طرح شخص أطلق على نفسه الاسم الرمزي ساتوشي ناكاموتو فكرة بيتكوين للمرة الأولى في ورقة بحثية في عام 2008، ووصفها بأنها نظام نقدي إلكتروني يعتمد في التعاملات المالية على مبدأ الند للند (بالإنجليزية: Peer-to-Peer) ، وهو مصطلح تقني يعني التعامل المباشر بين مستخدم وآخر دون وجود وسيط (كالتورنت). يقول القائمون على بيتكوين إن الهدف من هذه العملة التي طرحت للتداول للمرة الأولى سنة 2009  هو تغيير الاقتصاد العالمي بنفس الطريقة التي غيرت بها الويب أساليب النشر. وفي عام 2016 أعلن رجل الأعمال الأسترالي كريغ رايت أنه هو ساتوشي ناكاموتو مقدما دليلا تقنيا على ذلك ولكن تم كشف زيف أدلّته بسهولة.
حاليا لا يُملك مالكو عملات بيتكوين خيارات كثيرة لإنفاق أموالهم من خلالها، وهو ما يدفع ببعضهم إلى استبدالها مقابل العملات التقليدية. يتم ذلك عادة عبر منصات خاصة بذلك حيث يتم استبدال البيتكوينات مع مُستخدمين آخرين لها. يبدو أنه وفي حال ما إذا رغبت الحكومات في معرفة هويات أصحاب بعض الحسابات فما عليها سوى أن تقوم بتقنين عمليات التحويل بدل منعها، حيث سيصبح بالإمكان معرفة اسم صاحب كل حساب بُمجرد أن يرغب في استبدال ما بحوزته مقابل عملات تقليدية، وهو ما يُمثل نقطة انطلاق لتتبع الأموال المسروقة.
It takes a (global) village to raise a blockchain. The live network and the community of open source developers contribute significantly to this effort. They continuously refine and harden the Ethereum platform, helping it get faster at responding to industry demands for the value propositions it offers. These investments of time and resources speak to their faith in Ethereum governance and the value that businesses and developers see in its capabilities. – Joseph Lubin, CEO of Consensys
On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the first block of the chain, known as the genesis block. Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the text "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks". This note references a headline published by The Times and has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.:18
Bloomberg reported that the largest 17 crypto merchant-processing services handled $69 million in June 2018, down from $411 million in September 2017. Bitcoin is "not actually usable" for retail transactions because of high costs and the inability to process chargebacks, according to Nicholas Weaver, a researcher quoted by Bloomberg. High price volatility and transaction fees make paying for small retail purchases with bitcoin impractical, according to economist Kim Grauer. However, bitcoin continues to be used for large-item purchases on sites such as Overstock.com, and for cross-border payments to freelancers and other vendors.
Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is a distributed public blockchain network. Although there are some significant technical differences between the two, the most important distinction to note is that Bitcoin and Ethereum differ substantially in purpose and capability. Bitcoin offers one particular application of blockchain technology, a peer to peer electronic cash system that enables online Bitcoin payments. While the Bitcoin blockchain is used to track ownership of digital currency (bitcoins), the Ethereum blockchain focuses on running the programming code of any decentralized application.
Smart contract is just a phrase used to describe a computer code that can facilitate the exchange of money, content, property, shares, or anything of value. When running on the blockchain a smart contract becomes like a self-operating computer program that automatically executes when specific conditions are met. Because smart contracts run on the blockchain, they run exactly as programmed without any possibility of censorship, downtime, fraud or third-party interference.
To be accepted by the rest of the network, a new block must contain a proof-of-work (PoW). The system used is based on Adam Back's 1997 anti-spam scheme, Hashcash. The PoW requires miners to find a number called a nonce, such that when the block content is hashed along with the nonce, the result is numerically smaller than the network's difficulty target.:ch. 8 This proof is easy for any node in the network to verify, but extremely time-consuming to generate, as for a secure cryptographic hash, miners must try many different nonce values (usually the sequence of tested values is the ascending natural numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, ...:ch. 8) before meeting the difficulty target.
The "Metropolis Part 1: Byzantium" soft fork took effect on 16 October 2017, and included changes to reduce the complexity of the EVM and provide more flexibility for smart contract developers. Byzantium also added supports for zk-SNARKs (from Zcash), with the first zk-SNARK transaction occurring on testnet on September 19, 2017.
Ethereum addresses are composed of the prefix "0x", a common identifier for hexadecimal, concatenated with the rightmost 20 bytes of the Keccak-256 hash (big endian) of the ECDSA public key (the curve used is the so called secp256k1, the same as Bitcoin). In hexadecimal, 2 digits represents a byte, meaning addresses contain 40 hexadecimal digits. An example of an Ethereum address is 0xb794F5eA0ba39494cE839613fffBA74279579268. Contract addresses are in the same format, however they are determined by sender and creation transaction nonce. User accounts are indistinguishable from contract accounts given only an address for each and no blockchain data. Any valid Keccak-256 hash put into the described format is valid, even if it does not correspond to an account with a private key or a contract. This is unlike Bitcoin, which uses base58check to ensure that addresses are properly typed.
Researchers have pointed out at a "trend towards centralization". Although bitcoin can be sent directly from user to user, in practice intermediaries are widely used.:220–222 Bitcoin miners join large mining pools to minimize the variance of their income.:215, 219–222:3 Because transactions on the network are confirmed by miners, decentralization of the network requires that no single miner or mining pool obtains 51% of the hashing power, which would allow them to double-spend coins, prevent certain transactions from being verified and prevent other miners from earning income. As of 2013 just six mining pools controlled 75% of overall bitcoin hashing power. In 2014 mining pool Ghash.io obtained 51% hashing power which raised significant controversies about the safety of the network. The pool has voluntarily capped their hashing power at 39.99% and requested other pools to act responsibly for the benefit of the whole network. Between 2017 and 2019 over 70% of the hashing power and 90% of transactions were operating from China.
Third-party internet services called online wallets offer similar functionality but may be easier to use. In this case, credentials to access funds are stored with the online wallet provider rather than on the user's hardware. As a result, the user must have complete trust in the online wallet provider. A malicious provider or a breach in server security may cause entrusted bitcoins to be stolen. An example of such a security breach occurred with Mt. Gox in 2011.
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