In Bitcoin, you’re not a first class citizen of the network until you run your own full node and also use it to validate your own transactions. Though the action of storing an entire copy of the blockchain and validating other people’s transactions might sound altruistic and focused on further decentralizing the network, the reasons why you should run a Bitcoin node are mostly selfish and concern your own privacy and sovereignty.
What’s a Bitcoin node, you say? It’s a network validator which plays the role of consensus rules enforcer, accountant, and historian. In the Bitcoin network’s balance of powers, the nodes are the ones that keep both the miners and the developers in check. If a miner tries to cheat, his blocks will be invalidated by full nodes – thus deeming the effort wasteful from a computational and energetic point of view. On the other hand, if a developer tries to push a change or upgrade to the network, it won’t get adopted unless a majority of full nodes agrees to run that new piece of code. Therefore, programmers who work on unnecessary or malevolent projects will also make a wasteful effort. Accordingly, you can also say that full nodes play the role of judges.
Technically speaking, a Bitcoin full node is just a computer which validates and stores the entire history of transactions. But nodes also keep their own mempool, meaning that unconfirmed transactions will get broadcast for as long as there’s at least one node that proposes it to the miners. So if you enjoy paying low fees and waiting for weeks until your transactions get confirmed, then you can only do this while running your own node.
The rule is plain and simple: if you don’t run your own node, then you’re using somebody else’s. And while leeching on somebody else’s infrastructure sounds comfortable, it’s all fun and games until you realize that another third party stores information about your transactions and funds. Bitcoin privacy is also important and you probably don’t want to share your wallet xpub with a random stranger.
The hardware requirements in order to run a full Bitcoin node are also more than reasonable: any computer with a dual core processor, at least 4 GB of RAM, more than 500 GB of free storage (or at least 2 GB for a pruned node) and access to broadband internet should be able to sync from the genesis block to the most recent block height in a couple of days. After the initial block download (IBD), the validation and storage process becomes less computationally-intensive. Essentially, any laptop or desktop computer that’s been released since 2010 should be able to sync and validate a full Bitcoin node. Just download Bitcoin Core for free, verify that you got the right files, and enjoy a new degree of sovereignty.
Yes, there are some “node in a box” solutions that you can purchase. However, for all the convenience they offer, they tend to be overpriced and require a degree of trust. RaspiBlitz, Umbrel, Nodl, MyNodeBTC, and Start9 Server are all fine choices. But you’re definitely better off purchasing a used laptop with a new SSD for storage. You’ll get better performance, a battery that keeps your machine running during blackouts, and more reliability. Usually, Lenovo Thinkpads are known to last for a long time and you can usually find good offers on secondary markets – just replace the hard drive (or else securely wipe the existing one), then install Ubuntu and run your favorite open source Bitcoin/Lightning node dashboard (RaspiBlitz, Start9 and Umbrel should work). Heck, if you want to keep it basic you don’t even need these sophisticated feature-packed distributions: the good old Bitcoin Core will do. You can add LND or c-lightning on top.
The extra hour you put into setting up your own hardware comes with great educational and computational benefits. And though I previously wrote an article to explain why the RaspBerry Pi is ideal for Bitcoin nodes, in the meantime the price for these tiny computers had gone up so much that purchasing a used laptop (or using one that you already have) is more economical.
Now let’s dive into the subject matter: after we talked about the significance of the Bitcoin full node and some hardware and software options that you have, it’s time to finally begin the listicle part. So here are the 10 reasons why you should run your own Bitcoin full node!
Reason #1: A full node gives you control over verification
Ever heard of the phrase “don’t trust, verify”? How can you know that someone doesn’t send you fake bitcoins unless you verify the transaction with your own full node?
In a way, running a Bitcoin full node is like wearing a watch. You synchronize it, and then you know what time it is without having to ask someone else. If you decide to rely on third parties, you might get a wrong answer and be mislead – and in the case of the Bitcoin network, this is about scarce money that you should verify yourself.
Running your own full node empowers you to verify that the consensus rules of the Bitcoin network are being respected. And this is no small feat, as merchants of the past required very sophisticated methods to verify the weight and purity of precious metals – just like paper money needs some unforgeable marks too. Bitcoin is the next evolutionary leap that makes scrutiny accessible to everyone. Why trust someone else when the computer you already have can help you become more sovereign?
