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I want to build a pet project which would use bitcoin for sending/receiving and see balance of wallets involved changed.

What are my options for having a local env that would allow me to perform these operations in a way similar to real environment?

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Bitcoin Core and all implementations of Bitcoin should provide developers with a local regtest mode which is local only (no peers) and a mining difficulty of 0. This is the mode most tests are written in because blocks can be mined instantly.

Since you tagged nodejs you might be interested in bcoin:

https://bcoin.io

https://github.com/bcoin-org/bcoin

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