The Bitcoin Network

One of the core components of the Bitcoin system is the peer-to-peer network that it runs on. While peer-to-peer, or P2P, networks existed before Bitcoin, understanding what is happening on the Bitcoin P2P network is fundamental to understanding Bitcoin. 

To grasp what is happening on the Bitcoin network, read this chapter that discusses what the computers, or nodes, on the Bitcoin network are doing. It covers node functions such as running a wallet, mining, maintaining a copy of the blockchain, and routing. We'll get more in-depth on wallets and mining in later sections. Here you'll want to focus on the last two functions mentioned, maintaining a record of all transactions made on the network by keeping copies of all blocks in the blockchain and validating and propagating transaction data.

Peer-to-Peer Network Architecture

Bitcoin is structured as a peer-to-peer network architecture on top of the internet. The term peer-to-peer, or P2P, means that the computers that participate in the network are peers to each other, that they are all equal, that there are no "special" nodes, and that all nodes share the burden of providing network services. The network nodes interconnect in a mesh network with a "flat" topology. There is no server, no centralized service, and no hierarchy within the network. Nodes in a P2P network both provide and consume services at the same time with reciprocity acting as the incentive for participation. P2P networks are inherently resilient, decentralized, and open. A preeminent example of a P2P network architecture was the early internet itself, where nodes on the IP network were equal. Today's internet architecture is more hierarchical, but the Internet Protocol still retains its flat-topology essence. Beyond bitcoin, the largest and most successful application of P2P technologies is file sharing, with Napster as the pioneer and BitTorrent as the most recent evolution of the architecture.

Bitcoin's P2P network architecture is much more than a topology choice. Bitcoin is a P2P digital cash system by design, and the network architecture is both a reflection and a foundation of that core characteristic. Decentralization of control is a core design principle that can only be achieved and maintained by a flat, decentralized P2P consensus network.

The term "bitcoin network" refers to the collection of nodes running the bitcoin P2P protocol. In addition to the bitcoin P2P protocol, there are other protocols such as Stratum that are used for mining and lightweight or mobile wallets. These additional protocols are provided by gateway routing servers that access the bitcoin network using the bitcoin P2P protocol and then extend that network to nodes running other protocols. For example, Stratum servers connect Stratum mining nodes via the Stratum protocol to the main bitcoin network and bridge the Stratum protocol to the bitcoin P2P protocol. We use the term "extended bitcoin network" to refer to the overall network that includes the bitcoin P2P protocol, pool-mining protocols, the Stratum protocol, and any other related protocols connecting the components of the bitcoin system.

Source: Andreas M. Antonopoulos LLC,
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