Bitcoin uses some unique encoding methods, specifically Base58 and Base58Check encoding. This is done largely to prevent errors in transactions. The way that Bitcoin generates addresses, and the formats that they are displayed in, has been given a lot of thought to prevent confusion and errors. This section covers, base58, key formats, various types of Bitcoin addresses, and more.

Base58 and Base58Check Encoding

In order to represent long numbers in a compact way, using fewer symbols, many computer systems use mixed-alphanumeric representations with a base (or radix) higher than 10. For example, whereas the traditional decimal system uses the 10 numerals 0 through 9, the hexadecimal system uses 16, with the letters A through F as the six additional symbols. A number represented in hexadecimal format is shorter than the equivalent decimal representation. Even more compact, Base64 representation uses 26 lowercase letters, 26 capital letters, 10 numerals, and 2 more characters such as "``” and "/" to transmit binary data over text-based media such as email. Base64 is most commonly used to add binary attachments to email. Base58 is a text-based binary-encoding format developed for use in bitcoin and used in many other cryptocurrencies. It offers a balance between compact representation, readability, and error detection and prevention. Base58 is a subset of Base64, using upper- and lowercase letters and numbers, but omitting some characters that are frequently mistaken for one another and can appear identical when displayed in certain fonts. Specifically, Base58 is Base64 without the 0 (number zero), O (capital o), l (lower L), I (capital i), and the symbols “``" and "/". Or, more simply, it is a set of lowercase and capital letters and numbers without the four (0, O, l, I) just mentioned. Bitcoin's Base58 alphabet shows the full Base58 alphabet.

Example 2. Bitcoin's Base58 alphabet



To add extra security against typos or transcription errors, Base58Check is a Base58 encoding format, frequently used in bitcoin, which has a built-in error-checking code. The checksum is an additional four bytes added to the end of the data that is being encoded. The checksum is derived from the hash of the encoded data and can therefore be used to detect and prevent transcription and typing errors. When presented with Base58Check code, the decoding software will calculate the checksum of the data and compare it to the checksum included in the code. If the two do not match, an error has been introduced and the Base58Check data is invalid. This prevents a mistyped bitcoin address from being accepted by the wallet software as a valid destination, an error that would otherwise result in loss of funds.

To convert data (a number) into a Base58Check format, we first add a prefix to the data, called the "version byte," which serves to easily identify the type of data that is encoded. For example, in the case of a bitcoin address the prefix is zero (0x00 in hex), whereas the prefix used when encoding a private key is 128 (0x80 in hex). A list of common version prefixes is shown in Base58Check version prefix and encoded result examples.

Next, we compute the "double-SHA" checksum, meaning we apply the SHA256 hash-algorithm twice on the previous result (prefix and data):

checksum = SHA256(SHA256(prefix+data))


From the resulting 32-byte hash (hash-of-a-hash), we take only the first four bytes. These four bytes serve as the error-checking code, or checksum. The checksum is concatenated (appended) to the end.

The result is composed of three items: a prefix, the data, and a checksum. This result is encoded using the Base58 alphabet described previously. Base58Check encoding: a Base58, versioned, and checksummed format for unambiguously encoding bitcoin data illustrates the Base58Check encoding process.

Figure 6. Base58Check encoding: a Base58, versioned, and checksummed format for unambiguously encoding bitcoin data

In bitcoin, most of the data presented to the user is Base58Check-encoded to make it compact, easy to read, and easy to detect errors. The version prefix in Base58Check encoding is used to create easily distinguishable formats, which when encoded in Base58 contain specific characters at the beginning of the Base58Check-encoded payload. These characters make it easy for humans to identify the type of data that is encoded and how to use it. This is what differentiates, for example, a Base58Check-encoded bitcoin address that starts with a 1 from a Base58Check-encoded private key WIF that starts with a 5. Some example version prefixes and the resulting Base58 characters are shown in Base58Check version prefix and encoded result examples.

