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For quite some time now, Bitcoin has been facing the issue of scaling. With the current capacity of 7-12 transactions per second, many are wondering how and if the network can grow to accommodate heavy usage and compete with corporate giants such as Visa.
In its current technological state, Bitcoin itself cannot actually scale far beyond current capacity. Luckily, some clever minds working on the protocol came up with a concept called “The Lightning Network“, which was implemented on mainnet in April 2018 after quite some debates and disputes. LN is a so-called “second layer” protocol that introduces some very, very cool features without affecting the operations and integrity on the main Bitcoin network layer. In our humble but confident opinion, although still at its early stages, this technology will eventually be the new standard in Bitcoin transfers allowing value to be transmitted much quicker, lighter and more efficiently.
To put it briefly, Lightning Network enables much faster and cheaper transactions in high volumes between users, without the need for network confirmations. In simple words, LN connects users (nodes) in a web of so-called “payment channels” independent of the actual Bitcoin network. Using these channels, transactions can be made by users (nodes) “off-chain“.
Any two parties can establish a payment channel between them. However, if Alice has a channel with Bob, and Bob has a channel with Carol, then Alice can also transact with Carol, relaying the transaction via Bob – without the need to trust the intermediary Bob and paying Bob a small fee on the way. This extends to a complex and interconnected network where users are connected with other users across many interlinked channels and payments are routed via each peer allowing the most connected nodes to EARN FEES for leaving a server on 24x7 and adding liquidity to the network. Each node just has to fund their wallets and open channels with as many well connected nodes as possible to generate an income. (Click here to see how the web looks in real-time and read a more in-depth guide to how Lightning Payments work here or here). At the time of writing, there were over 2,500 active LN nodes and over 7,500 channels between them on the Bitcoin Lightning Network mainnet.
The transactions made over the Lightning Network are verified and maintained by LN nodes, but they do not have to be immediately settled on the Bitcoin network itself. So, Alice can send some bitcoins to Bob, then Bob can send some back to Alice, without paying miner fees and waiting for confirmations. Once Alice and Bob are done transacting between themselves, they can close the channel and settle the resulting net amount on the Bitcoin network.