Bitcoin mining is the process by which new bitcoins are entered into circulation; it is also the way that new transactions are confirmed by the network and a critical component of the maintenance and development of the blockchain ledger. "Mining" is performed using sophisticated hardware that solves an extremely complex computational math problem. The first computer to find the solution to the problem is awarded the next block of bitcoins and the process begins again.
However, before you invest the time and equipment, read this explainer to see whether asic miner is really for you. We will focus primarily on Bitcoin (throughout, we'll use "Bitcoin" when referring to the network or the cryptocurrency as a concept, and "bitcoin" when we're referring to a quantity of individual tokens).
The primary draw for many mining is the prospect of being rewarded with Bitcoin. That said, you certainly don't have to be a miner to own cryptocurrency tokens. You can also buy cryptocurrencies using fiat currency; you can trade it on an exchange like Bitstamp using another crypto (as an example, using Ethereum or NEO to buy Bitcoin); you even can earn it by shopping, publishing blog posts on platforms that pay users in cryptocurrency, or even set up interest-earning crypto accounts.
The Bitcoin reward that miners receive is an incentive that motivates people to assist in the primary purpose of antminer: to legitimize and monitor Bitcoin transactions, ensuring their validity. Because these responsibilities are spread among many users all over the world, Bitcoin is a "decentralized" cryptocurrency, or one that does not rely on any central authority like a central bank or government to oversee its regulation.
Mining to Prevent Double Spend
Miners are getting paid for their work as auditors. They are doing the work of verifying the legitimacy of Bitcoin transactions. This convention is meant to keep Bitcoin users honest and was conceived by Bitcoin's founder, Satoshi Nakamoto.1 By verifying transactions, miners are helping to prevent the "double-spending problem."
Double spending is a scenario in which a Bitcoin owner illicitly spends the same bitcoin twice. With physical currency, this isn't an issue: once you hand someone a $20 bill to buy a bottle of vodka, you no longer have it, so there's no danger you could use that same $20 bill to buy lotto tickets next door. While there is the possibility of counterfeit cash being made, it is not exactly the same as literally spending the same dollar twice. With digital currency, however, as the Investopedia dictionary explains, "there is a risk that the holder could make a copy of the digital token and send it to a merchant or another party while retaining the original."
Let's say you had one legitimate $20 bill and one counterfeit of that same $20. If you were to try to spend both the real bill and the fake one, someone that took the trouble of looking at both of the bills' serial numbers would see that they were the same number, and thus one of them had to be false. What a Bitcoin miner does is analogous to that—they check transactions to make sure that users have not illegitimately tried to spend the same bitcoin twice. This isn't a perfect analogy—we'll explain in more detail below.
Only 1 megabyte of transaction data can fit into a single bitcoin block. The 1 MB limit was set by Satoshi Nakamoto, and this has become a matter of controversy as some miners believe the block size should be increased to accommodate more data, which would effectively mean that the bitcoin network could process and verify transactions more quickly.