Table 1. Base58Check version prefix and encoded result examples

Type Version prefix (hex) Base58 result prefix

Bitcoin Address



Pay-to-Script-Hash Address



Bitcoin Testnet Address


m or n

Private Key WIF


5, K, or L

BIP-38 Encrypted Private Key



BIP-32 Extended Public Key




Key Formats

Both private and public keys can be represented in a number of different formats. These representations all encode the same number, even though they look different. These formats are primarily used to make it easy for people to read and transcribe keys without introducing errors.


Private key formats

The private key can be represented in a number of different formats, all of which correspond to the same 256-bit number. Private key representations (encoding formats) shows three common formats used to represent private keys. Different formats are used in different circumstances. Hexadecimal and raw binary formats are used internally in software and rarely shown to users. The WIF is used for import/export of keys between wallets and often used in QR code (barcode) representations of private keys.

Table 2. Private key representations (encoding formats)

Type Prefix Description



32 bytes



64 hexadecimal digits



Base58Check encoding: Base58 with version prefix of 0x80 and 4-byte checksum


K or L

As above, with added suffix 0x01 before encoding

Example: Same key, different formats shows the private key generated in these three formats.

Table 3. Example: Same key, different formats

Format Private key







All of these representations are different ways of showing the same number, the same private key. They look different, but any one format can easily be converted to any other format. Note that the "raw binary" is not shown in Example: Same key, different formats as any encoding for display here would, by definition, not be raw binary data.

We use the wif-to-ec command from Bitcoin Explorer to show that both WIF keys represent the same private key:

$ bx wif-to-ec 5J3mBbAH58CpQ3Y5RNJpUKPE62SQ5tfcvU2JpbnkeyhfsYB1Jcn

$ bx wif-to-ec KxFC1jmwwCoACiCAWZ3eXa96mBM6tb3TYzGmf6YwgdGWZgawvrtJ


Decode from Base58Check

The Bitcoin Explorer commands make it easy to write shell scripts and command-line "pipes" that manipulate bitcoin keys, addresses, and transactions. You can use Bitcoin Explorer to decode the Base58Check format on the command line.

We use the base58check-decode command to decode the uncompressed key:

$ bx base58check-decode 5J3mBbAH58CpQ3Y5RNJpUKPE62SQ5tfcvU2JpbnkeyhfsYB1Jcn
    checksum 4286807748
    payload 1e99423a4ed27608a15a2616a2b0e9e52ced330ac530edcc32c8ffc6a526aedd
    version 128


The result contains the key as payload, the WIF version prefix 128, and a checksum.

Notice that the "payload" of the compressed key is appended with the suffix 01, signalling that the derived public key is to be compressed:

$ bx base58check-decode KxFC1jmwwCoACiCAWZ3eXa96mBM6tb3TYzGmf6YwgdGWZgawvrtJ
    checksum 2339607926
    payload 1e99423a4ed27608a15a2616a2b0e9e52ced330ac530edcc32c8ffc6a526aedd01
    version 128


Encode from hex to Base58Check

To encode into Base58Check (the opposite of the previous command), we use the base58check-encode command from Bitcoin Explorer and provide the hex private key, followed by the WIF version prefix 128:

bx base58check-encode 1e99423a4ed27608a15a2616a2b0e9e52ced330ac530edcc32c8ffc6a526aedd --version 128


Encode from hex (compressed key) to Base58Check

To encode into Base58Check as a "compressed" private key (see Compressed private keys), we append the suffix 01 to the hex key and then encode as in the preceding section:

$ bx base58check-encode 1e99423a4ed27608a15a2616a2b0e9e52ced330ac530edcc32c8ffc6a526aedd01 --version 128


The resulting WIF-compressed format starts with a "K". This denotes that the private key within has a suffix of "01" and will be used to produce compressed public keys only (see Compressed public keys).


Public key formats

Public keys are also presented in different ways, usually as either compressed or uncompressed public keys.

