How Does Bitcoin Storage Work?
It can be difficult to learn how to use bitcoin but once you understand how bitcoin storage works the rest is much easier. Use this guide to learn about the different ways to store your bitcoins, then choose a bitcoin wallet below.
When you use bitcoin you are sending bitcoins from one bitcoin address to another bitcoin address. Kind of like when you are sending someone an email. Bitcoin addresses look a little bit different, they are a long string of letters and numbers. Most bitcoin addresses start with a ‘1’ but some may start with a ‘3’. Here is a bitcoin address I used for another tutorial:
Bitcoin Address (Public Key): 1Q3tcw3zkFgwF5Tf1XFX9teZHqk4dqhdGn
Bitcoin users have a set of keys that keep their bitcoin stored, a ‘Public Key’ and a ‘Private Key’. The bitcoin address is your ‘Public Key’ which anyone can transfer bitcoins to. It is safe to share your public key with anyone. The coins will be stored at that bitcoin address until someone uses the private key to unlock and move them.
Bitcoin Private Key: 5HpHagT65TZzG1PH3CSu63k8DbpvD8s6Fw6BsyiPZfseFYg5NcU
A private key is an even longer string of characters which anyone can use to spend the bitcoins in your bitcoin address. To store your bitcoins safely you just need to keep your private keys away from other people. Since private keys are a pain in the ass, most bitcoin wallets make it easier to manage them.
Types Of Bitcoins Wallets
Online Wallet: An online wallet is a website or app that manages your private keys for you. The wallet provider generates a public key for you to send bitcoins to, then they hold your private key for you. If you want to use your coins you need to submit a bitcoin withdrawal request, normally by logging into your account and providing a password. Online wallet examples: Coinbase.com Blockchain.info
Desktop Wallet: A desktop wallet is a program that you can download on your computer. It will generate new bitcoin addresses for you to use and allow you to encrypt your private keys and store them in a wallet.dat file that is password protected. You can backup this file and store it on an external hard drive or USB stick. When you want to spend bitcoins you open the program, give it your wallet.dat file, then provide your password to unlock your bitcoin.
Desktop wallet examples: Electrum.org Bitcoin Core
Mobile Wallet: Same idea as desktop wallet but for a smart phone. Some desktop & mobile wallets will give you a 12 word seed phrase instead of a wallet.dat file. Either the wallet.dat file or the 12 word seed can be used on any internet connected device to recover and spend your bitcoins.
Mobile wallet examples: Breadwallet Mycelium
Paper wallet: A paper wallet is bitcoins that are stored on good ole fashioned paper. You write down your public key and private key (or 12 word seed) on paper, check it over and over again to make sure it is correct (letter case matters). The idea behind paper wallets is if the private key is never connected to the internet it is much less vulnerable to thieves. Paper
Hardware Wallet: A small device that is used to keep your private keys safe. Hardware wallets are for people who want to physically hold their bitcoins. Keep your hardware wallet wherever you want then connect the device to your computer when you need to spend some bitcoin. There is a small screen on the device to confirm your transaction details, then it sends the bitcoin payment without your private keys ever being on your computer. Hardware wallets cost about $100 which is cheap considering they allow you to safely store any amount of money and be your own bank. Hardware wallet example: KeepKey Trezor Ledger
Bitcoin Hot Wallets vs Cold Storage Wallets
All bitcoin wallets can be ‘Hot’ or ‘Cold’. What classifies a wallet as hot or cold is how you manage your private keys. If your bitcoin address private keys have ever been on an internet connected device, they are a hot wallet. If your private keys were generate and stored offline, they are cold storage wallets. Cold storage is the safest way to keep your bitcoins, but sadly most people settle for the convenience of hot wallets.
Which Bitcoin Wallet Is Best?
You will have to decide for yourself, try to find a balance of security and convenience.
Online web wallets are the LEAST secure because you don’t have any access to your private keys, but they are very easy to use. Assume all online wallets are hot wallets.
Bitcoin wallet program are safer because they let you control your private keys and truly own your coins, but that makes you responsible for them. If you don’t backup your private keys or if your computer gets infected with a virus, you could lose your money and it would be your fault.
Paper wallet is very secure but you need a clean computer that isn’t connected to the internet to generate your keys, and you have to make sure the paper isn’t destroyed and you can read your private keys.
Hardware wallets are extremely secure, but they cost $100. Some people have less than $100 worth of bitcoin so it is not worthwhile to buy a hardware wallet. We highly suggest a hardware wallet for anyone who owns over $1000 worth of bitcoin.