Part 1: The redundant node redundancy reminder
“It won’t work unless the user experience is simply better than trusted third parties, but we need to start the education process with the basic foundation: trusting a third party with full access to your Bitcoin replaces just one centralized banking system with someone else.”
For those in the crypto space who are relatively versed in the Bitcoin language, we’ve all preached the proverbial “run your own node” many times in the Bitcoin literature. It is synonymous and above that with ‘not your keys, not your crypto’ or ‘HODL’.
Regardless of whether or not they are obeyed by the crypto community, they have their own merits and ways to evoke regret at the worst of times. Human nature tends to make the same mistakes again; Mt.Gox, QuadrigaCX, OKEx, etc.
Then why do we keep falling into the same mistakes over and over?
Because of the convenience. It’s very easy to open an account with a centralized exchange and keep your bitcoin there. It’s also extremely easy to buy high and sell low when the simultaneous FUD infiltrates our decisions.
But one part of the Bitcoin ecosystem that really hasn’t attracted too much attention from the retail industry, let alone usage, is running your own bitcoin node. It’s one of the few areas of bitcoin that isn’t ‘institutionalized’ or ‘monetized’. Not for nothing, because it is not intended to generate financial incentives. Rather, it consumes costs that are somewhat linear with respect to blocks mined. It was designed to be grown in a grassroots fashion rather than in the other financially motivated areas of mining, trading and preservation.
When someone is running their own node, they don’t have to rely on a third party to broadcast, distribute, validate and confirm their transactions. In this way they are completely self-sovereign.
Therefore, to take the aforementioned ‘not your keys, not your crypto’ idiom, the same spirit can be applied as Not your node, not your validation.
As the crypto community embraces the third bitcoin bull run, the inevitable next generation of Bitcoin believers will venture down the rabbit hole. This will no doubt put more demand and possibly pressure on third-party services that already exist, ranging from wallet providers, exchanges, and even on the mining network. This of course also requires an increase in the number of running nodes. But by whom?
“Members of the bitcoin community seem to be losing interest in hosting full nodes. And it’s something to watch out for, because over time, it can mean that the big companies in the industry may have to pick up the slack. “ – Daniel Cawrey
The bitcoin community can sometimes be divided between the amount of redundancy of a certain number of nodes in the network. Does it help the network or does it help the individual?
But the keyword here is “redundancy”. As in the same ecosystem redundancy that we see in nature.
Parrotfish is a species that feeds on the tiny algae of bio-rich corals under the sea. This act alone is essential for the survival of corals to thrive on a seabed full of rivals. In a scenario where the parrotfish species dies, there is a collection of other similarly functioning species, such as the surgeonfish and the rabbitfish, to fill the void. This redundancy in terms of our natural ecosystem provides a degree of resilience to the system as a unit.
Another example supporting this redundancy in biodiversity is the dispersal of seeds through a range of species of different sizes, found in every forest around the world. As a subset of species die out, another subset can fill that void without any interruption. But there is a more precarious caveat in which the extinction of the larger species has been explored in size to inhibit greater disturbance to the local ecosystem compared to its similarly functioning small species.
“… larger species in size have been investigated to inhibit greater disturbance …”
In short, redundancy manifests the proverbial “don’t put all your eggs in one basket. And it is this redundancy, which can also be put together with diversity (we will use both terms interchangeably in this piece to make a general point) that is essential to the systems of nature, society, machines, governments, etc.
When the first string quarterback goes down with an ACL tear, the second string man comes forward, who might be even better. When a subset of Bitcoin nodes experiences an internet outage, the rest of the nodes can easily accommodate the delay of validating transactions. It is a form of risk insurance for network threats. It’s fault tolerant. And this gets cheaper as more smaller individuals use nodes, rather than handing them over to larger players prone to centralized attacks.
The sentiment has been preached all over the crypto world and it is crystal clear: everyone should be running their own node. But it takes a little more training, easy-to-use tools or, god forbid, a different type of chain fork to wake up the masses. Providing users with an all-in-one node kit configuration (more at the end) galvanizes the convenience and importance of running a node.
The ubiquity of nodes is not yet present. But the rush of a seemingly dangerous government interest could be the disaster that must push the network out of reach. This could also be characterized as that diversity, or network resilience.
We have always strived for maximum efficiency, but the value of redundancy and diversity is higher, albeit at the expense of costs.
“The resource requirements of a full node go beyond the capabilities of casual users. This isn’t necessarily a problem – after all, most people don’t grow their own food, modify their own clothing, or have tools for the blacksmith on hand to forge their own horseshoes. ”
To return to the beginning: convenience then led to trust. Trust can be misinterpreted as laziness or even lack of knowledge. These attributes are the main meat for entities that take care of you in more ways than one. But running nodes is part of the Bitcoin ecosystem that we do do not want institutions to start pouring in. Hypothetically, if that ever happens, then they dictate your transaction validations. And in the context of ecosystem redundancy, such as Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University has declared, “While redundancy may be the rule in smaller creatures, the functional uniqueness of larger ones could imply that they are often the Achilles’ heel for ecological functioning.”
Part 2: What does the node ecosystem look like now?
Currently and historically, capturing an accurate number of the entire bitcoin nodes operating is a less than perfect science. According to bitnodes.io, a community-developed platform still in beta, there are nearly 11,000 nodes with a full node client. This number is what it considers to be ‘reachable’ or, as others would more accurately say, ‘listening nodes’. Other sources, including Luke Dashjr, have stated that the number of nodes is much greater, in the range between 50,000 and 100,000, perhaps more, including private nodes.
In coin.dance’s chart, the number of nodes has more than doubled after the 2017 bull run, from about 5,000 to a current value of over 10,000. While there is no perfectly linear relationship between the number of transactions and the number of nodes, the trend is clear.
Running a full node can be complicated and daunting to users. And, unlike miners, node operators don’t receive transaction fees or rewards. There are some costs involved in running a node, though miniscule, including extra disk space and Internet bandwidth. These fees may be miniscule, but they can increase as bitcoin’s transaction history increases.
In addition to following the direct raw route and downloading the Bitcoin Core software with some complexity and limited features, there have been a large number of providers offering full node Bitcoin products that not only allow you to sync the entire transaction history of blocks , as well as a plethora of features such as multisig, Tor, easy-to-use UI, Lightning Network full nodes, the necessary hardware and more. The most notable providers are Casa Node, Nodl One, Lux Node, BitBoxBase, myNode, Umbrel and even the mobile solution HTC Exodus 1.
These different providers are the redundancy we need and which can also show small favorable nuances with regard to diversity in shape, speed and resilience in the event of network outages.
This is a guest post from Eric Choy. The views expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.