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So, I'm just a curious person at this point, I've only just decided to look into Bitcoin and see how it works and what it does. But I'm not sure if I want to try out things on the larger bitcoin network, where there's real money of real value at stake. Is there a way I can setup a local bitcoin "network", with its own blockchain, etc. for testing purposes?

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Yes. You can run bitcoind in regtest mode. In that mode, you can produce your own "bitcoins" for testing purposes.

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