As we saw previously, the public key is a point on the elliptic curve consisting of a pair of coordinates (x,y). It is usually presented with the prefix 04 followed by two 256-bit numbers: one for the x coordinate of the point, the other for the y coordinate. The prefix 04 is used to distinguish uncompressed public keys from compressed public keys that begin with a 02 or a 03.

Here's the public key generated by the private key we created earlier, shown as the coordinates x and y:

x = F028892BAD7ED57D2FB57BF33081D5CFCF6F9ED3D3D7F159C2E2FFF579DC341A
y = 07CF33DA18BD734C600B96A72BBC4749D5141C90EC8AC328AE52DDFE2E505BDB


Here's the same public key shown as a 520-bit number (130 hex digits) with the prefix 04 followed by x and then y coordinates, as 04 x y:

K = 04F028892BAD7ED57D2FB57BF33081D5CFCF6F9ED3D3D7F159C2E2FFF579DC341A


Compressed public keys

Compressed public keys were introduced to bitcoin to reduce the size of transactions and conserve disk space on nodes that store the bitcoin blockchain database. Most transactions include the public key, which is required to validate the owner's credentials and spend the bitcoin. Each public key requires 520 bits (prefix + x + y), which when multiplied by several hundred transactions per block, or tens of thousands of transactions per day, adds a significant amount of data to the blockchain.

As we saw in the section Public Keys, a public key is a point (x,y) on an elliptic curve. Because the curve expresses a mathematical function, a point on the curve represents a solution to the equation and, therefore, if we know the x coordinate we can calculate the y coordinate by solving the equation y2 mod p = (x3 + 7) mod p. That allows us to store only the x coordinate of the public key point, omitting the y coordinate and reducing the size of the key and the space required to store it by 256 bits. An almost 50% reduction in size in every transaction adds up to a lot of data saved over time!

Whereas uncompressed public keys have a prefix of 04, compressed public keys start with either a 02 or a 03 prefix. Let's look at why there are two possible prefixes: because the left side of the equation is y2, the solution for  y is a square root, which can have a positive or negative value. Visually, this means that the resulting y coordinate can be above or below the x-axis. As you can see from the graph of the elliptic curve in An elliptic curve, the curve is symmetric, meaning it is reflected like a mirror by the x-axis. So, while we can omit the y coordinate we have to store the sign of y (positive or negative); or in other words, we have to remember if it was above or below the x-axis because each of those options represents a different point and a different public key. When calculating the elliptic curve in binary arithmetic on the finite field of prime order p, the y coordinate is either even or odd, which corresponds to the positive/negative sign as explained earlier. Therefore, to distinguish between the two possible values of y, we store a compressed public key with the prefix 02 if the y is even, and 03 if it is odd, allowing the software to correctly deduce the y coordinate from the x coordinate and uncompress the public key to the full coordinates of the point. Public key compression is illustrated in Public key compression.

Here's the same public key generated previously, shown as a compressed public key stored in 264 bits (66 hex digits) with the prefix 03 indicating the y coordinate is odd:

K = 03F028892BAD7ED57D2FB57BF33081D5CFCF6F9ED3D3D7F159C2E2FFF579DC341A


This compressed public key corresponds to the same private key, meaning it is generated from the same private key. However, it looks different from the uncompressed public key. More importantly, if we convert this compressed public key to a bitcoin address using the double-hash function (RIPEMD160(SHA256(K))) it will produce a different bitcoin address. This can be confusing, because it means that a single private key can produce a public key expressed in two different formats (compressed and uncompressed) that produce two different bitcoin addresses. However, the private key is identical for both bitcoin addresses.

Figure 7. Public key compression

Compressed public keys are gradually becoming the default across bitcoin clients, which is having a significant impact on reducing the size of transactions and therefore the blockchain. However, not all clients support compressed public keys yet. Newer clients that support compressed public keys have to account for transactions from older clients that do not support compressed public keys. This is especially important when a wallet application is importing private keys from another bitcoin wallet application, because the new wallet needs to scan the blockchain to find transactions corresponding to these imported keys. Which bitcoin addresses should the bitcoin wallet scan for? The bitcoin addresses produced by uncompressed public keys, or the bitcoin addresses produced by compressed public keys? Both are valid bitcoin addresses, and can be signed for by the private key, but they are different addresses!

