Hey there, soon-to-be blockchain experts. Today is the day that marks the birth of your full understanding of blockchain technology. Here, you’ll get the complicated blockchain explained in simple words.
As I’m sure you are aware, trying to understand how the blockchain works is like trying to understand the science behind the universe – it’s confusing! Which is exactly why you’re here.
In this blockchain tutorial, I will cover the blockchain basics, the advantages of its technology and how the blockchain will benefit the way the world operates in the future.
As this is a blockchain for dummies guide, let’s make one thing clear before we begin.
There are two big “b” words in the blockchain industry. The first (yes, you’ve guessed it) is “Blockchain”, and the second is “Bitcoin”. Newbies will often confuse themselves by believing that these are the same thing, which they are not.
However, they are very closely related. Bitcoin — put simply — is a digital currency. Blockchain, on the other hand, is the technology that is used by Bitcoin to allow secure, public and anonymous transactions to take place.
Just think of blockchain as an operating system (like Windows or Mac OS) and Bitcoin as an application that runs on that operating system. Simple! Let’s move on.
So, what is blockchain?
It’s one of the most puzzling questions we find ourselves trying to answer when first discovering cryptocurrencies.
Here’s the blockchain explained:
The main purpose of the blockchain is to allow fast, secure and transparent peer-to-peer transactions. It is a trusted, decentralized network that allows for the transfer of digital values such as currency and data.
Now, as we’re all newbies here. Here’s the blockchain explained for dummies:
- Imagine the blockchain as a digital database, just like an Excel spreadsheet.
- This database is typically shared across a large network containing many computers (known as “nodes”) and it is completely public. I say “typically” because it can technically be formed by any number of nodes. The more nodes, though, the more secure it is — that’s why it’s good to have a large number of nodes running the blockchain!
- Every time the network makes an update to the database, it is automatically updated and downloaded to every computer on the network.
- Blockchain technology is secured with cryptographic techniques, making it near impossible for hackers to make changes to it. The only way to make changes would be to hack more than half of the nodes in the blockchain, which again, is why it is more secure to have more nodes/computers running the blockchain.
That’s how blockchain works. So, now when someone asks you “what is blockchain?”, you have two strong answers to choose from. You can thank us later…
Table of Contents
How does blockchain work in the case of Bitcoin?
Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to use blockchain technology. It was invented by the person, or group of people, that go by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. (Strangely enough, nobody knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is.)
The sole purpose of Bitcoin is to act as a store of value. It allows for peer-to-peer transactions that do not need a third party, such as PayPal or a bank.
The Bitcoin blockchain is a database (known as a “ledger”) that consists only of Bitcoin transaction records. There is no central location that holds the database, instead it is shared across a huge network of computers. So, for new transactions to be added to the database, the nodes must agree that the transaction is real and valid.
This group agreement is also known as a “consensus”. It occurs during the process of mining.
Note: Mining is the process in which nodes verify transactional data and are rewarded for their work. It covers their running costs (electricity and maintenance etc.) and a small profit too for providing their services. It is a part of all blockchains, not just Bitcoin.
Once the nodes agree that the transaction is real, it is then added to a “block” (which is why it is called a blockchain) and is placed below the previous block of transactions in the ledger.
For a transaction to be valid, the computers on the network must confirm that:
(1) The account holds the amount of bitcoin that the user wants to send.
(2) The amount hasn’t already been sent to someone else.
For example, let’s imagine that Tom tries to send $10 of Bitcoin to Ben. Tom only has $5 worth of Bitcoin in his wallet. Because Tom doesn’t have the funds to send $10 to Ben, this transaction would not be valid. The transaction will not be added to the ledger.
This means that nobody can ever spend the same money twice! This can often be a big problem for standard banks and payment systems.
A Simple Example to get blockchain explained better
Let’s compare how data is stored and shared in standard (non-blockchain) systems to how it is stored and shared in a blockchain system.
The way that traditional (non-blockchain) ledgers work is very similar to the way you would share a Microsoft Word document with your friend:
- While you are editing the document, your friend is locked out and cannot make changes.
- Once you have finished making your changes, you send it to your friend to edit it further.
- Now while your friend is editing the document, you are locked out and cannot make changes until they are finished and send it back to you.
In a blockchain system, however, all users can view the changes while they are being made.
The data is accessible in a secure and shared environment, instead of being locked to one company or person at a time (at the risk of losing the data). For example, if it the data was stored on one computer and that computer was hacked or shut down, the newest version of the data would be lost.
With the blockchain, the data is stored on all the computers/nodes that run it. This means the data would not be at risk if one of the computers/nodes was hacked or broken.
As you can see, blockchain technology does not just benefit cryptocurrencies. It benefits many different industries. Imagine the amounts of legal, health, accounts and customer data etc. that should be used this way.
This is just one of many advantages of blockchain technology! Now, let’s look at some of the others.
Blockchain explained: Key Advantages
Decentralization is one of the core — and most important — advantages of blockchain technology. It has been a highly-desired concept for many years, but it was blockchain technology that made it possible.
Put simply, the blockchain requires no central server to store blockchain data, which means it is not centralized. This is what makes the blockchain so powerful. Instead of the server being stored in one place, it is stored on the blockchain and is powered by many different computers/nodes. This means there is no third party to trust and pay a fee to.
Once a transaction is confirmed, it is stored on the ledger and protected using cryptography. It cannot be changed or deleted without a consensus (the group agreement), which makes the blockchain unbreakable. Pretty cool, eh?
Trust and transparency
Trust is not an issue in the blockchain world. As it is a shared database, everyone can view the full details of the transactions within it. These include the original source, date, time and the destination of the transaction.
