What Are Bitcoin Runes and How Do They Work?

Bitcoin gets an upgrade! Discover Bitcoin Runes — the key to creating tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain. Learn the benefits & drawbacks of this innovative solution.

Published in
4 min readMay 10, 2024


What Are Bitcoin Runes and How Do They Work?

Bitcoin’s core design prioritizes security and decentralization. This focus has resulted in a robust and battle-tested blockchain. However, it also comes with limitations for building complex applications. Unlike Ethereum, Bitcoin doesn’t natively support smart contracts, which are essential for creating and managing tokens.

Bitcoin Runes, launched in April 2024 alongside the fourth Bitcoin halving, aims to bridge this gap. It offers a new standard for issuing and managing fungible tokens directly on the Bitcoin blockchain. Fungible tokens, like Bitcoin itself, are interchangeable units that can be easily traded or used within a specific ecosystem.

Developed by Casey Rodarmor, the creator of the Ordinals protocol, Runes takes a different approach compared to existing solutions. It bypasses the need for additional layers on top of Bitcoin, like Omni Layer, and leverages the native capabilities of the blockchain itself. This approach promises a leaner and more efficient way to develop a rich token economy directly on Bitcoin.

Unveiling the Mechanics: How Runes Work

At the heart of the Runes protocol lies the concept of a “Rune.” A Rune represents a fundamental unit of a fungible token, similar to how a Satoshi is the smallest unit of a Bitcoin. However, unlike Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard, Runes are built upon Bitcoin’s Unspent Transaction Output (UTXO) model.

The UTXO model operates by tracking unspent outputs from previous transactions. Each transaction references specific UTXOs as inputs and creates new ones as outputs. This approach differs from Ethereum’s account-based model, where balances are associated with user accounts.

The Runes protocol leverages OP_RETURN, a Bitcoin opcode, to encode information about a Rune within a UTXO. This information can include the total supply of the token, its name, and other relevant details. Transactions involving Runes reference these special UTXOs, allowing for the creation, transfer, and burning of tokens directly on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Here’s a breakdown of the key aspects of Runes:

UTXO-based: Runes integrate seamlessly with Bitcoin’s UTXO model, minimizing the creation of unnecessary data on the blockchain.
OP_RETURN: Information about Runes is encoded within UTXOs using the OP_RETURN opcode, ensuring minimal impact on transaction fees.
Fungible tokens: Runes represent fungible tokens, meaning each unit is identical and interchangeable with others of the same type.

The Benefits and Potential Downsides of Runes

The introduction of Runes brings several potential benefits to the Bitcoin ecosystem:

Expanded functionality: Runes open doors for a wider range of applications on Bitcoin, potentially fostering the development of DeFi protocols and other innovative use cases.
Increased fees: The creation and interaction with Runes will generate transaction fees, potentially contributing to increased revenue for Bitcoin miners and network security.
Simplified token creation: Compared to existing solutions, Runes offer a more streamlined approach for building token-based applications directly on the Bitcoin blockchain.
Security and decentralization: By leveraging Bitcoin’s core functionalities, Runes inherit its inherent security and decentralization benefits.

Runes: A Catalyst for the Future of Bitcoin and DeFi

The launch of Bitcoin Runes marks a significant development for the Bitcoin ecosystem. It paves the way for a wider range of applications and functionalities on the world’s first and most secure cryptocurrency.

The potential impact of Runes extends beyond Bitcoin itself. By bridging the gap between Bitcoin and fungible tokens, Runes could act as a catalyst for the broader DeFi landscape. With the security and decentralization of Bitcoin underpinning these tokens, DeFi protocols could potentially benefit from increased trust and user adoption.

However, the success of Runes hinges on several factors:

Community adoption: Widespread adoption by developers, users, and exchanges is crucial for Runes to gain traction and build a thriving ecosystem.
Scalability solutions: As adoption grows, addressing potential scalability challenges on the Bitcoin network will be essential to ensure the smooth functioning of Rune-based applications.
Innovation on Runes: The development of innovative use cases and applications built on Runes will be key to demonstrating its true potential within the DeFi space.

The future of Bitcoin Runes remains to be written. However, its emergence presents an exciting opportunity to explore the possibilities of a richer and more diverse Bitcoin ecosystem. It’s a step towards a future where Bitcoin serves not only as a store of value but also as a foundation for a wider range of financial applications.

Beyond the Basics: Exploring Advanced Concepts

While this article provides a foundational understanding of Bitcoin Runes, there are additional aspects to delve into for those seeking a deeper grasp:

Technical deep dive: Explore the technical specifications of the Runes protocol, including the specific use of OP_RETURN and how transactions involving Runes are constructed. Resources like the official Runes documentation or developer guides can offer in-depth technical details.

Security considerations: Understanding the security implications of integrating Runes with the Bitcoin blockchain is crucial. Research the potential vulnerabilities and how they might be mitigated.

Comparison with alternatives: Compare Bitcoin Runes with existing solutions for creating tokens on Bitcoin, such as Omni Layer and colored coins. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses to gain a nuanced perspective on Runes’ position in the landscape.

By delving deeper into these areas, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of Bitcoin Runes and its potential impact on the future of Bitcoin and DeFi.


Bitcoin Runes represent a significant innovation in the Bitcoin ecosystem. By enabling the creation and management of fungible tokens directly on the Bitcoin blockchain, Runes pave the way for a wider range of applications and functionalities. Whether Runes will usher in a new era of DeFi built on Bitcoin’s security remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: Runes mark an exciting chapter in the evolution of Bitcoin and its potential to shape the future of decentralized finance.




Writing about the most recent trends and advancements in technology is my area of expertise, and I put a specific emphasis on blockchain technologies