What is Bitcoin mining ?

Bitcoin mining is the process by which bitcoin’s public ledger blockchain is built. Mining operation ensures transactions to be added to the blockchain as well as reward miners with bitcoin. Mining operation is a complex mathematical calculation (known as hashing) which requires computational power (known as hash power) to be solved. More the hash power one has, more is the probability of getting the solution faster than others and thereby winning more bitcoin.

To form a distributed timestamp server as a peer-to-peer network, bitcoin uses a proof-of-work system similar to Adam Back’s Hashcash and the internet rather than newspaper or Usenet posts. The work in this system is what is often referred to as bitcoin mining.

The mining process involves scanning for a value that when hashed twice with SHA-256, begins with a number of zero bits. While the average work required increases exponentially with the number of leading zero bits required, a hash can always be verified by executing a single round of double SHA-256.

For the bitcoin timestamp network, a valid “proof-of-work” is found by incrementing a nonce until a value is found that gives the block’s hash the required number of leading zero bits. Once the hashing has produced a valid result, the block cannot be changed without redoing the work. As later records or “blocks” are chained after it, the work to change the block would include redoing the work for each subsequent block.

Majority consensus in bitcoin is represented by the longest chain, which required the greatest amount of effort to produce it. If a majority of computing power is controlled by honest nodes, the honest chain will grow fastest and outpace any competing chains. To modify a past block, an attacker would have to redo the proof-of-work of that block and all blocks after it and then surpass the work of the honest nodes. The probability of a slower attacker catching up diminishes exponentially as subsequent blocks are added.

To compensate for increasing hardware speed and varying interest in running nodes over time, the difficulty of finding a valid hash is adjusted roughly every two weeks. If blocks were generated too quickly, the difficulty increases and more hashes are required to find a block and to generate new bitcoins.

Bitcoin mining is a competitive endeavor. An arms race has been observed through the various hashing technologies that have been used to mine bitcoins: basic CPUs, high-end GPUs (graphics processing units) common in many gaming computers, FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) and ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) all have been used with the latter reducing profitability of each former technology. The newest addition, ASICs, are built into devices that are specialized for bitcoin mining. As bitcoins become more difficult to mine, computer hardware manufacturing companies have seen an increase in sales of high-end products.

Computing power is often bundled together or “pooled” into a central server to reduce variance in miner income. Individual mining rigs often have to wait relatively long periods of time to confirm a block of transactions and receive payment. When miners cooperate in a pool, all participating miners receive a number of the bitcoins every time a participating server solves a block. This payment is proportional to the amount of work an individual miner contributed to help find that block.

Cloud mining is where the mining equipment is hosted in a remote data center. The mining power is sold to the user for a certain period of time in a contract or traded on an exchange. Cloud Mining providers generally use “pooled” mining to have more frequent payouts for customers.

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