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What are Bitcoin Addresses and How Are They Used with Wallets?

9 min

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Over the course of its history, Bitcoin has undergone strategic developments, which included the incorporation of Bitcoin address upgrades. This has led to the development of numerous Bitcoin address types that each serve a specific purpose for how users want to interact with their BTC.


Fortunately, many modern crypto and Bitcoin wallets today accommodate many of those addresses. Let's dive into what they are and how they came about. 


Defining Bitcoin Addresses


First, let's define what a Bitcoin address is and why it's important. How did Bitcoin addresses originate, and what purpose do they generally serve?


A Bitcoin address is a string of alphanumeric characters derived from public keys containing information about a user's wallet and can have between 34 to 62 alphanumeric characters. These unique identifiers can also be represented as QR codes and are used to send and receive bitcoin, functioning similarly to an email address.


The primary purpose of a Bitcoin address is to ensure a secure and specific destination for Bitcoin transactions. A Bitcoin address acts as a public-facing destination for every transaction. At the same time, the associated private key, which is kept secret, functions as the proof of ownership and the means to authorize outgoing transactions from that wallet address. 


A sender must accurately enter the recipient's Bitcoin address for the recipient to receive the transaction successfully. An existing "checksum" feature will verify a valid address. However, if an incorrect address is legitimate, a sender unintentionally sending Bitcoin to the wrong address risks losing those funds.


This system of public addresses and private keys underpins the security and decentralized nature of Bitcoin. It allows users to conduct transactions with cryptocurrencies on the Bitcoin network without needing a central authority, like a bank, to verify and process the transactions. While Bitcoin addresses are technically reusable, generating a new address for each transaction is recommended to protect privacy and mitigate a loss of funds.


What are the different types of Bitcoin addresses?


The variety of Bitcoin addresses, such as Legacy, SegWit, and Taproot, represents the evolution of the Bitcoin network, offering efficiency, transaction costs, and privacy benefits.


Legacy Addresses: The original Bitcoin addresses start with the number '1'. Legacy addresses are based on the Pay-to-PubKeyHash (P2PKH) format. They are the most recognizable and have been used since Bitcoin's inception. However, they are less efficient due to their larger transaction size and higher transaction fees than newer address types.


Example: 15e15hWo6CShMgbAfo8c2Ykj4C6BLq6Not


Segregated Witness (SegWit) Addresses: Introduced by the 2017 SegWit update, these addresses begin with '3'. They are also known as Pay-to-Script-Hash (P2SH) addresses. SegWit addresses were created to solve issues like transaction malleability and improve block capacity. By separating the signature information (the "witness") from the transaction data, SegWit allows for more transactions within a single block, effectively increasing the network's capacity and lowering transaction fees. 


Example: 35PBEaofpUeH8VnnNSorM1QZsadrZoQp4N


Native SegWit Addresses: Also known as Bech32 addresses, begin with 'bc1'. These addresses are enhancements over the original SegWit addresses. They offer the most efficient use of block space, leading to even lower transaction fees. Native SegWit addresses have improved upon QR code efficiency error detection and make addresses case-insensitive, which makes them more user-friendly. They offer an even more efficient use of block space, resulting in lower transaction fees than Legacy and SegWit addresses.


Example: bc1q42lja79elem0anu8q8s3h2n687re9jax556pcc


Taproot Addresses: The newest addition to Bitcoin addresses, introduced with the Taproot update in 2021, also begins with 'bc1'. Taproot addresses offer enhanced privacy and efficiency. They allow for more complex transaction types, like those involving smart contracts, while appearing like regular transactions, helping preserve user privacy. They also offer improvements in terms of optimizing transaction space and minimizing fees.


Example: bc1pmzfrwwndsqmk5yh69yjr5lfgfg4ev8c0tsc06e

 

Multisig Addresses: Although not exclusive to Bitcoin, multisig addresses, short for "multisignature," require multiple private keys to authorize a transaction. It provides an added layer of security as they need more than one key holder to approve transactions. They are often used for shared control of funds, like in a business partnership or for security purposes in wallets and exchanges. Multisig addresses can be of the Legacy, SegWit, or Native SegWit type.


How do Bitcoin Addresses Work With Bitcoin Wallets?


A wallet is a digital keychain that holds your private and public key pairs. It's an organizational tool or a personal ledger that keeps track of your various addresses (public keys) and their associated private keys. What's crucial to understand is that the wallet itself doesn't 'store' your bitcoin. Instead, it interacts with the blockchain (Bitcoin's public ledger) to track and manage your transactions. The Bitcoin client software on your device uses the wallet to check all addresses contained within it for any associated balances on the blockchain, summing them up to present you with your total available funds. 


In essence, while you receive and send Bitcoin to and from addresses, the wallet manages these addresses and the necessary private keys, enabling you to execute transactions in the Bitcoin network securely. What's more, generally Bitcoin wallets will automatically generate a new address for you, although many wallets do allow for multiple types of Bitcoin addresses to be used.


In response to the developments in Bitcoin addresses, modern Bitcoin wallets like Leather integrate these various address types to improve and streamline the user experience. Additionally, these wallets often automatically generate new and appropriate types of addresses, simplifying the process for users unfamiliar with each address type's technical nuances.


Conclusion


The evolution of new Bitcoin addresses over the years highlight significant strides in improving the network's efficiency, transaction costs, and user privacy. As innovators within the Bitcoin ecosystem persistently roll out new products, wallets are focused on seamlessly incorporating these exciting innovative solutions, keeping pace with the dynamic changes in the industry.


Connect to Web3 applications built on Bitcoin with the Leather extension wallet app. Download Leather – the Bitcoin wallet for the rest of us – today.