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Should I run my own node?

The pros and cons of running a full Bitcoin node

Bitcoin is lauded as the world’s first peer-to-peer currency. But for the majority of users, this is simply not true.

There are fewer than 10.000 Bitcoin peers on the network — those running full nodes. Everyone else is still involved in a sort of client-server relationship, where they rely on other people’s full nodes to broadcast their transactions.

Full nodes are the backbone of Bitcoin — they help keep the network decentralized and protect the protocol’s consensus rules. As long as enough full nodes are up and running, anyone with a modern computer can join the network as a peer and miners (as well as everyone else) are forced to follow Bitcoin’s rules.

Running a full node instead of a lightweight client or using a SPV wallet (as most users do) is an act of support for Bitcoin. Unlike mining, there are no financial incentives for running a full node. But it’s not all about altruism either. Helping out is great, but it isn’t enough to motivate adoption on a global scale.

That’s why this article will focus on tangible reasons why (and why not) you should run a full Bitcoin node. Incentivizing certain actions is a key part of blockchain systems and nodes are no different.

Let’s start with the pros before moving on to the cons.

The pros of running a full node

  1. Only trust yourself

By running your own node, you don’t have to trust anyone to keep the network honest — you do it yourself. If a transaction breaks consensus rules, your node will automatically reject it and it won’t be carried out, even if everyone else accepts the transaction.

Having your own node also means you can be sure your transactions will be broadcast to the network. If you’re running a lightweight client, you have to rely on someone else’s full node to do that for you.

It is, however, still up to the miners to confirm your transaction by packing it into a block. What a full node does is ensure that your transactions are actually broadcast to the miners.

2. Choice autonomy

When a blockchain undergoes a hard fork, lightweight nodes will automatically follow the chain with the biggest accumulated difficulty. Some light clients and SPV wallets let their users choose which chain to follow in a split, others do not. Full nodes always get to choose for themselves. If you want to play the fork game, this is the way to go.

3. Safety & Privacy

In order to take full advantage of Bitcoin’s peer-to-peer system, you have to actually be a “peer”. That means running your own node. Otherwise, your transactions are always processed through a third party — the node broadcasting transactions from your wallet to the network.

This third party will have access to information about your transactions, as well as any personal data you give them as service providers. Did you use an email to register your online wallet? That email can be connected to your transactions.

To clarify: we are not advocating against using SPV wallets. For the vast majority of users, this is perfectly acceptable. In order to become truly pseudonymous, however, you have to connect to the Bitcoin network directly. Full nodes are the only way to do that. Privacy and the lowest possible amount of trust.

Bitcoin clients have wallet functionality built into them. By setting up your node, you automatically get your own wallet.

Eliminating trust in third parties to validate your financial transactions and hold your funds is the main selling point for Bitcoin. In practice, even Bitcoin can’t fully eliminate the need for trust, but it can distribute and minimize it, especially if you act as a true peer.

With all the advantages of running a full node, why do the majority of users still opt for lightweight clients and SPV wallets? Because maintaining a full node is not without its difficulties.

The cons of running a full node

  1. Eats disk space and RAM

While the RAM won’t be a problem for most modern computers (Bitcoin Core only needs between 1 and 2 GB of RAM), running a full node does require significant disk space.

Initial synchronization with the network requires you download the entire Bitcoin blockchain — from the very first block to the latest. Bitcoin Core, the most popular Bitcoin client, requires around 200 GB of free disk space to perform this process.

Once you’ve synced your node with the network, you can greatly reduce the required disk space by deleting records of all fully spent transactions — this is called pruning your copy of the blockchain. Pruning won’t affect your node’s security or functionality, but it will make you a slightly less productive member of the network. Since you won’t be hosting the complete blockchain anymore, new nodes will not be able to download it from you for initial synchronization.

2. Bandwidth use

If you have limited bandwidth, then running a full Bitcoin node may not be an option. Bitcoin Core’s recommended minimum bandwidth use is 5 GB/day — upload and 500 MB/day — download.

3. You have to keep it on

There’s no point in downloading the blockchain if you don’t actually run your node. Bitcoin.org lists 6 hours per day as a minimum run time, but more is obviously better. This can be quite inconvenient, but there are a few possible solutions to the problem.

A common way to avoiding running a computer all the time is to host your node on a Virtual Machine. This is a useful method for users who want to run their node 24/7. However, hosting your node on someone else’s servers comes with two cons: you have to pay rent and you have to trust your landlord.

Since the point of running a full node is NOT having to trust any third party with your assets, many VM service users disable wallet functionality on their full node, connect it with SPV wallets and only rely on the full node to validate their transactions (rather than actually hold bitcoins).

For the sufficiently tech savvy, another interesting option is to install the Bitcoin node on a Raspberry Pi.

4. It may be illegal in some countries

Bitcoin is illegal in some countries, so running a node may be illegal as well. Crypto is still in its early stages, with a lot of misconceptions surrounding the technology. Hopefully, as mainstream adoption spreads, legislators around the world will see the light and Bitcoin, as well as other cryptocurrencies, will be given a chance to reach their massive potential for positive global change.

Conclusion

There you have it — the pros and cons of becoming a true Bitcoin peer by running your own node. There are a number of pros to be had at a relatively low cost, but these advantages really only matter for frequent users of Bitcoin and businesses transacting in Bitcoin. If you’re just hodling, the point of running a node is to help keep the network honest and decentralized.

Unlike mining, running a non-mining full node won’t generate any coins — you will have to get them from another user or buy them at an exchange. Register your free Bitstamp account to start buying cryptocurrencies on the world’s longest standing exchange. Cryptocurrency withdrawals on Bitstamp are free of charge, so sending bitcoins to your node’s wallet address won’t cost you anything.

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