What are Parent-Child Inscriptions?

General Wallet Use

15 min

Ordinals has revived interest in the Bitcoin ecosystem. However, since Ordinals are a relatively new technology, many building blocks and essential features are still being developed. 

For instance, in the early stages of Ordinals, each collection was a separate entity, even if they came from the same artist. This created a disjointed ecosystem, limiting the potential for collaborative and cohesive narratives within the Ordinals space.

That’s exactly why parent-child inscriptions were introduced. Launched in September 2023, parent-child inscriptions offer a way to innovatively link Ordinal collections together.

This article explores what inscriptions are, how parent-child inscriptions work, and some of their use cases.

Understanding Inscriptions

In the Bitcoin blockchain, the smallest currency unit is a satoshi (sat), which represents a tiny fraction of the cryptocurrency. Adding or “inscribing” extra information, like comments, messages, or assets, to a sat is an inscription. Inscriptions are blobs of data that include metadata, guiding Bitcoin nodes in interpreting the added content, be it text, images, GIFs, or any other type of content. Essentially, inscriptions are Bitcoin-native “digital artifacts”.

Inscriptions on the Bitcoin network were made possible by incorporating two Bitcoin upgrades into the Ordinals protocol: SegWit and Taproot. Segregated Witness (SegWit) increased the Bitcoin block’s capacity from 1 MB to 4 MB. The Taproot upgrade, which went live on 12 November 2021, combined multiple transactions, thereby occupying less space on the block. These two updates meant that Bitcoin transactions would be faster and more efficient and allowed each Bitcoin block to hold ~4 MB of transaction data.

Casey Rodarmor, the creator of Ordinals, released an open-source software called ORD in December of 2022. This allowed users to convert any file (image, text, gif, pdf, etc) into hexadecimal data, which then allowed it to be “inscribed” onto a satoshi(sat), to create an “Ordinal”. It is important to note that the ability to add metadata to a sat makes it seem that inscriptions create NFTs. However, there is a clear distinction between NFT and digital art, according to Casey Rodarmor. While all digital artifacts are NFTs, not all NFTs are digital artifacts.

What are Parent-Child Inscriptions?

Parent-child inscriptions natively link different Ordinals together on-chain. Before parent-child inscriptions, the Ordinals Protocol lacked a standard for on-chain ownership. Of course, Bitcoin wallet addresses gave basic information about who owned the inscription, but that came with some privacy issues and no customization options. With no smart contracts like those in the Ethereum ecosystem, off-chain data and social consensus were used to determine which inscriptions belonged in a collection or who created them. 

That’s when Rodarmor devised the idea of a “parent” inscription that would be linked with future inscriptions, aka the “child” inscriptions, to strengthen provenance guarantees.

The parent-child PR was merged into the Ordinals Protocol on 7 September 2023, which introduced a standard for creating parent-child relationships between inscriptions.  After creating a parent inscription, you can create a relative child inscription by linking it to the parent inscription. You do this by passing the parent inscription's SAT number and the child inscription creation transaction. This establishes a relationship between the parent and the child, who lives on-chain and can be viewed by anyone.

Here is an example of a Parent inscription with multiple child inscriptions.

Possible Use Cases for Parent-Child Inscriptions

The primary use case of parent-child inscriptions is provenance. Ordinal founders can create child inscriptions that link back to the parent, instantly establishing a collection's family tree. People can easily verify the validity of an ordinal collection by checking if the parent inscription is correct.

Parent-child inscriptions unlock a wide variety of uses on the Bitcoin blockchain. For example, collections could inscribe all of an artist's pieces as children under one parent inscription. Artists can thus create an on-chain portfolio, allowing their work to be accessible from one single shareable link. 

Child inscriptions can also act as a parent inscription for other inscriptions, creating complex hierarchies. This feature can prove useful, in say, on-chain blockchain games, where different Ordinal collections need to be linked to each other to verify a game milestone.

The Future of Ordinals

According to Galaxy Research, the Bitcoin inscriptions and Ordinals market is predicted to reach $4.5 billion by 2025. New innovations, such as parent-child inscriptions and recursive inscriptions, will help make Ordinals programmable. These advancements open up a universe of possibilities and creative use cases using the BTC network.

As the Ordinal ecosystem grows, you need a Bitcoin wallet that helps you seamlessly interact with all these new and future protocol upgrades. Leather was one of the first wallets to offer Ordinal support when it launched its testnet in February 2023 and remains at the forefront of all Ordinals-related innovations.

Whether you’re a new Ordinal user or a long-time collector, Leather is an essential tool for exploring Ordinals' full potential with ease and efficiency.

Connect to web3 applications built on Bitcoin with the Leather browser wallet app. Install Leather – the only wallet you need to tap into the multilayered Bitcoin economy – today.

This article was updated on 3/21/24

This article was updated on 3/21/24