How long do miners take to confirm a Bitcoin transaction?
A distinction between “confirmed” and “unconfirmed” transactions is frequent in popular definitions of Bitcoin and the interfaces of wallet software.
What is the difference? A transaction is confirmed when miners permanently record it in the Bitcoin blockchain.
The blockchain is a record of all Bitcoin transactions in the past. It is append-only, meaning new statistics can be added to the end of the ledger but never removed.
This ledger is required to prevent double-spending, a significant technical challenge in developing any cryptocurrency.
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How are Bitcoins moved?
Remember that if Ann “owns” some amount of Bitcoins. And this implies she knows one or more cryptographic keys that the Bitcoin system assigned her as the coins’ controller in a ledger transaction that transferred the cash to Ann.
Ann will generate a digital signature with a statement, “I wish to redeem (spend) this crypto transaction and transfer the value to X, Y, Z” using those keys.
The new encryption address will be X, Y, and Z, representing keys another individual (or perhaps Ann herself) knows.
Assume Ann signs a statement on her computer stating that she wants to send some crypto to Bob but never sends the notification to Bob.
In this case, the coins’ transfer won’t happen. And this is analogous to a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it.
However, simply sending the signed statement to Bob is insufficient because Ann may have signed a conflicting transaction stating that she wants to send the coins to Carol. In turn, she only sends it to Carol.
If Bob and Carol had acknowledged these statements as proof that Ann gave them the funds, Ann would have effectively spent her coins twice.
That’s where the concept of a global ledger comes into play. Ann must submit her statement approving the exchange to the blockchain if she wishes to transfer her coins to Bob.
Because the miners who preserve the blockchain will only include this exchange if Ann has not yet transmitted the funds to anyone else, Bob can be confident that he is the new owner once he sees the transaction appear in the blockchain.
Even if Ann later produces a statement claiming that she transferred the coins to Carol, miners won’t accept it into the blockchain. Miners published the transaction, moving the funds to Bob first.
How long does it take to complete six blocks?
In practice, the community has settled on six blocks as the standard confirmation period. A transaction is “confirmed” when miners include it in a blockchain block followed by at least six additional blocks.
How long will Ann wait if she accepts the community standard of 6 blocks? The typical response is “one hour,” but this is not the whole story.
Because miners discover blocks randomly, it is impossible to predict how long it will take to find six blocks. Each block takes about 10 minutes to find on average.
The average block time can be slightly shorter or longer depending on whether the Bitcoin network’s total hash power is increasing or decreasing. Ignoring this detail is why six confirmations take, on average, 1 hour.
On the other hand, the block-creation (or mining) process is random, and each block may take much longer or shorter.
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A transaction is confirmed when miners record it permanently in the Bitcoin blockchain. The time this takes varies wildly—sometimes it takes tens of minutes, sometimes it takes over two hours—but on average, it takes about an hour.
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