Reason #2: A full Bitcoin node gives you better privacy
Bitcoin privacy is a delicate topic. Some would want to be able to hide the amounts they transact, while others prefer the public ledger system. But regardless of your position on transaction confidentiality, you must agree that sharing information about how much money you have (and with whom you are transacting) with strangers is a bad idea.
This is exactly what happens when you make use of somebody else’s node: you reveal your extended public key (xpub) and IP address, so the third party will know how many coins you have in your wallet, which addresses you generated, and with whom you have been transacting. It’s a tradeoff that users of lightweight wallets more or less knowingly accept.
But if you’re running your own node (or use a wallet which downloads block filters such as Wasabi on desktop and Blixt on mobile), then this data never leaves your computer. Yes, mobile SPV wallets are convenient. But it’s so much better to connect them to your own full Bitcoin node. It’s for your privacy!
Reason #3: A full node contributes to Bitcoin’s decentralization
In Bitcoin, decentralization is the most important dimension. Without it, we might as well return to PayPal and Venmo because they’re certainly secure and scalable. And yes, other people may need your node to sync up their own. Not only that, but keeping an extra copy of the Bitcoin blockchain adds up to the global redundancy and makes the history of transactions even more difficult to get lost.
What happens if one government bans Bitcoin and makes sure that all citizens who operate nodes erase their hard drives? Well, there’s always going to be another node in a free country to keep the network alive. You can potentially become that node that can potentially save the network, or you can simply help someone who lives next to you synchronize the blockchain faster.
Your own full Bitcoin node will constantly broadcast transactions and blocks to other nodes, thus becoming part of the network. You can compare it to BitTorrent transfers: when you sync the node you’re the leecher, and once you’re all caught up with the entire history of Bitcoin transactions you become someone else’s reliable seeder – except that everything is constantly verified against the existing consensus rules, to avoid bad accounting and potential chain splits.
Yes, running a full Bitcoin node is mostly selfish and empowers the user more than it helps the network. But in the case of massive attacks against the Bitcoin network, every honest node can make a difference because it keeps a complete history of all transactions and UTXOs.
Reason #4: A full node keeps its own mempool
The “mempool” is a very elusive concept: mostly because every sovereign node decides its own policy. Some nodes may decide to reject certain types of transactions (such as SegWit, Taproot, or multisig). Others may choose to only store 300 megabytes of transactions in the mempool – which means that transactions that pay a low fee and have a lower time preference will get dropped from the mempools of most nodes.
But if you run your own full Bitcoin node, you also store your own mempool. And when you store your own mempool, your own transactions never get dropped because your node keeps on broadcasting them until a miner finally picks it up and includes it in a block. Users of light mobile wallets generally don’t have the option to pay very low transaction fees specifically because the third party node will drop “stuck” transactions.
With a full node, you can wait for as long as it takes for your transaction to get confirmed. Sure, you can also do RBF (Replace by Fee) to get a faster confirmation. But this feature is also something that’s much easier to do on your node and is not supported by most SPV wallets.
Reason #5: Full sovereignty!
To quote Nick Szabo, trusted third parties are security holes. Why trust an exchange or some shady wallet developer with your savings when you can make use of Bitcoin Core – the most tested and widely used full node wallet for Bitcoin?
If you learn to use the full node software from the command line, you will also discover advanced features such as conditionally locking your coins until a certain block height or setting up a PSBT scheme to separate transaction signing from broadcasting. The node gives you freedom, control, and security.
It keeps you away from hacks and scams, and it comes with no service restrictions. You are free to transact with whoever you want, pay the fee that you want, and have the advanced security settings (encryption via passphrase, PSBT) that you want. This is what financial sovereignty is all about.
Reason #6: Your node, your rules
Bitcoin only has a handful of consensus rules which regard transaction validity, the monetary policy (total coin supply, issuance schedule), and special events (difficulty readjustments every 2016 blocks, halvings every 210.000 blocks). Everything in between is optional and empowers the nodes to set their own rules.
You don’t like SegWit, Taproot, or any other soft fork? You can set your node to reject these transactions. You don’t like a certain peer? You can add their IP address to your node’s blacklist. You don’t want to support a new Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP)? You can set your node to ignore the new code. You want to signal to miners that their new fork is illegitimate? All you have to do it to not switch parameters to join that new network and they will see that their effort lacks support.
When we say that running your own full Bitcoin node turns you into a first class citizen this is exactly what we mean: you can vote with your own node to not support something with which you don’t agree, while still validating the chain with the most Proof of Work.
