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Conceptually, even if the network doesn't have any "real" transactions, the very act of mining creates new transactions to be mined. Self fulfilling prophecy.

So, what is the real purpose of mining if the network is virtually dead? I suppose at that point the currency would be worth nothing and no one would mine it.

This is a bit of a philosophical question :-)

Likewise, is this similar to how pre-mining works? Where the creators mine the coin ahead of it's release?

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The goal of mining is essentially to (i) create new coins out of thin-air and (ii) to secure the network from double-spending attacks.

So no, the act of mining does not create new transactions to be mined, and it does not create work for itself. It validates transactions and keeps the nodes of the network on the same state.

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    You're playing with words. Here I'm describing the end-goal of mining, its purpose. Which is to create coins out of thin air and to secure the network. The initial, and still ongoing, distribution of coins wouldn't happen without mining. Commented May 14, 2014 at 14:34
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    Oh come on... "mining does" or "The goal of mining" are effectively the same thing. Again, you're playing with words. I just edited it to make it clearer what I meant. The meaning of my message doesn't change. Commented May 14, 2014 at 15:56
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    "the distribution, initial to final, could've all be done in one swoop with a premine" sure but that's not how Bitcoin does it! And this is a question about Bitcoin. Commented May 14, 2014 at 16:23
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    The generation of new coins does create transactions, per se. This is a block reward from the eligius pool. After the block is found, this transaction is included in the next block. If miners do not build on that block, then the reward is never given. Now, it's not a transaction, technically, but in the spirit of his question, yes, it is basically the same thing.
    – user4276
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 16:31
  • @Gracchus If you are really going to comment 8 more times, please take this to the chatrooms.
    – user4276
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 16:33
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The generation of new coins does create transactions, per se. This is a block reward from the Eligius pool. After the block is found, this transaction is included in the next block. If miners do not build on that block, then the reward is never given. Now, it's not a transaction, technically, but in the spirit of this question, yes, it is basically the same thing.

When Satoshi first started Bitcoin, it was probably just him and a few friends. I haven't looked, but I would bet that at least the first few blocks in the chain have no transactions except the block reward. That wasn't a problem at the time and I don't see why it would be now. The miner would still have to do the proof of work, even though there was no work.

Pragmatically, if the Bitcoin network devolved to a state where no one was trading it, yes, it would be because it was dead and worthless. There would probably still be a few miners, like me, that would continue to mine for a while, just in case it made a comeback some how.

Premining, I believe comes in two types. The first is as you suggest: A small group of people mine the coin privately for a time; whether there are transactions during this time or not doesn't really matter. The second is that the genesis block has a higher reward; sometimes it is much, much higher than the following blocks.

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