What are Bitcoin Ordinals Wallets?

General Wallet Use

15 min

Whether you’re a longtime Bitcoin user or new to the community, it’s virtually impossible to navigate the Bitcoin ecosystem without hearing about Ordinals.

The Ordinals protocol was a monumental development for Bitcoin. In many ways, it heralded a new era for Bitcoin and revived interest in building on the world’s oldest blockchain.

The protocol also spurred the development of Ordinals wallets and drove existing Bitcoin wallets to adapt to this new milestone for Bitcoin. Leather – then known as Hiro Wallet – was one of the first Bitcoin wallets to offer Ordinals-related support for its users as new wallets also emerged specifically offering Ordinals support. For the purposes of this post, “Bitcoin Ordinals wallets” will be used to refer to both Bitcoin wallets with Ordinals support and wallets that were created to specifically manage Ordinals. 

The Ordinals wallet landscape is still in its early stages, as the protocol itself is constantly evolving to this day. Nevertheless, the potential that Ordinals has demonstrated – and the impact it has already had on Bitcoin wallets – is already significant.

What are Bitcoin Ordinals and Ordinal Inscriptions?

The Bitcoin Ordinals protocol is, in short, a protocol that allows content to be inscribed directly on the Bitcoin blockchain. The ability to do so led to an explosion of excitement around Bitcoin NFTs in the months following Ordinals’ launch in January of 2023 by Bitcoin developer Casey Rodarmor.

Since then, Ordinals have inspired a great number of projects and developments, including the appearance of recursive inscriptions and the BRC-20 token standard. 

Ordinals and Ordinal Theory 

The term “Ordinals” specifically refers to a numbering scheme that assigns a number to every satoshi – the smallest denomination of bitcoin – that is mined. The process of numbering each sat is known as ordinal theory, and each sat is numbered in the order that they are mined. 

This allows for precise tracking and verification of individual sats no matter where they are transferred on the blockchain. But along with the numbering scheme, content and data could be ascribed to each sat. The development of inscriptions, as they are known, is ultimately what led to the Ordinals protocol’s prominence in the Bitcoin community.

Inscriptions and digital artifacts

Initially, inscriptions involved embedding small content files like images, audio or text, to each satoshi, which take the form of a Bitcoin transaction. The fact that “minting” an inscription, so to speak, takes place as a Bitcoin transaction means that it takes place directly on the Bitcoin L1. 

Inscriptions are technically limited to 4MB thanks to Bitcoin’s Segregated Witness (SegWit) upgrade, and a design quirk of the Taproot upgrade makes it so that you can inscribe content into the witness portion of a Bitcoin transaction.

While inscriptions are commonly referred to as Ordinal NFTs or likened to Bitcoin NFTs, their categorization as digital artifacts does differentiate them from non-fungible tokens. NFTs, for the most part, rely on external smart contract platforms whereas inscriptions leverage Bitcoin as the base layer. This means that inscriptions effectively inherit Bitcoin’s innate decentralization, security and permanence.

The Ordinals inscription boom

Ordinals immediately took off and breathed new life into the Bitcoin ecosystem. Even non-Bitcoiners were flocking to the Bitcoin blockchain to discover how Ordinals worked and the possible use cases that could be derived from Ordinals technology. In the protocol’s first 200 days, more image-based inscriptions were minted on Bitcoin than the total number of NFTs minted in the same time period on Ethereum, Solana and Polygon, beginning from when NFTs were launched on each respective network.

Aside from the plethora of Ordinals collections that were springing up, builders also began exploring a number of use cases that integrated Ordinals technology. The Stacks ecosystem, in particular, drove a number of those use cases that included everything from Ordinal swaps to the inscription of .btc domain names as Ordinals.

The Emergence of Bitcoin Ordinals Wallets

The surge of Ordinals-related projects also inspired the creation of Ordinals wallets and related support in Bitcoin wallets. Without proper Ordinals functionality, users wouldn’t have had access to the growing Ordinals ecosystem.

Ordinals wallets: the beginning

Initially, ord was the only wallet that supported sat-control and sat-selection. It was the primary wallet for users to conduct basic transactions with their Ordinals, allowing them to send, receive and store their inscriptions. 

