One of the major boons of cryptocurrency is that it relies on the application of transparent and immutable blockchain technology. Bitcoin is easily one of the most well known and impressive applications of blockchain technology. A driving force behind the increasing popularity of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is the desire to have more control over how your money is working for you. But you might be wondering: where do I go to see this incredible transparency? And the answer is: to a blockchain explorer.
Blockchain explorers are platforms that organize the data of specific blockchains. This article focuses primarily on blockchain explorers that organize cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.
Blockchain explorer platforms offer detailed information about things like:
- Lists of a chain’s most recent blocks transactions in a given block (older ones are also available but less visible)
- The ability to follow links of specific input and output so you can learn the previous and/or the next transaction involving the same data
- A record of transactions from a given address
- Both current and historical balances of address
- A method of searching for specific blocks, transactions, and addresses
Blockchain.com/Explorer is one such example of a blockchain explorer. Like other explorers of its kind, you can view Bitcoin, Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash.
And, as you might expect, you do not see any names or faces, only cryptographic address, hashes, inputs, and outputs. But that’s the nature and beauty of the design! And more then a name or a face, you will find much more pertinent information, which is the substance of blockchain technology.
What do these platforms have to offer?
Some explorers offer apps for you to take a quick look at the size of a blockchain, market values, and other interesting and relevant details. Bitcoinchain.com also has some pretty handy tools to view useful stats about mining, pools, nodes, and markets.
Let’s go through a few of these items available on Explorer Platforms in greater detail.
Typically, each explorer shows a column of blocks or the “height” of a blockchain. The height is a number, like “567108”. This number indicates its linear order in the sequence, so it tells you what number the block is that is added the sequence. This number also lets us know how many blocks are in that chain.
Age of Blocks:
Each block is timestamped, so the age of the block tells you how old it is, or gives you the time of its creation. Because these explorer platforms are operating in real-time, you can see blocks being added every few minutes. For instance, one block might only be 8 minutes old or 3 days old. Other blocks have been around much longer because blocks do not expire.
All the transactions that have been mined and are now part of the corresponding blockchain are available. The most recently mined blocks appear at the top, so if you want older blocks, you need to work backward.
Whether it’s Bitcoin or Ethereum or another cryptocurrency, the latest transactions are on display. Like the block height, the most current transactions are pushed to the top, but all transactions are available via the search engine.
Addresses and Complete Transaction History:
Addresses for cryptocurrencies are public. Here is an example of a Bitcoin address:
If you look up this address in an explorer, you will learn many things about this address, including total received, total sent, balance, transaction count/history, confirmation count, inputs, outputs, fees, fees per byte, and size (kB).
But you won’t learn their name, where they live or if they have kids. This is just one of the many reasons that blockchains and the use of cryptography are so appealing; transparency combined with anonymity.
Sender Address and Receiver Address:
The transaction record of each cryptocurrency shows what address the transaction is from and where it is going (or went). When you follow an individual address, you’ll get to a complete history of transactions.
Transaction Status or Mempool Size:
You might expect to be able to see a complete transaction history of a specific currency. Some explorers also show you the transactions that are awaiting confirmation on a live feed. The transactions that have not yet been mined contribute to the relative size of a given mempool.
There are block explorers that also record the amount of double spent Bitcoin transactions. Before a transaction has been confirmed, there is potential for it to be double spent. This means that the same transaction was sent twice to two different addresses. This is basically like forging currency or trying to use the same $10 bill to pay for two different transactions. In order to avoid this issue, presently a typical transaction will require 2 to 6 confirmations. You can also find a confirmation count on many explorer platforms.
Detached or Orphaned blocks:
Orphaned or detached blocks are blocks isolated from the primary blockchain. They are still valid blocks. Blocks can get orphaned when two miners produce two blocks from the same transaction within a similar time frame. This problem occurs sometimes because there is a time lag from input to block confirmation. It takes about 10 minutes to mine a block, and then about an hour for the block to be confirmed.
Detached/orphaned blocks can also be caused by an attacker attempting to reverse transaction hashes.
In either case, one of the two blocks will not make it onto the main chain – and so the other is orphaned. Again, only some explorers show orphaned blocks, while others explorers track multiple orphaned blocks. BitcoinChain.com is an explorer that keeps a record of orphaned blocks.
As an aside; Uncle Blocks are Ethereum’s equivalent of Bitcoin’s orphan blocks; they are both detached blocks that are not a part of the main blockchain.
The difficulty is a relative measure of how hard it is to find a new block. The difficulty adjusts periodically depending on how much hashing power has been used up by the decentralized network of miners.
Total Transaction Fees:
This is for finding out the total value of all transaction fees that miners receive. Every transaction costs a certain amount. The larger the transaction, the higher the fees. Fees also change based on supply and demand.
The estimated number of tera-hashes per second (trillions of hashes per second) the Bitcoin network is using now and has used prior to.
If you would like to know more about hashing, keep reading at: What is Blockchain Hashing?
Block Relayed By:
By following a block, you can see that part of its record includes who mined the block, or who it was “Relayed by.” At this point in the world of cryptocurrency mining for blocks, it’s incredibly expensive. Due to the high cost of mining, mining pools are responsible for mining a large amount of the blocks in a given blockchain, although there are still independent miners out there. On an explorer, you can learn who or what pool mined a specific block.
The Genesis Block:
The genesis block is the very first block of a blockchain; hence its namesake. Along with all of the current and transactions awaiting confirmation, a block explorer will also show you the genesis block of the blockchain of interest.
Perhaps the most famous genesis block is the first every Bitcoin block. Below is the image of Bitcoin’s genesis block. Satoshi Nakamoto mined it in 2009. Note that it is #1 on the transaction count, and it was relayed by “Unknown.”
If you would like to know more about Satoshi Nakamoto check out our article: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
Different blockchain explorers are going to highlight unique details of blockchain platforms. A platform that is most helpful to you is going to be one that caters to your needs and interests. And to find one that fits you just right, you will have to shop around a bit.
Not only is this information pretty fascinating, but it is also crucial to the sustainability of decentralized currencies. Because there are no governments or securities currently backing the value of cryptocurrencies, malicious users can have a serious effect on the functionality of the system.
In a system that is decentralized, or self-governing, it is essential that information be accurate, immutable and collaborative. That means that a great deal of the success of cryptocurrencies depends on the benevolence of its users, as well as the accuracy of the information.
By offering miners fees or gas for mining blocks there is an incentive to continue to mine and maintain the accountability of the existing blockchains. Moreover, by making this information public on blockchain explorers, the responsibility for maintaining the system is shared.
In conclusion, if I have to pick, I personally find The Blockchain Explorer the easiest to navigate. One of the things I like about Blockchain Explorer specifically is that it also offers a wide collection of stats. That said, if you are looking for specific information related to a specific currency, you will have to look around to find which explorer best suits your crypto-needs.