What are Bitcoin Ordinals and BRC-20: The latest trend in NFTs
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What are Bitcoin Ordinals and BRC-20: The latest trend in NFTs

May 28, 2023

Decoding BRC-20: Bitcoin’s Token Experiment

When it comes to tokens, you may have heard of ERC-20, the standard on Ethereum. The concept of BRC-20 is a similar attempt, this time on the Bitcoin blockchain. So, what is BRC-20? Introduced in March 2023 by an anonymous developer known as Domo, the Bitcoin Request for Comment 20 (BRC-20) is essentially Bitcoin's experimental equivalent to Ethereum's ERC-20.

Understanding Bitcoin's BRC-20

While the naming of BRC-20 mirrors that of Ethereum's ERC-20, it's essential to understand that the "BRC" doesn't follow a sequential order like Ethereum does. In the Bitcoin world, changes and improvements are generally carried out through a process known as Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIP).

However, despite its name, there's no BRC-1, BRC-2, and so forth. BRC-20 is a distinct proposal designed to introduce token-like functionality to Bitcoin, despite some major differences like the lack of smart contracts, a staple of the Ethereum ecosystem.

The Role of Ordinals in BRC-20

BRC-20 tokens make use of something known as "ordinals." An ordinal assigns a serial number to a satoshi, which is the smallest unit of Bitcoin. This serial number and the corresponding data of the ordinal are included in a section of the Bitcoin transaction called the "witness signature field."

The data stored in this field verifies the legitimate ownership of the funds involved in the transaction, ensuring that they are not being double-spent. In simple terms, it's a mechanism to maintain trust and integrity in Bitcoin transactions. While all BRC-20 tokens use ordinals, it's worth noting that not all ordinals are BRC-20 tokens.

Limitations of BRC-20 Tokens

BRC-20 is still in its experimental phase and hasn't achieved the same level of functionality and approval as its Ethereum counterpart, ERC-20. Currently, users are limited to just minting, deploying, and transferring BRC-20 tokens. Furthermore, these tokens are not as easily traded on exchanges at this time.

Impact on Bitcoin Fees and Transactions

A key feature of ordinals is their ability to store data directly on the blockchain. This differs from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on Ethereum or other blockchains, which usually contain a link or data pointing to an external service where the associated art or files are stored.

However, this on-chain data storage leads to increased competition for block space, which can result in higher transaction fees. Additionally, the 'mempool', which is the storage space for unconfirmed transactions before they are processed, can grow substantially, leading to challenges in transaction confirmation times.

Controversies Around BRC-20 Tokens

BRC-20 tokens and the use of ordinals have ignited some debates. The primary contention points include the increase in network congestion and transaction fees due to their usage. Additionally, some maximalists argue that these tokens and ordinals "pollute" the blockchain with data not in alignment with Bitcoin's original mission of facilitating peer-to-peer money transfer.

Another factor that makes these Bitcoin NFTs unique is that they store the entire data file within the transaction. This means that while they are larger in size, they offer enhanced immutability, hence potentially increasing the integrity of the asset. However, the added congestion from these larger file sizes has led to some critics considering ordinals as an "attack" on Bitcoin.

Silver Linings of BRC-20 Tokens

Despite the controversies, there are positive perspectives on BRC-20 tokens and ordinals. For instance, the significant increase in Bitcoin transaction fees due to these innovations has been beneficial for miners. In the midst of a bear market and high-profile bankruptcies, miners have profited from the rise of BRC-20 tokens.This boom in Bitcoin transactions has led to a situation where some miners are earning more from processing transactions than from mining new Bitcoin.

Understanding BRC-20 Tokens in a Nutshell

To put it simply, BRC-20 is an experimental standard attempting to create fungible tokens directly on the Bitcoin network. It's an inventive way of working around Bitcoin's inherent limitations by using ordinal inscriptions.

While it's still early days, BRC-20 has already sparked considerable interest within the Bitcoin community. But, it's important to remember that these tokens have limited functionality, and their long-term viability is still uncertain.

How Do BRC-20 Tokens Compare with ERC-20 Tokens?

It's crucial to understand that the comparison between BRC-20 and ERC-20 is more in name than in function. BRC-20, due to the nature of the Bitcoin blockchain, is simpler and more constrained than its Ethereum counterpart, ERC-20. The Bitcoin blockchain was designed with limited programmability on purpose, which in turn restricts what can be achieved with BRC-20.

What Does the Future Hold for Tokens on Bitcoin?

While BRC-20 tokens are the latest experiment in asset representation on Bitcoin, they're not the first. Previously, there have been attempts such as Colored Coins and Taro.

Despite the uncertainties and challenges, the development and growth of BRC-20 tokens illustrate the potential of open-source communities and collaborative innovation. It serves as a reminder of how an idea can evolve and push the boundaries of what's possible when a community rallies around it.

In conclusion, BRC-20 tokens represent an exciting chapter in Bitcoin's evolution, illustrating the potential of Bitcoin to host more complex applications beyond its original "peer-to-peer electronic cash" vision.

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