin. 

Lightning Network Channel

Users of the Lightning Network establish payment channels with one another so that they may conduct transactions off-chain, which can then be settled (closed) on the mainchain (on-chain).

Invoices

Invoices are QR codes that represent requests for Lightning Network payments on the Lightning Network. Invoices include all of the data necessary to complete a payment on the network, such as the payment amount, which blockchain the invoice is associated with, expiration date, payee pubkey, routing hints, and other information.

How To Use The Lightning Network

In order to make use of the Bitcoin Lightning Network, you will need to open a compatible Lightning Network wallet. Once you have downloaded and signed up for the wallet, you will need to send funds. Simply locate the wallet address of the Lightning Network-enabled wallet and send the funds via your normal payment channel. Once the funds appear in your wallet, you can then send transactions via the Lightning Network to other enabled wallets.