Bitcoin, an Open Source Project

Today we continue with chapter 9 about reproducible builds and Guix.

Bitcoin, an Open Source Project

Now, the question is how all of this is connected to Bitcoin. Here’s an example. When you run a piece of wallet software, it will display an address. What if it turns out that address doesn’t belong to you, but instead it’s controlled by the developer? Then every time someone pays you, the coins don’t go to you. This is why you really need maximum transparency of what exactly is running on your machine.

One thing you can do, if you have the skill, is to compile the wallet software yourself, thereby avoiding the need to download an untrusted binary. That doesn’t solve the problem for the vast majority of users though. It also doesn’t entirely solve the problem for you, because even if you can see the code in its original programming language, it’s hard to understand exactly what it’s going to do once it runs on your computer. For one thing, it’s simply too much code for one person to understand.

That’s why you want whatever Bitcoin code is running to be open source — so as many people as possible can see what it is. Remember that given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow, and the same goes for detecting malicious pieces of code.

Bitcoin code is open source and it’s hosted on GitHub in a repository. This means anyone with the know-how can look at the source code and check that it does what it’s supposed to do. But in reality, the number of people who can actually do that and understand it is limited. Though occasionally, they even get some help from developers who work on altcoins. For example, the very serious CVE-2018-17144 was found by Bitcoin Cash developer Awemany ( Many altcoin projects started by copy-pasting the Bitcoin source code and then changing a few things to differentiate themselves. For example, Dogecoin changed the inflation schedule, decreased the time between blocks, and used a different proof-of-work algorithm. But that still left 99% of its codebase identical to Bitcoin Core: Digital signatures are checked the same way, transactions and blocks are verified the same way, the peer-to-peer network works the same way, etc. So when altcoin developers are working on their projects, they may discover bugs in that 99% of the codebase they share with Bitcoin Core. This adds to the security of Bitcoin.

If we wanted to increase the number of people who could read and understand Bitcoin source code, it’d need to be cleaner and more readable, because the original code Satoshi wrote was very, very hard to reason about.