To resolve this issue, when private keys are exported from a wallet, the WIF that is used to represent them is implemented differently in newer bitcoin wallets, to indicate that these private keys have been used to produce compressed public keys and therefore compressed bitcoin addresses. This allows the importing wallet to distinguish between private keys originating from older or newer wallets and search the blockchain for transactions with bitcoin addresses corresponding to the uncompressed, or the compressed, public keys, respectively. Let's look at how this works in more detail, in the next section.


Compressed private keys

Ironically, the term "compressed private key" is a misnomer, because when a private key is exported as WIF-compressed it is actually one byte longer than an "uncompressed" private key. That is because the private key has an added one-byte suffix (shown as 01 in hex in Example: Same key, different formats), which signifies that the private key is from a newer wallet and should only be used to produce compressed public keys. Private keys are not themselves compressed and cannot be compressed. The term "compressed private key" really means "private key from which only compressed public keys should be derived," whereas "uncompressed private key" really means "private key from which only uncompressed public keys should be derived". You should only refer to the export format as "WIF-compressed" or "WIF" and not refer to the private key itself as "compressed" to avoid further confusion.

Example: Same key, different formats shows the same key, encoded in WIF and WIF-compressed formats.

Table 4. Example: Same key, different formats

Format Private key










Notice that the hex-compressed private key format has one extra byte at the end (01 in hex). While the Base58Check version prefix is the same (0x80) for both WIF and WIF-compressed formats, the addition of one byte on the end of the number causes the first character of the Base58 encoding to change from a 5 to either a K or L. Think of this as the Base58 equivalent of the decimal encoding difference between the number 100 and the number 99. While 100 is one digit longer than 99, it also has a prefix of 1 instead of a prefix of 9. As the length changes, it affects the prefix. In Base58, the prefix 5 changes to a K or L as the length of the number increases by one byte.

Remember, these formats are not used interchangeably. In a newer wallet that implements compressed public keys, the private keys will only ever be exported as WIF-compressed (with a K or L prefix). If the wallet is an older implementation and does not use compressed public keys, the private keys will only ever be exported as WIF (with a 5 prefix). The goal here is to signal to the wallet importing these private keys whether it must search the blockchain for compressed or uncompressed public keys and addresses.

If a bitcoin wallet is able to implement compressed public keys, it will use those in all transactions. The private keys in the wallet will be used to derive the public key points on the curve, which will be compressed. The compressed public keys will be used to produce bitcoin addresses and those will be used in transactions. When exporting private keys from a new wallet that implements compressed public keys, the WIF is modified, with the addition of a one-byte suffix 01 to the private key. The resulting Base58Check-encoded private key is called a "compressed WIF" and starts with the letter K or L, instead of starting with "5" as is the case with WIF-encoded (noncompressed) keys from older wallets.

Tip: "Compressed private keys" is a misnomer! They are not compressed; rather, WIF-compressed signifies that the keys should only be used to derive compressed public keys and their corresponding bitcoin addresses. Ironically, a "WIF-compressed" encoded private key is one byte longer because it has the added 01 suffix to distinguish it from an "uncompressed" one. 


Implementing Keys and Addresses in C++

Let's look at the complete process of creating a bitcoin address, from a private key, to a public key (a point on the elliptic curve), to a double-hashed address, and finally, the Base58Check encoding. The C++ code in Creating a Base58Check-encoded bitcoin address from a private key shows the complete step-by-step process, from private key to Base58Check-encoded bitcoin address. The code example uses the libbitcoin library introduced in [alt_libraries] for some helper functions.

Example 3. Creating a Base58Check-encoded bitcoin address from a private key.



