1

This is a newbie question but I couldn't find the answer after reading Reddit's r/Bitcoin Sticky FAQ and also searching r/Bitcoin on "wallet address".

I opened a Coinbase account a while back, and made some small transactions in Bitcoin just to find out how it worked. Now I would like to give a few people my wallet address so that they can send me some BTC. But what actually is my wallet address? I read the help at Coinbase and went to (my profile) | Manage your profile | Crypto addresses and got a list of 15 BTC addresses (all starting "3"), 3 ETH addresses (all starting "0x"), and 1 SHIBA INU address (also starting "0x"). I don't recall opening 15 BTC wallets. So if I pick one of these 15 BTC addresses at random, can people send money to it? Or are these addresses transaction addresses rather than a wallet address? If so, how do I find my wallet address?

Thanks for any help with this!

This is a screenshot:

enter image description here

Each entry here has a 34-character string of alphanumerics.

1 Answer 1

2

Wallets and Accounts

There are two ways of "owning" Bitcoin. Wallets or Accounts.

Wallets are the way originally intended by the creator of Bitcoin. They allow one person to pay money to a second person without the need for any third party such as Coinbase.

Accounts are a way in which businesses exploit Bitcoin to make profits from it. They offer people an alternative way of "owning" bitcoin (actually just IOUs for bitcoin) and they sometimes call their accounts wallets. Somewhere in the background there is a part of their system that interacts with the Bitcoin network where necessary. Note that the main reason Bitcoin was created was to avoid any need for using (and trusting) businesses such as Coinbase.

What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.

- Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, Satoshi Nakamoto, 2008 (my emphasis)


Addresses

Early Bitcoin wallets allowed you to create new addresses, but many people didn't use that feature and only used one address. So people often thought of that address as a wallet address. In reality their wallet could have as many addresses as they want.

A modern Bitcoin wallet is a type called a Hierarchical Deterministic (HD) wallet which usually generates many addresses automatically and generates a new address every time you use it to request or create a payment.

So, for privacy reasons, you should use a new address for each transaction and should think of each addresses as an address for a specific transaction rather than as an address for a person's wallet.

Addresses starting with 3 normally indicate a type of Bitcoin script called Pay to Script Hash (P2SH). These addresses are around 34 characters long - the ones in your image look shortened. Someone sending money needs the full address. Since your screenshot labels these as assets, they are likely addresses that have already been used to receive money. You should be able to re-use these addresses (unless Coinbase do something strange) but there should be a clear option elsewhere to generate a new address, perhaps labelled something like "receive payment" or "create invoice" or some such phrase. Coinbase should have some support contact who can assist.


Addresses in the Bitcoin Network

Some unintiutive facts about addresses:

  • Unlike postal addresses, a Bitcoin address does not identify a person or a place.
  • A Bitcoin address is actually just a way for a payee to pass enough information to a payer for that payer's wallet to create a Bitcoin locking script in an output of a Bitcoin transaction.
  • There are no Bitcoin addresses transmitted or used in the Bitcoin network protocol. Only locking and unlocking scripts.

It has been suggested that a phrase like "invoice reference" might have been a better name than "address". However it is probably too late to rename it.

5
  • Many thanks for this. I'm glad my confusion over wallets and addresses wasn't completely stupid! But assuming for the moment that I don't mind using Coinbase, if I give people one of those 15 addresses will that be enough info for them to be able to transfer some BTC to me that I would then be able to access?
    – tell
    Dec 14, 2022 at 13:07
  • @tell, I believe so but each business like Coinbase make up their own rules since the interaction between their customers and their service is unique for each of them and isn't defined by the Bitcoin network. I'm not a user of Coinbase, so can't say for sure what they are showing you. I or someone else might be able to venture a firmer opinion if you used Alt-PrtSc (or equivalent) to save a screenshot image and edit that image into your question above (after blacking out any sensitive info). Dec 14, 2022 at 15:46
  • Thanks again. I've added a redacted screenshot. Each BTC entry comes with a 34-character string. Some contain "i", some "o", but I didn't find any with "I" or "O", for what it's worth.
    – tell
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:49
  • Corollary, there is BIP179 which proposed the term “Bitcoin Invoice Addresses” to emphasize the single-use nature of addresses.
    – Murch
    Dec 14, 2022 at 19:27
  • @tell: Check if you find a “generate new address” button or similar. It will work if people send funds to the same address multiple times, but it would be preferable for your and the sender's privacy if you hand out a fresh address every time someone wants to pay you.
    – Murch
    Dec 14, 2022 at 19:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.