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What are Recursive Inscriptions?

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Early in 2023, the emergence of Ordinals kicked off a new era of innovation on the Bitcoin network. When Ordinals introduced a way to create quasi-NFTs on the oldest and biggest blockchain, a surge of excitement and experimentation launched Bitcoin back into the center of the DeFi and NFT conversation.


Recursive inscriptions came soon after, providing a way to connect data, overcoming Ordinal size limitations. Now, Ordinals and recursive inscriptions are becoming easier to access and more user-friendly for the Bitcoin ecosystem.


But what, exactly, are recursive inscriptions and how do they work?


What Are Recursive Inscriptions and How Do These Inscriptions Work?


The Ordinals protocol introduced a system for uniquely identifying individual satoshis (the smallest unit of bitcoin) called Ordinal theory. This means that every ordinal can be individually tracked on the Bitcoin ledger. Prior to Ordinals, all bitcoins were fungible. But with identifiers associated with specific sats, NFTs directly on the Bitcoin L1 became a more feasible concept.


Recursive inscriptions allow the Bitcoin blockchain to host more complex functionality. They create similar possibilities as smart contracts on platforms like Ethereum. Recursive inscriptions are a mechanism to record information associated with a specific Bitcoin, in a chain of self-referencing Ordinals. 


Recursion is a technique in computer science where code refers to itself, to achieve composability. This recursive process involves combining various on-chain data sources, including image layers, audio, code, or other data. Think of it as assembling data Legos, where each piece can be taken from somewhere else and built upon, creating a modular and flexible environment. In the case of recursive inscriptions, the user is basically taking data from existing inscriptions and daisy chaining them into new inscriptions. 


You could also think of recursive inscriptions like integrating an AWS cloud onto the Bitcoin blockchain. They place and label data on the blockchain in a way that makes them easy to identify, track, and connect. The possibilities for recursive inscriptions are vast and varied. Storing even the most complex data sets, such as video and audio files, becomes technically feasible on Bitcoin with recursion. 


Why Are Recursive Inscriptions Important for Ordinals?


One notable feature is the reusability of inscriptions. Once data is on the blockchain, it can be referred to freely and indefinitely. This significantly reduces storage costs and block space utilization. This reusability opens the door to a community-driven public infrastructure, fostering the creation of more complex inscriptions at a fraction of the cost.


While the full potential of recursive inscriptions is still to be determined, early adopters can see the possibilities. From DeFi on Bitcoin to disrupting NFT culture by directly storing images, text files, and audio files with tokens, recursive inscriptions could position Bitcoin as more than just a store of value.


Because of the limited block size on Bitcoin and Ordinals inscriptions being restricted to individual sats, recursive inscriptions allow for more complex data architecture. That makes them pivotal in building on Bitcoin.


What Projects Have Used Recursions?


Now that we understand the basics of recursive inscriptions, let's talk about how they're being used. These are some popular projects that are utilizing Ordinals and recursive inscriptions on Bitcoin in 2023.


Dimensions by OnChainMonkey  


A noteworthy project showcasing the functionality of recursive Ordinals are Dimensions from OnChainMonkey. Dimensions is more than just a digital sculpture, it's a pioneering exploration of Bitcoin Ordinals. Dimensions are high-end, 3D Generative Art rendered entirely from code.


What distinguishes Dimensions is a clever use of negative inscription numbers and a sequential order tied to Bitcoin's early days. The first 300 Dimensions are inscribed on satoshis from the third day of Bitcoin's existence. This adds historical significance to the collection.


Dimensions leverage the parent-child relationship of  recursive inscriptions. Each of the first 300 Dimensions is intricately linked to a "parent" collection ordinal, providing clear, on-chain provenance. This is a key feature that places Deminsions squarely within the ethos of NFTs — solidifying digital ownership using blockchain.


Prints by Gamma 


Another notable project in the recursive inscription game comes from the Ordinals marketplace Gamma. The Gamma Prints collection brings art onto the blockchain via recursive inscriptions. Gamma says about Prints, “While the core, underlying visual is shared, each Print is inscribed on an individual satoshi, each with a traceable backstory, each created from a matrix. Prints will live on forever on the Bitcoin blockchain.”


Prints simplify the process of creating Bitcoin NFTs using ordinal inscriptions. Gamma's approach is user-friendly, with a no-code solution for users who have a Bitcoin address. The platform streamlines the creation process, focusing on four key aspects:


  • Image optimization: Gamma accepts various image formats, optimizing them for improved quality and faster processing.


  • Inscription creation: Users can submit any image or text for inscription without complex software or running a node. Gamma also provides live fee rate information for easy, informed decisions about the cost of inscriptions.


  • Inscription delivery: The inscriptions created are sent directly to the user's Bitcoin taproot or ordinals-compatible address. Once received, the inscription is irrevocable, ensuring 100% ownership for the user.


  • Ordinal tracking and viewing: Gamma offers tracking and viewing tools to keep users updated on their inscription's status, from payment to delivery. Users can conveniently view and share their ordinal on the Gamma website.


Conclusion


Projects like Dimensions and Prints are just the beginning of uses for recursive inscriptions on Bitcoin. Creating use cases that demonstrate how a new idea or technology works always sparks iterations and improvements in the crypto community.


In fact, recursive inscriptions themselves are a result of new ideas generated by what Ordinals demonstrated to a formerly stagnant development space. Parent-child data relationships, generative coding, recursion, composability, and compression are all important for building on Bitcoin. These new strategies lead the way for future applications and developments that the Bitcoin community can tap into.


One example of how new Bitcoin innovations are making the blockchain more usable are new partnerships emerging. Both Dimensions and Prints are accessible with Leather wallet. When users want to access their Ordinals, they can see them directly and fully animated in the Collectibles section of their wallet.


Partnerships like these are making the Bitcoin NFT and DeFi ecosystems much more interoperable, pointing to a brighter future ahead for Web3 on Bitcoin.


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