Reason #7: Full nodes are secure
Of all the Bitcoin wallets in existence, the full node implementation is the most battle-tested. Sure, Electrum, Wasabi, Trezor, Armory, Mycelium, and Blockstream Green come very close: they have been around for years, have millions of downloads, and their codebase has received a lot of scrutiny. But none of them comes close to Bitcoin Core.
But the security isn’t only about the codebase. It’s also about certainty: since you validate all the transactions yourself, you always know when an operation on the main chain is valid and when it doesn’t respect the consensus rules.
Last but not least, Bitcoin Core also includes Hardware Wallet Integration (HWI) support. Currently, it only works with PSBT hardware wallets (SeedSigner, Passport, Coldcard, Specter DIY, Bowser). Yet in spite of this limitation, it’s still a good idea to separate transaction signing from broadcasting. Having your hardware wallet as a bona fide two factor authentication device does provide some security benefits. Now, if only the Core devs also integrated a way to type your passphrase from the hardware wallet keyboard to protect users from system keylogging…
Reason #8: Running your own Bitcoin full node is educational
When I first started studying Bitcoin more seriously, I remember stumbling upon Erik Voorhees’ “Bitcoin is like a bicycle” metaphor. At first, I thought it was pretty dumb. But now I understand it: you don’t really understand what Bitcoin is and how it works by watching others use it. You gotta install a wallet yourself, take the plunge into the depths of self-custody and sovereignty, then finally become a master of the craft who knows how to store private keys according to a personal threat model.
While reading about Bitcoin helps you understand some theoretical aspects about the decentralized internet money network, you won’t really figure out some practical aspects until the day you start running your own full node. When you are in control of the rules, you are far more likely to understand the importance of fully validating. And when you configure some simple features such as Tor routing and mempool size, you finally figure out what a powerful tool your node is.
Next thing you know, you’ll be browsing Bitcoin StackExchange searching for interesting command line prompts that you can use to maximize your sovereignty. And when you discover that a feature doesn’t function the way you wanted it to and you fix it for yourself, you’ll most likely end up submitting a pull request to the Bitcoin Core GitHub repository and therefore become a Core dev. It all starts with your full node!
Reason #9: Your full node is financial inclusion
Ideally, every user should run their own node from a personal computer. But what about those who can’t? Well, if you’re well-meaning and operate a node with a reasonable degree of reliability, you can provide financial inclusion to your friends, neighbors, and family members by connecting their wallets to your node.
For as long as others have an internet connection, they can reach your node – and even if they don’t, they can use mesh antenna networks to communicate with it. Just keep port 8333 open in your router and others will be able to connect to your node without any issue.
Alternatively, you can turn your full Bitcoin node into an Electrum server – basically a node with extra indexing. This will help you and others use it with applications such as Trezor Suite and BitBoxBase.
Reason #10: Your node preserves Bitcoin’s censorship resistance
This point is an extension of reason number 6, with a twist: while others may censor various types of transactions for political or personal reasons, your full node can be the one that broadcasts everything indiscriminately. If there’s a Bitcoin user from a sanctioned country and lots of other users are afraid to provide service to these people, then your node can restore the censorship resistance.
Furthermore, even if a majority of nodes gets run by governments and trans-national corporations which enjoy instating censorship, your node is still sovereign and independent. You don’t need to add any rule unless you want to and as long as you can keep your personal freedom against the state. So you can be the hero while others cave in to fear and pressure.
In theory, Bitcoin can stay censorship resistant with only one node that refuses to engage in blacklisting. But in practice, it takes lots of these devices to guarantee geographic and jurisdictional diversity, as well as reduce the risk of having single points of failure. By not adding explicit discriminatory rules, your node becomes a protector of decentralization and censorship resistance. Sure, the miners can also refuse to pick up certain transactions from your node. But then again, for as long as the fee is generous enough, there is always another miner from another jurisdiction who doesn’t mind increasing his profits.
Your full node can really make a difference in the world – both for yourself and other users worldwide!
Running your own Bitcoin node provides you with independence, privacy, and a deeper understanding of how Bitcoin works. Not only does it benefit you as a user, but it also contributes to the strength, resilience, and decentralization of the entire Bitcoin network. Now that you know these 10 reasons, it’s time for you to take matters into your own hands and start running your own node. If you’d like to describe your own experience, leave feedback in the comments.
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Parli italiano? Read Davide Coltro’s Italian translation of this article!