The code uses a predefined private key to produce the same bitcoin address every time it is run, as shown in Compiling and running the addr code.

Example 4. Compiling and running the addr code

# Compile the addr.cpp code
$ g++ -o addr addr.cpp -std=c++11 $(pkg-config --cflags --libs libbitcoin)
# Run the addr executable
$ ./addr
Public key: 0202a406624211f2abbdc68da3df929f938c3399dd79fac1b51b0e4ad1d26a47aa
Address: 1PRTTaJesdNovgne6Ehcdu1fpEdX7913CK

Tip: The code in Compiling and running the addr code produces a bitcoin address (1PRTT...) from a compressed public key (see Compressed public keys). If you used the uncompressed public key instead, it would produce a different bitcoin address (14K1y...). 


Implementing Keys and Addresses in Python

The most comprehensive bitcoin library in Python is pybitcointools by Vitalik Buterin. In Key and address generation and formatting with the pybitcointools library, we use the pybitcointools library (imported as "bitcoin") to generate and display keys and addresses in various formats.

Example 5. Key and address generation and formatting with the pybitcointools library



Running shows the output from running this code.

Example 6. Running


$ python
Private Key (hex) is:
Private Key (decimal) is:
Private Key (WIF) is:
Private Key Compressed (hex) is:
Private Key (WIF-Compressed) is:
Public Key (x,y) coordinates is:
Public Key (hex) is:
Compressed Public Key (hex) is:
Bitcoin Address (b58check) is:
Compressed Bitcoin Address (b58check) is:


A script demonstrating elliptic curve math used for bitcoin keys is another example, using the Python ECDSA library for the elliptic curve math and without using any specialized bitcoin libraries.

Example 7. A script demonstrating elliptic curve math used for bitcoin keys



Installing the Python ECDSA library and running the script shows the output produced by running this script.

Warning: A script demonstrating elliptic curve math used for bitcoin keys uses os.urandom, which reflects a cryptographically secure random number generator (CSRNG) provided by the underlying operating system. Caution: Depending on the OS, os.urandom may not be implemented with sufficient security or seeded properly and may not be appropriate for generating production-quality bitcoin keys.


Example 8. Installing the Python ECDSA library and running the script

# Install Python PIP package manager
$ sudo apt-get install python-pip
# Install the Python ECDSA library
$ sudo pip install ecdsa
# Run the script
$ python
Secret:  38090835015954358862481132628887443905906204995912378278060168703580660294000
EC point: (70048853531867179489857750497606966272382583471322935454624595540007269312627, 105262206478686743191060800263479589329920209527285803935736021686045542353380)
BTC public key: 029ade3effb0a67d5c8609850d797366af428f4a0d5194cb221d807770a1522873


Advanced Keys and Addresses

In the following sections we will look at advanced forms of keys and addresses, such as encrypted private keys, script and multisignature addresses, vanity addresses, and paper wallets.


Pay-to-Script Hash (P2SH) and Multisig Addresses

As we know, traditional bitcoin addresses begin with the number "1" and are derived from the public key, which is derived from the private key. Although anyone can send bitcoin to a "1" address, that bitcoin can only be spent by presenting the corresponding private key signature and public key.

Bitcoin addresses that begin with the number "3" are pay-to-script hash (P2SH) addresses, sometimes erroneously called multisignature or multisig addresses. They designate the beneficiary of a bitcoin transaction as the hash of a script, instead of the owner of a public key. The feature was introduced in January 2012 with BIP-16 (see [appdxbitcoinimpproposals]), and is being widely adopted because it provides the opportunity to add functionality to the address itself. Unlike transactions that "send" funds to traditional "1" bitcoin addresses, also known as a pay-to-public-key-hash (P2PKH), funds sent to "3" addresses require something more than the presentation of one public key and one private key signature as proof of ownership. The requirements are designated at the time the address is created, within the script, and all inputs to this address will be encumbered with the same requirements.

