Surprise! Bitcoin is not the only Cryptocurrency available, and that’s a good thing.
Within two years of users joining the Bitcoin network and mining coins with their CPUs competing currencies appeared developed by other teams by augmenting the open source code provided by the Bitcoin developers. Namecoin was the first and used the same protocol, SHA-256. In fact the two networks are so closely related that miners can submit the same work for both currencies. Litecoin came next and introduced the Scypt protocol.
Since then the number of Altcoins has grown to over 700, and there are over 10 different protocols. Several Cryptocurrencies never gained any popularity and because users did not maintain nodes, mining, or trade these currencies their projects have been abandoned.
Bitcoin can be thought of as the base currency. That same sort of role the US dollar plays now as an internationally accepted currency that many other currencies are traded against. Bitcoin was first, most widely accepted and most widely traded. But there are some inherent issues with Bitcoins design. In “The Bitcoin Network and You” I mentioned how the size of the Blockchain is over 110 GB. This is limits the type of hardware one can maintain a Node on. Not everyone agrees with the number of Bitcoins that will be mined before finding blocks will cease to generate a reward, some argue for less and others think it should be unlimited. These arguments usually playout in the creation of a new Altcoin.
The concept and implementation of a “Blockchain” itself has a lot of applications beyond making coins. Within each transaction is the ability to create messages. Some developers have taken this to the complex level of creating contracts, like Ethereum. Contracts between two addresses are forever part of the Blockchain once verified by enough nodes. In my work, I’ve considered Blockchain technology the logical choice for IoT applications. The distributed network allows for sensor recordings and commands to become part of the system without relying on a central server to manage the communications. That way allowing for remote devices that only need to communicate with 3 or for devices near by and not have full internet access. As long at the remote devices eventually daisy chain to all other node on the network, some other server can explore the Blockchain for the various messages to facilitate reporting and management.
The Altcoin phenomenon has motivated the team of developers of Bitcoin to consider making various improvements to the Bitcoin network to address some of the issues. These proposed changes involve a large amount of discussion and campaigning and ironically usually fail to be implemented. Bitcoin was designed without a central controlling authority. Changes to the Blockchain or the network are approved or denied by miner votes. Conflicting proposals and the option to not change are voted on by placing a vote message in the work submitted by the miners. When a clear majority opt for a decision, that change will become part of the code that makes up the currency and its network. Implementation of new code in the Network is called a Fork, and all nodes need to implement the new visions of the Node code in order or operate on the Forked code (continue to mine and trade).
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