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Lightning: Bitcoin Scaling Technology You Should Really Know

"What bitcoin can I buy, like, a pizza with?"

Asked by sports blogger Dave Portnoy in his inaugural video as a bitcoin investor, the comment goes to the heart of a truism on the network: while it's billed as " digital currency ", it is not really useful for payments today. In short, it is very unlikely that you would come across a bodega that accepts it (if you even want to spend it).

But that does not mean that the engineers are not working to solve the problem.

That's why one of the technologies currently being developed for bitcoin is the Lightning Network.

Rather than update the underlying Bitcoin software (which turned out to be a complicated process), Lightning essentially adds an extra layer to the technology, where transactions can be made faster and less expensive, but with the same security support of the blockchain.

Proposed in 2015, Lightning has progressively progressed over the years, from white paper to the prototype, through a more advanced prototype.

This is the most recent test, however, that has some future in the not-so-distant future where users can finally process via Lightning, testing hypotheses and long-term critiques dated.

As Jack Mallers, developer of the Lightning Zapp desktop app, put it:

"It's close enough to work to the point where the public can test with real money, but not necessarily to the point where people can quite run a business."

First step, technology

What are the remaining steps before Lightning can be used? Lightning engineers have ideas.

Although Lightning took a big step earlier this week, engineers still have to release software that real users can make real Lightning deals with. So the first and most obvious step is to let Lightning out of the cage and watch and see if users have any problems during this initial step.

"In the near future, most of the problems will involve putting Lightning into practice," said Conrad Burchert, a researcher at ETH Zurich of the Swiss University, at CoinDesk.

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And, once Lightning is operational, engineers anticipate other subtle technical challenges, such as setting up a "network structure," Burchert said. Bad actors might be able to stop transactions, for example, or users might want more control over the evolution of their transactions.

"Whenever you create a new financial protocol, you want to make sure it's as secure as possible, so we're working on various security-related efforts," said Elizabeth Stark, co-founder and CEO of Lightning Labs, one of a handful of startups dedicated solely to technology.

Mallers agreed that these technical hurdles must be resolved before Lightning can reach mainstream.

"All of this will have to be sorted out before I advise a business to start relying on the Lightning Network for business or money that they can not afford to lose," he said. Mallers, adding:

"The only thing that could speed it up is more engineers."

Stark agrees, adding that despite the promise of technology, there are surprisingly few developers working on it right now.

"We need more hours in the day … There are 10 full-time or less developers working on all Lightning implementations." Getting more contributors and the people building the protocol would certainly help to get things moving. "CoinDesk.

Hide the wires

Another part of the puzzle makes Lightning applications easy to use.

It is promising that applications that support Lightning as a payment method are already popping up, but up to now, they are rather confusing to use. Many sons are still visible.

Zap, a Lightning desktop application, asks users to configure their node and connect their IP address, for example, away from the current currency applications that hide these technical details from users.

"These things will definitely be hidden someday," said Mallers, considering Zap one day getting closer to Venmo, an app to send small amounts of money to friends. "Finally, the peers on the network will look like contacts on your phone."

Maller argues that this is already happening.

LND, the most popular Lightning implementation among app developers, has recently added a feature that automates the creation of a channel between the sender and the recipient when users file from money, so users do not have to understand, "he said.

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That does not mean that he thinks it will happen right away, though.

"Baby steps," he continued. "Right now, the Lightning network still favors technical users: slowly but surely we will ignore it, so it's about paying and receiving money."

"As far as Lightning Network changes the world – where I can hold up my phone and pay for things and things will appear – I would say it will take a year or two," said Mallers.

Problem of chicken and egg

Then there is the question: Will users really want to use Bitcoin? Even with faster and cheaper Lightning transactions in place?

The Bitcoin developer, Alphonse Pace, thinks that it might be difficult for Lightning to obtain a "network effect", where users are encouraged to use technology because of others people use it.

And who will adopt it first?

"It's a chicken and egg problem," said Pace. "Portfolios will want people to want to use it to support it, and people will want portfolios to support the use of it."

Alex Bosworth, developer of Lightning applications and Yalls alluded to a similar problem.

"There is a problem of priming: we have to have applications to encourage portfolios and portfolios to encourage applications," Bosworth said.

And even if bitcoin transactions become faster and cheaper (because of Lightning) than familiar payment applications like Apple Pay, he thinks users will be cautious at first.

"If you ask a normal person what she wants to pay, she will probably go with Apple Pay because that's what they're used to," he said.

In a conversation, Lightning developers are waiting to overcome these obstacles. But, again, they think it will take time.

Great Expectations

While it may take time to resolve these issues, the developers were mostly optimistic that Lightning would help realize the dream of making bitcoin a usable payment system. Rome was not built in a day, after all. And computers and the Internet no longer, which took decades to reach normal people.

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Mallers argued that Lightning "will really change the way we send money to day-to-day." But he thinks the community may have unrealistic expectations about how long it will take engineers to get there.

"[To these engineers,] I hope you would go" oh take your time, would you like some water? "But the community seems to be" Why n & # 39; Is not it here tomorrow? "I think users have overestimated Lightning's deadlines," he said.

Bosworth offered a similar optimism: "[The Lightning Network] might be as if the WWW was emailed, it might take a while to grow, but the bigger it gets, the better it will be."

He added that his father, Adam Bosworth, led the technical team behind one of the first web browsers in 1995, while the Internet was finally making its way between the research labs and the normal people.

Bosworth said:

"I remember that this period was very exciting because of all the opportunities that were going to fall in the web browsers, which reminds me a lot of things."

Inert gas image via Shutterstock

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