A P2SH address is created from a transaction script, which defines who can spend a transaction output (for more details, see [p2sh]). Encoding a P2SH address involves using the same double-hash function as used during creation of a bitcoin address, only applied on the script instead of the public key:

script hash = RIPEMD160(SHA256(script))


The resulting "script hash" is encoded with Base58Check with a version prefix of 5, which results in an encoded address starting with a 3. An example of a P2SH address is 3F6i6kwkevjR7AsAd4te2YB2zZyASEm1HM, which can be derived using the Bitcoin Explorer commands script-encode, sha256, ripemd160, and base58check-encode as follows: 

$ echo \
'DUP HASH160 [89abcdefabbaabbaabbaabbaabbaabbaabbaabba] EQUALVERIFY CHECKSIG' > script
$ bx script-encode < script | bx sha256 | bx ripemd160 \
| bx base58check-encode --version 5


Tip: P2SH is not necessarily the same as a multisignature standard transaction. A P2SH address most often represents a multi-signature script, but it might also represent a script encoding other types of transactions.


Multisignature addresses and P2SH

Currently, the most common implementation of the P2SH function is the multi-signature address script. As the name implies, the underlying script requires a minimum number of signatures to prove ownership and therefore spend funds. The bitcoin multi-signature feature is designed to require M signatures (also known as the "threshold") from a total of N keys, known as an M-of-N multisig, where M is equal to or less than N. For example, Bob the coffee shop owner from [ch01_intro_what_is_bitcoin] could use a multisignature address requiring 1-of-2 signatures from a key belonging to him and a key belonging to his spouse, ensuring either of them could sign to spend a transaction output locked to this address. This would be similar to a "joint account" as implemented in traditional banking where either spouse can spend with a single signature. Or Gopesh, the web designer paid by Bob to create a website, might have a 2-of-3 multisignature address for his business that ensures that no funds can be spent unless at least two of the business partners sign a transaction.

We will explore how to create transactions that spend funds from P2SH (and multi-signature) addresses in [transactions].


Vanity Addresses

Vanity addresses are valid bitcoin addresses that contain human-readable messages. For example, 1LoveBPzzD72PUXLzCkYAtGFYmK5vYNR33 is a valid address that contains the letters forming the word "Love" as the first four Base58 letters. Vanity addresses require generating and testing billions of candidate private keys, until a bitcoin address with the desired pattern is found. Although there are some optimizations in the vanity generation algorithm, the process essentially involves picking a private key at random, deriving the public key, deriving the bitcoin address, and checking to see if it matches the desired vanity pattern, repeating billions of times until a match is found.

Once a vanity address matching the desired pattern is found, the private key from which it was derived can be used by the owner to spend bitcoin in exactly the same way as any other address. Vanity addresses are no less or more secure than any other address. They depend on the same Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) and SHA as any other address. You can no more easily find the private key of an address starting with a vanity pattern than you can of any other address.

In [ch01_intro_what_is_bitcoin], we introduced Eugenia, a children's charity director operating in the Philippines. Let's say that Eugenia is organizing a bitcoin fundraising drive and wants to use a vanity bitcoin address to publicize the fundraising. Eugenia will create a vanity address that starts with "1Kids" to promote the children's charity fundraiser. Let's see how this vanity address will be created and what it means for the security of Eugenia's charity.


Generating vanity addresses

It's important to realize that a bitcoin address is simply a number represented by symbols in the Base58 alphabet. The search for a pattern like "1Kids" can be seen as searching for an address in the range from 1Kids11111111111111111111111111111 to 1Kidszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. There are approximately 5829 (approximately 1.4 * 1051) addresses in that range, all starting with "1Kids". The range of vanity addresses starting with "1Kids" shows the range of addresses that have the prefix 1Kids.


Table 5. The range of vanity addresses starting with "1Kids"












Let's look at the pattern "1Kids" as a number and see how frequently we might find this pattern in a bitcoin address (see The frequency of a vanity pattern (1KidsCharity) and average search time on a desktop PC). An average desktop computer PC, without any specialized hardware, can search approximately 100,000 keys per second.

