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Bitcoin is a digital currency which operates free of any central control or the oversight of banks or governments. Instead, it relies on peer-to-peer software and cryptography. A public ledger records all bitcoin transactions and copies are held on servers around the world. Anyone with a spare computer can set up one of these servers, known as a node. Consensus on who owns which coins is reached cryptographically across these nodes rather than relying on a central source of trust like a bank. Every transaction is publicly broadcast to the network and shared from node to node. Every ten minutes or so these transactions are collected together by miners into a group called a block and added permanently to the blockchain. This is the definitive account book of bitcoin. In much the same way you would keep traditional coins in a physical wallet, virtual currencies are held in digital wallets and can be accessed from client software or a range of online and hardware tools. Bitcoins can currently be subdivided by seven decimal places: a thousandth of a bitcoin is known as a milli and a hundred millionth of a bitcoin is known as a satoshi.
We will have to check on legality of using this article as a source for info. The link to source is here: What is bitcoin and how does it work? | New Scientist
From a user perspective, Bitcoin is nothing more than a mobile app or computer program that provides a personal Bitcoin wallet and allows a user to send and receive bitcoins with them. This is how Bitcoin works for most users.
Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledger called the “block chain”. This ledger contains every transaction ever processed, allowing a user’s computer to verify the validity of each transaction. The authenticity of each transaction is protected by digital signatures corresponding to the sending addresses, allowing all users to have full control over sending bitcoins from their own Bitcoin addresses. In addition, anyone can process transactions using the computing power of specialized hardware and earn a reward in bitcoins for this service. This is often called “mining”.
Source: FAQ – Bitcoin
Mining is the process that maintains the bitcoin network and also how new coins are brought into existence. All transactions are publicly broadcast on the network and miners bundle large collections of transactions together into blocks by completing a cryptographic calculation that’s extremely hard to generate but very easy to verify. The first miner to solve the next block broadcasts it to the network and if proven correct is added to the blockchain. That miner is then rewarded with an amount of newly created bitcoin. Inherent in the bitcoin software is a hard limit of 21 million coins. There will never be more than that in existence. The total number of coins will be in circulation by 2140. Roughly every four years the software makes it twice as hard to mine bitcoin by reducing the size of the rewards. When bitcoin was first launched it was possible to almost instantaneously mine a coin using even a basic computer. Now it requires rooms full of powerful equipment, often high-end graphics cards that are adept at crunching through the calculations, which when combined with a volatile bitcoin price can sometimes make mining more expensive than it is worth. Miners also choose which transactions to bundle into a block, so fees of a varying amount are added by the sender as an incentive. Once all coins have been mined, these fees will continue as an incentive for mining to continue. This is needed as it provides the infrastructure of the Bitcoin network.
Anybody can become a Bitcoin miner by running Bitcoin mining software and Bitcoin mining modules with specialized Bitcoin mining hardware. Mining software listens for transaction broadcasts through the peer-to-peer network and performs appropriate tasks to process and confirm these transactions. Bitcoin miners perform this work because they can earn transaction fees paid by users for faster transaction processing, and newly created bitcoins issued into existence according to a fixed formula.
For new transactions to be confirmed, they need to be included in a block along with a mathematical proof of work. Such proofs are very hard to generate because there is no way to create them other than by trying billions of calculations per second. This requires miners to perform these calculations before their blocks are accepted by the network and before they are rewarded. As more people start to mine, the difficulty of finding valid blocks is automatically increased by the network to ensure that the average time to find a block remains equal to 10 minutes. As a result, mining is a very competitive business where no individual miner can control what is included in the block chain.
The proof of work is also designed to depend on the previous block to force a chronological order in the block chain. This makes it exponentially difficult to reverse previous transactions because this requires the recalculation of the proofs of work of all the subsequent blocks. When two blocks are found at the same time, miners work on the first block they receive and switch to the longest chain of blocks as soon as the next block is found. This allows mining to secure and maintain a global consensus based on processing power.
Bitcoin miners are neither able to cheat by increasing their own reward nor process fraudulent transactions that could corrupt the Bitcoin network because all Bitcoin nodes would reject any block that contains invalid data as per the rules of the Bitcoin protocol. Consequently, the network remains secure even if not all Bitcoin miners can be trusted.
Source: Bitcoin Mining FAQ
Spending energy to secure and operate a payment system is hardly a waste. Like any other payment service, the use of Bitcoin entails processing costs. Services necessary for the operation of currently widespread monetary systems, such as banks, credit cards, and armored vehicles, also use a lot of energy. Although unlike Bitcoin, their total energy consumption is not transparent and cannot be as easily measured. The total Bitcoin network hash rate is publicly available and can be used to estimate the network’s total electricity costs.
Bitcoin mining has been designed to become more optimized over time with specialized hardware consuming less energy, and the operating costs of mining should continue to be proportional to demand. When Bitcoin mining becomes too competitive and less profitable, some miners choose to stop their activities. Furthermore, all energy expended mining is eventually transformed into heat, and the most profitable miners will be those who have put this heat to good use. An optimally efficient mining network is one that isn’t actually consuming any extra energy. While this is an ideal, the economics of mining are such that miners individually strive toward it.
Source: Bitcoin Mining FAQ