What are Miners?
Cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies differ in the way that new coins/cash are generated and issued in their respective ecosystems. Fiat currencies are printed by government-sponsored mints in response to a state authority’s direct orders, while cryptocurrencies are issued by a blockchain network according to a set of predetermined algorithms. Blockchain networks that create tokens based on Proof of Work schemes require mining, a complicated process. In brief, participants use hardware to run algorithms on specific software to verify transactions on the blockchain, add those transactions to the public ledger and in exchange receive the reward of a newly-created coin. We will break the mining process down step by step below.
Cryptocurrency Mining Step by Step
- When a transaction is made over a blockchain (for instance, when one user sends a few coins to another user’s address), the transaction information must be recorded and is thus put on a block.
- This block needs security and encryption, and is up for grabs by all of the contributing miners on the network.
- To encrypt this block, miners must solve a cryptographic puzzle through a guess-and-check method in order to find the proper cryptographic hash for the block. Miners typically need large rigs of reliable, application-specific hardware to actually have a decent chance at being the first to verify and secure the block.
- Once a miner secures the block, the block is then added to the blockchain and must be verified by other nodes (computers) on the network in a process known as consensus.
- If a miner successfully verifies and secures the block, the miner is rewarded with a newly-created coin. This process of reward for work is called Proof of Work.
Cryptocurrency Mining and Profitability Concerns
Mining is called mining because it is a process in which volunteers contribute a great deal of effort in the hopes of receiving ‘a gold coin.’ It makes sense that most miners who wish to contribute to blockchains are in the game for a profit. The biggest concern for miners has always been the ever-increasing difficulty of the computational puzzles involved in securing the blocks. That’s right; as more puzzles are solved, the difficulty of the next puzzle increases greatly, sometimes even exponentially.
To make mining profitable, organizations have invested a great deal into research and development of more advanced solution algorithms and more efficient pieces of hardware. Some organizations have gone so far as to move their mining rigs to rural dams and countries where electric power supply is less expensive. In terms of hardware, some organizations with significant capital have made investments in ASICs, or Application Specific Integrated Circuits. This class of hardware is designed to complete very specific tasks, namely mining. In the early days of Bitcoin mining, miners could make profits off of just using a home computer central processing unit, or CPU. The issue with CPUs is that they are designed to juggle multiple computational tasks simultaneously, like running multiple programs on your computer screen at once. Unfortunately for the hobbyists, using conventional CPU’s is simply not profitable in most blockchains anymore.
It’s important to note that most coins on most successful blockchains that use Proof of Work schemes will become profitable for mining only if individuals are willing to make large investments in hardware rigs, electric power supplies, or some combination of the two. Corporations are already aware of this fact, entering the mining arena with full force in order to take large cuts of the mining profits. Likewise, smaller organizations and individuals are currently struggling to compete in the space. The big issue here is the increasing centralization of mining; if the process for coin creation becomes controlled entirely by a handful of centralized powers, then how will the blockchain continue to bring decentralized solutions to users?
Addressing Cryptocurrency Mining Concerns
In response to these concerns with mining centralization, newer blockchains and altcoins have been adopting more complex mining algorithms and proof schemes to limit the influences of ASICs and large corporations. Some investors in blockchain technology who saw great success in the early days of mining have created mining funds to support small-scale, international miners. This is an effort to decentralize the mining process for blockchains that require Proof of Work. And while Proof of Work schemes favor the biggest hardware rigs, new schemes like Proof of Stake and Proof of Burn have made an appearance. Newer schemes reward miners based on a different set of factors.
Another big concern that has been well-addressed by the Ethereum 2.0 switch to Proof Of Stake and other gas-powered blockchain systems is wasted mining efforts / mining inefficiency. For example, if many miners attempt a block at once and only one miner gets the block, or if the miners attempt an unsolvable, infinitely complex puzzle, miners are forced to waste an abundant amount of computational power. The solution? Gas powered blockchain systems require developers to attach gas to a transaction, and that gas will supply the transaction’s computational power until either the transaction is completely validated or until the gas runs out. This creates a safer way for miners to contribute their efforts towards solving new blocks. Without the risk of wasting unnecessary computational energy, miners are guaranteed a quicker and more efficient maintenance of the blockchain.
Blockchain mining has become one of the most interesting and controversial topics in the blockchain community. However, mining is just one component of blockchain analysis, through the Ethos platform and Cryptopedia we seek to provide those interested in blockchain additional metrics and information. Ultimately, the state of mining has a great effect on each coin’s decentralized state, value and reliability. It is critically important to the team at Ethos to understand how fair and accessible mining is in different blockchain networks. We therefore document and analyze major players in the industry while taking into account these components. And as always, we at Ethos encourage our readers to educate themselves (using our supplemental resources or not) on how crypto really works, both at the surface level and behind the scenes. We want our readers and users to make responsible, well-educated decisions as we step forward into the new economy.