Table 6. The frequency of a vanity pattern (1KidsCharity) and average search time on a desktop PC

Length Pattern Frequency Average search time



1 in 58 keys

< 1 milliseconds



1 in 3,364

50 milliseconds



1 in 195,000

< 2 seconds



1 in 11 million

1 minute



1 in 656 million

1 hour



1 in 38 billion

2 days



1 in 2.2 trillion

3–4 months



1 in 128 trillion

13–18 years



1 in 7 quadrillion

800 years



1 in 400 quadrillion

46,000 years



1 in 23 quintillion

2.5 million years


As you can see, Eugenia won't be creating the vanity address "1KidsCharity" anytime soon, even if she had access to several thousand computers. Each additional character increases the difficulty by a factor of 58. Patterns with more than seven characters are usually found by specialized hardware, such as custom-built desktops with multiple GPUs. These are often repurposed bitcoin mining "rigs" that are no longer profitable for bitcoin mining but can be used to find vanity addresses. Vanity searches on GPU systems are many orders of magnitude faster than on a general-purpose CPU.

Another way to find a vanity address is to outsource the work to a pool of vanity miners, such as the pool at Vanity Pool. A pool of this type is a service that allows those with GPU hardware to earn bitcoin searching for vanity addresses for others. For a small payment (0.01 bitcoin or approximately $5 at the time of this writing), Eugenia can outsource the search for a seven-character pattern vanity address and get results in a few hours instead of having to run a CPU search for months.

Generating a vanity address is a brute-force exercise: try a random key, check the resulting address to see if it matches the desired pattern, repeat until successful. Vanity address miner shows an example of a "vanity miner," a program designed to find vanity addresses, written in C++. The example uses the libbitcoin library, which we introduced in [alt_libraries].

Example 9. Vanity address miner



Note: Vanity address miner uses std::random_device. Depending on the implementation it may reflect a CSRNG provided by the underlying operating system. In the case of a Unix-like operating system such as Linux, it draws from /dev/urandom. The random number generator used here is for demonstration purposes, and it is not appropriate for generating production-quality bitcoin keys as it is not implemented with sufficient security.

The example code must be compiled using a C++ compiler and linked against the libbitcoin library (which must be first installed on that system). To run the example, run the vanity-miner executable with no parameters (see Compiling and running the vanity-miner example) and it will attempt to find a vanity address starting with "1kid".

Example 10. Compiling and running the vanity-miner example

# Compile the code with g++
$ g++ -o vanity-miner vanity-miner.cpp $(pkg-config --cflags --libs libbitcoin)
# Run the example
$ ./vanity-miner
Found vanity address! 1KiDzkG4MxmovZryZRj8tK81oQRhbZ46YT
Secret: 57cc268a05f83a23ac9d930bc8565bac4e277055f4794cbd1a39e5e71c038f3f
# Run it again for a different result
$ ./vanity-miner
Found vanity address! 1Kidxr3wsmMzzouwXibKfwTYs5Pau8TUFn
Secret: 7f65bbbbe6d8caae74a0c6a0d2d7b5c6663d71b60337299a1a2cf34c04b2a623
# Use "time" to see how long it takes to find a result
$ time ./vanity-miner
Found vanity address! 1KidPWhKgGRQWD5PP5TAnGfDyfWp5yceXM
Secret: 2a802e7a53d8aa237cd059377b616d2bfcfa4b0140bc85fa008f2d3d4b225349

real	0m8.868s
user	0m8.828s
sys	0m0.035s


The example code will take a few seconds to find a match for the three-character pattern "kid," as we can see when we use the time Unix command to measure the execution time. Change the search pattern in the source code and see how much longer it takes for four- or five-character patterns!


