How to spend all funds from a Lightning Channel

The protocol suggests to always keep some reserve, but if the parties mutually trust each other it may not necessary

Zoltán Gálli
Jul 26, 2018 · 3 min read

Why cannot spend all the funds?

The Lightning Network Specifications define as the minimum amount that the other node is to keep as a direct payment. It also suggests the reserve value be 1% of the channel total value. “Initially, this reserve may not be met, as only one side has funds; but the protocol ensures that there is always progress toward meeting this reserve, and once met, it is maintained.”

The reserve works as an insurance against possible theft attempts. If a peer tries to cheat by broadcasting an old channel state, its counterparty can submit a penalty transaction. This transaction takes away all fund on the channel from the misbehaving node as a punishment. And assure that every peer tends to have some reserve on the channel, at least 1%. This way in game theory every participant has incentive toward honest behavior. Because everyone has something to lose if trying to cheat.

Although it may a little bit strange, yet there is logic in it. But in some cases, this reserve may be rather annoying.

When I first tested Lightning payments, I just sent 1 satoshi from one peer to another. I was surprised when I realized I cannot send the same 1 satoshi back. Because even though the peer already had 1 satoshi on the channel, it was below the limit and the spendable amount was still zero.

For demonstration, I will start another Lightning Node besides to my main node. Then I will fund a channel between them and send 1 satoshi. Then check if it is unspendable because of the reserve limit. After that, I rewrite on the peer’s database and send that satoshi back.

Technical details

Step One: Test Node setup

Step Two: Send a payment to the Test Node

Step Three: Reconfigure the channel reserve

Step Four: Sending the satoshi back

Closing Thoughts

Lightning Network still in beta phase, it may contain a number of bugs.

What I described above is definitely not a common use case, not heavily tested. Maybe this is not a use case at all. I assume it should not be enough to reconfigure a peer itself for this. Peers might want to enforce their partners to keep some reserve. A peer probably should ask for its counterparty’s permission to spend all funds.

I only tested this between c-lightning v0.6 implementations. Other versions may behave differently.

Be patient! Be reckless!


Coinmonks is a non-profit Crypto educational publication. Follow us on Twitter @coinmonks Our other project —

Thanks to Gaurav Agrawal

Zoltán Gálli

Written by

Roman Catholic | Husband | Father | Geek | PGP Fingerprint: 116D 19B0 5C58 5B6D



Coinmonks is a non-profit Crypto educational publication. Follow us on Twitter @coinmonks Our other project —

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