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Bitcoin Lightning Network: Explained

Published on: Nov 21, 2023Updated on: Nov 22, 2023
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In Brief

Discover the Bitcoin Lightning Network's role in solving Bitcoin's scalability issues, facilitating fast, low-cost transactions for improved everyday usability.

Bitcoin Lightning Network: Explained

In this guide, we’ll discuss Bitcoin’s scaling challenges and how the Bitcoin Lightning Network solves them. The Lightning Network (LN) is a layer-2 protocol designed to scale the Bitcoin network by enabling low-cost, near-instant, off-chain Bitcoin (BTC) transactions.

Although Bitcoin was originally created as a peer-to-peer payment system, it wasn’t built for scalability at the protocol level. This became a problem for Bitcoin when increased network activity led to higher transaction fees and slower confirmation times as the cryptocurrency gained popularity.

The Lightning Network was created as a solution to address Bitcoin’s scalability challenges by providing a network of off-chain payment channels catered towards processing smaller Bitcoin transactions, thus taking pressure off the Bitcoin mainchain.

Before we dive into the content on LN, remember that you can swap BTC, manage, and even earn Bitcoin using Trust Wallet. You can also sell or buy Bitcoin using Trust Wallet in a few simple steps. Here’s an example of how to buy BTC using Trust Wallet.


Bitcoin and its Current Challenges

Bitcoin (BTC) is a decentralized digital currency operating without any central authority, such as a bank or a payment processor. Instead, the cryptocurrency relies on a distributed, peer-to-peer network to operate.

BTC transactions are validated by network nodes and processed by Bitcoin miners who secure the network by providing computing power to solve mathematical puzzles as part of the network’s distributed consensus protocol called Proof of Work (PoW). Miners are incentivized by the Bitcoin block reward paid to miners everytime they mine a new block for the blockchain as well as all transaction fees contained in each block they mine.

The cryptocurrency’s decentralized design enables it to be a censorship-resistant, permissionless, global digital currency that allows anyone in the world with an internet connection to be their own bank.

Moreover, Bitcoin’s underlying technology made way for thousands of other crypto assets, birthing the Web3 movement. It also became an entry point into crypto for new users and investors looking to explore the world of cryptocurrencies.

Since its launch in 2009, Bitcoin has continued to grow in popularity and has dominated the crypto asset market as shown by something called Bitcoin dominance. Bitcoin is also the biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, driven by its scarcity (there will only ever be 21 million BTC) and its first-mover advantage as the world’s leading cryptocurrency.

However, despite its impressive growth, Bitcoin’s scalability issue remains its biggest technological challenge to date.

For Bitcoin to operate effectively as a medium of exchange, it needs to have the capacity to handle large transaction volumes rapidly. However, the Bitcoin network can only process seven transactions per second on average. This eventually became a problem as more people began using Bitcoin, which resulted in slow transaction speeds and high transaction fees.

The slow confirmation times and increased transaction fees had real-world implications, slowing down the adoption of Bitcoin as an alternative currency and payment system. Therefore, a solution was needed. Enter the Bitcoin Lightning Network (LN).

The Lightning Network was created to address the scalability issues affecting the Bitcoin network by providing off-chain payment channels that allow for low-cost, near-instant BTC transactions.

What is the Lightning Network?

The Lightning Network is a layer-2 protocol built on top of the Bitcoin network created to address the scalability issues faced by the Bitcoin blockchain.


LN utilizes peer-to-peer payment channels to process Bitcoin transactions off-chain, with only the starting and final amounts recorded on the Bitcoin blockchain when a channel is opened and closed, respectively. All transactions within the network of payment channels remain off-chain, freeing up block space on the Bitcoin mainchain.

Moreover, transactions take place directly between the involved parties and aren’t recorded on the public blockchain, enhancing transactional privacy for people using the Lightning Network to send and receive BTC. Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja proposed the solution back in 2016 to allow for low-cost, near-instant BTC transactions. Before the Lightning Network was introduced, using the Bitcoin network had become time-consuming and expensive. This is because many people were transacting at the same time, which led to network congestion.

Essentially, the Lightning Network allows people to send and receive BTC without the need to wait for miners to confirm the transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain. This way, the network can complete the transactions near-instantly instead of in the usual 20 to 30 minutes that on-chain Bitcoin transactions take.


The Lightning Network has had a tremendous impact on the Bitcoin ecosystem, reenabling the world’s leading cryptocurrency to be used as a medium of exchange for small transactions, such as buying a coffee, after high on-chain fees led to Bitcoin being labeled as “digital gold.”

The Lightning Network provides a network of peer-to-peer payment channels through which participants can transact with each other, sending and receiving near-instant payments without waiting for minutes or even hours, as it eliminates the need for miners to validate each Bitcoin transaction. As such, it has become instrumental in helping to scale the Bitcoin network by reducing the amount of Bitcoin block space being used up for small transactions.

LN has made Bitcoin more accessible, cheaper, and faster to use, potentially paving the way for the mass adoption of Bitcoin as an alternative digital currency across the globe.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the core purpose of the Bitcoin Lightning Network (LN)?

The LN aims to make Bitcoin transactions faster and cheaper, catering especially to small, everyday transactions.

How does LN achieve faster transaction speeds?

By creating off-chain payment channels, transactions can occur instantly between parties without waiting for blockchain confirmations.

Does using LN compromise the decentralized nature of Bitcoin?

No, LN is a layer-2 protocol built atop the Bitcoin network, maintaining the cryptocurrency’s decentralized essence while improving transaction efficiency.

How does LN affect transaction fees on the Bitcoin network?

The LN significantly reduces transaction fees by handling transactions off-chain, which circumvents the usual blockchain fees.

How has the Lightning Network impacted Bitcoin's role as a medium of exchange?

The Lightning Network reinvigorates Bitcoin's potential as a medium of exchange for small transactions, reducing the time and cost typically associated with on-chain transactions.


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Note: Any cited numbers, figures, or illustrations are reported at the time of writing, and are subject to change.

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