Vanity address security

Vanity addresses can be used to enhance and to defeat security measures; they are truly a double-edged sword. Used to improve security, a distinctive address makes it harder for adversaries to substitute their own address and fool your customers into paying them instead of you. Unfortunately, vanity addresses also make it possible for anyone to create an address that resembles any random address, or even another vanity address, thereby fooling your customers.

Eugenia could advertise a randomly generated address (e.g., 1J7mdg5rbQyUHENYdx39WVWK7fsLpEoXZy) to which people can send their donations. Or, she could generate a vanity address that starts with 1Kids, to make it more distinctive.

In both cases, one of the risks of using a single fixed address (rather than a separate dynamic address per donor) is that a thief might be able to infiltrate your website and replace it with his own address, thereby diverting donations to himself. If you have advertised your donation address in a number of different places, your users may visually inspect the address before making a payment to ensure it is the same one they saw on your website, on your email, and on your flyer. In the case of a random address like 1J7mdg5rbQyUHENYdx39WVWK7fsLpEoXZy, the average user will perhaps inspect the first few characters "1J7mdg" and be satisfied that the address matches. Using a vanity address generator, someone with the intent to steal by substituting a similar-looking address can quickly generate addresses that match the first few characters, as shown in Generating vanity addresses to match a random address.

Table 7. Generating vanity addresses to match a random address

Original Random Address


Vanity (4-character match)


Vanity (5-character match)


Vanity (6-character match)



So does a vanity address increase security? If Eugenia generates the vanity address 1Kids33q44erFfpeXrmDSz7zEqG2FesZEN, users are likely to look at the vanity pattern word and a few characters beyond, for example noticing the "1Kids33" part of the address. That would force an attacker to generate a vanity address matching at least six characters (two more), expending an effort that is 3,364 times (58 × 58) higher than the effort Eugenia expended for her 4-character vanity. Essentially, the effort Eugenia expends (or pays a vanity pool for) "pushes" the attacker into having to produce a longer pattern vanity. If Eugenia pays a pool to generate an 8-character vanity address, the attacker would be pushed into the realm of 10 characters, which is infeasible on a personal computer and expensive even with a custom vanity-mining rig or vanity pool. What is affordable for Eugenia becomes unaffordable for the attacker, especially if the potential reward of fraud is not high enough to cover the cost of the vanity address generation.


Paper Wallets 

Paper wallets are bitcoin private keys printed on paper. Often the paper wallet also includes the corresponding bitcoin address for convenience, but this is not necessary because it can be derived from the private key.

Warning: Paper wallets are an OBSOLETE technology and are dangerous for most users. There are many subtle pitfalls involved in generating them, not least of which the possibility that the generating code is compromised with a "back door". Hundreds of bitcoin have been stolen this way. Paper wallets are shown here for informational purposes only and should not be used for storing bitcoin. Use a BIP-39 mnemonic phrase to backup your keys. Use a hardware wallet to store keys and sign transactions. DO NOT USE PAPER WALLETS.

Paper wallets come in many shapes, sizes, and designs, but at a very basic level are just a key and an address printed on paper. Simplest form of a paper wallet ­– a printout of the bitcoin address and private key shows the simplest form of a paper wallet.

Table 8. Simplest form of a paper wallet ­– a printout of the bitcoin address and private key

Public address Private key (WIF)




Paper wallets come in many designs and sizes, with many different features. An example of a simple paper wallet shows a sample paper wallet.

Figure 8. An example of a simple paper wallet

Some are intended to be given as gifts and have seasonal themes, such as Christmas and New Year's themes. Others are designed for storage in a bank vault or safe with the private key hidden in some way, either with opaque scratch-off stickers, or folded and sealed with tamper-proof adhesive foil.

Other designs feature additional copies of the key and address, in the form of detachable stubs similar to ticket stubs, allowing you to store multiple copies to protect against fire, flood, or other natural disasters.

Figure 9. An example of a paper wallet with additional copies of the keys on a backup "stub"

Source: Andreas M. Antonopoulos,
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Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 4:13 PM