Blockchain technology was invented for the virtual currency Bitcoin. But actually, their possibilities extend far beyond this application. Hardly any newer technology is currently experiencing greater hype. Aside from revolutionizing personal finance by making budgeting from traditional money to digital money, it could become an important tool for industry, banks, and insurance companies and radically change some sectors. Why is this so, and how does it actually work? Here are the answers to the most important questions.
What is a blockchain now?
In principle, one can imagine the “chain of blocks” as a digital database in which all transactions are meticulously and forgery-proof documented. In the case of the digital currency Bitcoin, it would not be a database, but a cash book. With one important difference: Unlike in the past, the information is no longer stored on a central system, but on many computers at the same time.
Technically, the blockchain is a decentralized database. Anyone can download them from the Internet, everyone can view the entire transaction history, i.e. read the complete cash book. The advantage: The blockchain updates itself automatically. All computers are connected to each other and always download the latest version of the database. Rewriting entries afterward is practically impossible. This would require an almost infinitely large computing power, which, however, no blockchain participant has.
Where does the name come from?
The transactions are always combined into blocks. These, in turn, are virtually linked to each other. A block can contain data from many transactions, such as account information, sums to be transferred, or contracts. From this, an algorithm then calculates a number, called hash in jargon.
From this hash, a kind of fingerprint of the data, you cannot reconstruct the original data, but it is easy to determine when a new transaction changes the original database. Since the hash value of the predecessor block is always included in the data of the next block, this results in a chain, i.e. a blockchain. If a certain amount of data is reached, the block is completed.
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What makes the blockchain so secure?
Recalculating all hash values from a block would be quite time-consuming, but not impossible. That’s why the inventors of the blockchain have built-in yet another hurdle. If you want to calculate a new block, you have to fulfill a task. In jargon, it is called proof of work.
The task is that the hash value formed from data from the block must meet a condition. It could be that the first five digits of the hash value must be 0. However, since the algorithm used to form the hash value from the data of a block is immutable, a value must be added to the data of the block.
This value, in combination with the data of the block, must result in the hash value with the required condition. Finding the value that needs to be added is extremely time-consuming and can only be done in a reasonable time with special computers. This process is called mining, in German: mining. The miners receive remuneration for their work, usually in the form of virtual coins. Whenever a miner has found the right number, a block is completed.
What are cryptocurrencies?
The name of the new money is derived from the word cryptography. This refers to a branch of computer science that deals with encryption techniques. These take over the job that central banks actually do: they control the money supply. In the case of Bitcoin, for example, it is precisely stipulated that there must be no more than 21 million coins.
Blockchain technology, in turn, is essential for the spread of cyber money. It records who owns which digital coins. This is the only way to prevent digital money from being spent twice. On the other hand, the supply of cryptocurrencies is almost unlimited. There are already more than 1400 different digital currencies worldwide. And as long as the hype is running, there are likely to be even more.