As the blockchain is a trusted peer-to-peer network, it removes the need for a central third party. This is one of the major benefits for businesses as it completely removes the costs that are required to pay third parties.
Let’s use a real-world example:
Imagine that you want to send a payment to someone in another country. Without the help of blockchain technology, you would normally need to pay expensive fees (to the banks) and the transaction may take 3-10 days to be processed.
Using blockchain, this can be done almost instantly and at a much cheaper cost.
Yes, we know — it’s impressive, isn’t it?
Blockchain is a decentralized peer-to-peer network and there is no central point of failure. Even if a computer breaks or leaves the network, there are other computers that will keep the network running. That’s why this is a huge, huge advantage.
Just imagine a hospital server: it contains important data that needs to be accessed at all times. If the computer holding the latest version of the data was to break, the data would not be accessible. It would be very bad if this happened during an emergency!
If the hospital used a blockchain, however, it wouldn’t matter if a computer broke. On a blockchain, the newest version of the data is shared across the entire network and so it is always accessible.
Simplifying Business to Business
Most businesses use different systems, so it is hard for them to share a database with another business. That’s why, it can make it very difficult for them. So, the answer is blockchain technology!
As a blockchain can act as a single shared database for both businesses to work from, sharing data is much easier for them on a blockchain system.
Blockchain explained: Blockchain in real-world industries
In order to help you understand some of the other advantages that blockchain offers to businesses, here are some examples of industries that are currently using blockchain technology. This will surely get blockchain explained:
Cybersecurity threats are a huge problem in the identity management industry. In the current world, our identity is controlled by large companies. Whether that be Netflix, Facebook, Instagram or even the companies we work for.
People are always under the threat of having our identities stolen by cyber thieves — also known as hackers.
All these companies use centralized servers. For example, Netflix is the central point of the Netflix server — if Netflix is hacked, all the data they hold for their customers is at risk.
It was only recently that Equifax’s data was hacked. Equifax is one of the largest credit reporting agencies that hold personal information of over 800 million customers. This caused the data of over 145 million users to be stolen.
So, how can personal data hacking be stopped using the blockchain?
Well, your data is currently held in a centralized database (just like at Equifax). A centralized database is much easier to hack into because it uses one main server. In this case, all the hacker must do to steal the data, is hack the main server. In a blockchain, there is no main server — there is no central point for a hacker to attack!
Banking and Payments
“Blockchain will do to banking what the internet did to the media”, a rather bold statement, right?
This is how important blockchain technology is for the financial industry. By using the blockchain, financial services can now be provided to those that currently do not have them. That’s over 2 billion people!
Let’s use Bitcoin again as an example — thanks to the Bitcoin blockchain, anyone in the world who has access to the internet can now send digital payments. It’s the future!
As well as helping those that do not have financial services, blockchain is also helping the banks themselves. Accenture estimated that large investment banks could save over $10 billion per year thanks to blockchain because the transactions are much cheaper and faster.
In the past, people had only one option to receive energy — through a centralized source.
However, we are now able to gather renewable energy from our own devices, or from new grid systems called “microgrids”. Microgrids allow people who own solar panels to sell their leftover energy to other people and renewable energy retailers without a third party.
Note: Renewable energy is energy that is collected naturally. Think sun, wind, water etc.
Before blockchain technology, people could only sell their leftover energy to retailers (the third party). The prices they sold the energy at to retailers were very low because the retailers would then sell the energy back to other people and make a large profit.
As blockchain technology removes the third party, people can agree on a price that is fair for them both — cutting out the cost that was previously taken by the retailers.
Blockchain will change the way that many more industries currently operate
The examples above are only a small part of what is possible using the blockchain. Blockchain is being applied to many more industries than the ones listed above.
Here are some of the other industries that are currently using blockchain to improve the way they operate:
- Education (like BitDegree!)
- Marketing & advertising
- Supply-chain management
- Government systems
- Music & video sharing
With so many advantages to using blockchain, the possibilities really are endless! Blockchain gives us all something to look forward to.
Blockchain explained: Conclusion
Let’s think about what we’ve learned in this blockchain explained guide and highlight some of the most important features of the blockchain to remember:
What is blockchain?
- A peer-to-peer network that removes the need for trusting third parties
- Transactions are processed quicker and cheaper than standard (non-blockchain) systems
- It is a public database and all transactions are visible on the network, preventing cyber attacks
- The database cannot be changed without more than half of the network agreeing, making it much more secure
- It is not controlled by one single company and it has no single point of failure
- Blockchain can be used in many different industries — not just digital currencies
How does blockchain work?
- It works as a large database that is shared across a network of nodes (computers)
- The nodes on the network work together to verify transactions and are rewarded with the blockchain’s currency — a process known as mining
- Once a transaction is verified by the network, the transaction is placed in a block
- New transaction blocks are placed — in order — below the previous block of transactions
- All transactions are stored in a distributed database (ledger)
- It is extremely difficult for a hacker to change the transactions because they need control of more than half of the computers on the network
How will this benefit large industries?
- It removes the cost of third parties
- Payments and data are processed much quicker
- Database management between businesses is much easier
- Data protection/security is improved on a large scale
Final words to getting blockchain explained
It is clear that blockchain technology will change and improve the way businesses operate, but that’s not all it will change. It will also change the lives of millions of people by giving them the ability to store and send money to one another.
Thanks to blockchain, the world can become a better place.
So, there you have it — blockchain explained for beginners. It can be a lot to take in, but I hope that your understanding is much better now than it was before you started reading.
Here’s a little test to help you remember what you’ve learned:
Try to think about how the blockchain could be used to better the industry that you work in, have worked in or are interested in.
Go ahead; try it. Now that you’ve got yourself the blockchain explained, should be pretty easy! There is so much that can benefit from the blockchain!