What is Bitcoin halving?
An event that halves the rate at which new Bitcoins are created. It occurs once every four years.
As many know, Bitcoin’s (BTC) supply is finite. Once 21 million coins are generated, the network will stop producing more. That is one of the main reasons Bitcoin is often referred to as “digital gold” — just like with the yellow metal, there is only a limited amount in the world, and someday, all of it will have been extracted.
Right now, there are around 18 million BTC in circulation, which is roughly 85% of the total cap — but it doesn’t mean that the cryptocurrency is about to reach its limit any time soon. The reason is the protocol, which has been coded into the blockchain from the very start: Every 210,000 blocks, it performs the so-called Bitcoin “halving” or “halvening,” and producing new coins becomes more difficult — just like in gold mining where finding new deposits becomes more challenging over time.
More specifically, the protocol cuts the block reward in half. So, every time a Bitcoin halving occurs, miners begin receiving 50% fewer BTC for verifying transactions.
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When you hear about bitcoin “mining,” you envisage coins being dug out of the ground. But bitcoin isn’t physical, so why do we call it mining?
Because it’s similar to gold mining in that the bitcoins exist in the protocol’s design (just as the gold exists underground), but they haven’t been brought out into the light yet (just as the gold hasn’t yet been dug up). The bitcoin protocol stipulates that 21 million bitcoins will exist at some point. What “miners” do is bring them out into the light, a few at a time.
They get to do this as a reward for creating blocks of validated transactions and including them in the blockchain.
If I want to send some of my bitcoin to you, I publish my intention and the nodes scan the entire bitcoin network to validate that I 1) have the bitcoin that I want to send, and 2) haven’t already sent it to someone else. Once that information is confirmed, my transaction gets included in a “block” which gets attached to the previous block – hence the term “blockchain.” Transactions can’t be undone or tampered with, because it would mean re-doing all the blocks that came after.
To cut through some of the confusion surrounding bitcoin, we need to separate it into two components. On the one hand, you have bitcoin-the-token, a snippet of code that represents ownership of a digital concept – sort of like a virtual IOU. On the other hand, you have bitcoin-the-protocol, a distributed network that maintains a ledger of balances of bitcoin-the-token. Both are referred to as “bitcoin.”
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are becoming increasingly popular due to their many improvements over traditional fiat currencies. If you want to use any of these blockchain-based cryptocurrencies, you’ll need to understand how blockchain wallets work.