It was also possible to create an Ordinals-compatible wallet with Sparrow Wallet given that Sparrow had already integrated Taproot support. Otherwise, documentation about the Ordinals protocol warned against sending and receiving Ordinals in unsupported wallets. Users risked accidentally sending UTXOs containing their inscriptions if they weren’t careful. Consequently, users were also cautioned against managing their Ordinals in wallets they created to send BTC.

Bitcoin wallets begin offering Ordinals support

The popularity of Ordinals inscriptions rapidly led to the creation of new marketplaces catered to Ordinals enthusiasts. Users needed wallets that could both connect them to these platforms and give them enough functionality to keep up with new Ordinals-related developments. 

On February 14, Leather (formerly Hiro Wallet) launched a testnet for Ordinals support, making it the first Bitcoin wallet to do so. In that same week, Xverse wallet – another Bitcoin wallet with Web3 support – formally launched Ordinals support while Ordinals Wallet went live specifically to help users manage and conduct basic inscription-related transactions.

The emergence of Ordinals wallets and Bitcoin wallets with Ordinals support provided a number of crucial services that gave more users access to inscription functionality. They didn’t just connect users to Ordinal marketplaces where they could buy inscriptions, they also allowed users to engage with platforms where they could inscribe their own Ordinals. In the very early days of the Ordinals protocol, you had to download Bitcoin Core and run a full Bitcoin node to inscribe an Ordinal NFT. Bitcoin and Ordinals wallets made the inscription process way much more seamless and accessible by integrating with platforms like Satoshibles, Gamma and OrdinalsBot.

The Ordinals Protocol Evolves – and So Do Ordinals Wallets

In the months that followed, the Ordinals protocol inspired a number of other projects on the Bitcoin network. 

The STAMPS protocol used to mint Bitcoin Stamps, while it didn’t use Ordinal technology, was inspired by Ordinals to explore the idea of immutability on the Bitcoin blockchain. BRC-20 tokens used Ordinal inscription technology to create a token standard for fungible tokens on Bitcoin. The emergence of these new technologies inspired by and based on Ordinals also led additional marketplaces and platforms to pop up, contributing to Bitcoin’s rising popularity as a collectibles hub.

Additionally, developers were also expanding on the Ordinals protocol itself. Recursive inscriptions, for example, were presented as a way to daisy-chain data from existing inscriptions to create more complex Ordinals projects. The community also found ways to utilize cursed inscriptions (negative inscription numbers) to create new work like the OCM Dimensions collection.

Of course, Ordinals wallets were at the center of all of these new developments in the Ordinals and Ordinals-related landscape. As the primary touchpoint for users looking to engage with new technologies on Bitcoin, wallets also quickly pivoted to incorporate more advanced support features for inscriptions and new protocols. 

Ordinals enthusiasts can now connect to more platforms than ever. Not only that, they now have access to wallets that can give them more complete Ordinals experiences. Whether it’s more advanced inscription display to more integrations with Ordinals platforms, Ordinals wallets have largely moved in lock step with the protocol’s development and played their part in driving their enduring popularity.

Bitcoin Ordinals Wallets and the Inscription Boom

Leather is just one example of a Bitcoin wallet that gives users the ability to connect and engage with Ordinals protocols. Today’s Leather user can connect their wallet to Gamma Marketplace, Magic Eden, UniSat, OpenOrdex, Ordinals Wallet, Ordinals Market, and OrdX to see the latest Ordinal collections, and they have access to Ordinals-inspired creations like BRC-20 tokens. 

But like Ordinals, the Bitcoin Ordinals story is far from over. The more use cases that are built using Ordinals, the more the crypto community will recognize Bitcoin’s true potential.

Bitcoin Ordinals wallets, as a result, will continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that users have access to new technologies built on Bitcoin. Wallet apps have long been at the forefront of digital asset development and hold the keys to the mass adoption of blockchain technology. The same can be said of wallets like Leather, and Bitcoin Ordinals services are just one component of our mission to expose users to a global digital economy built on Bitcoin.

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