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Is there some way to programmatically extract the current consensus of the transaction fee from the bitcoin network, either by using the daemon or through some other means?

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    Check the medium fee of last n blocks? I believe the transaction fee is currently not very variable. – Jori Jul 5 '14 at 19:47
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Check the medium fee of last n blocks? I believe the transaction fee is currently not very variable. The reference implementation "ensures" that all transactions that are smaller than 1000 bytes, have all outputs over 0,01 BTC and have a large enough priority will be processed, regardless of the transaction fee. Otherwise 0.1 mBTC is paid for every 1000 bytes of transaction (rounded up).

The priority of a transaction can be calculated by [1]

priority = sum(input_value_in_base_units * input_age) / size_in_bytes

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