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I'm just learning about Bitcoin and if I understand its conception properly, mining bitcoins means validation of transactions by computing a hash which should satisfy some preset condition. In other words, mining == servicing network and getting money for it.

If Satoshi was the first user, how did he earn his bitcoins if there were no transactions?

I understand, that in the very beginning some geeks were involved in the network, so maybe 5 or 10 persons' (first testers) transactions and their validation (mining) generated a lot of bitcoins, because of the low difficulty and high reward. But how did the very first coins get rewarded?

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Blocks can include transactions, but it is not necessary for transactions to occur in order to create blocks. The only transaction that is required in a block is the coinbase transaction which is the transaction that creates new bitcoins and collects the transaction fees. This transaction is created by each miner individually for their block attempts (as it sends money to their own address which is different for each miner), so it'll surely be available. In fact, the first transaction other than a coinbase transaction occurred in block 170.

So, since transactions are not a requirement, block creation is limited differently, it happens by means of the difficulty. Miners create block candidates continuously, and then check each whether it fulfills the difficulty requirement. Whenever they find a block that surpasses the required difficulty, they have successfully mined a block. As the difficulty resets regularly to adapt to changes in the hashrate of the mining network, the blocks work out to be discovered approximately every ten minutes.

In the very beginning of Bitcoin, mining difficulty was very low as there were few people running their home computers to mine Bitcoin. Satoshi Nakamoto was the first one to run a computer for mining, and thus was able to mine a large portion of the early blocks.

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  • So one can assume that all blocks that came before block 170 contain only one coinbase transaction in which the respective miners transferred 50 BTC to an address they (presumably) own themselves, right ? Mar 16 at 16:19
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    Yeah, although theoretically, someone could have taken less than the full block subsidy, but I don't think that has happened (I didn't check though).
    – Murch
    Mar 16 at 16:27
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Transactions are not necessary to mine blocks.

In simple terms: mining a block = finding a hash that matches with the previous block's hash + optionally a bunch of unconfirmed transactions.

A block doesn't need to include any transactions. And if there are unconfirmed transactions, a block may include all, some, or none of them.

If there are, it's in the miner's best interest to include them all. He earns the mining fees on top of the block reward, and it doesn't make the hash computation of the new block any more difficult. So deliberately not including pending transactions = leaving free money on the table. But mining can still occur even if there are no transactions at all.

Besides, even if it was required to include transactions, Satoshi could of course have sent dummy transactions between addresss of his own (and collecting his own transaction fees).

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