How Well Does Lightning Network Work? Try a Test Node and See
Jad Mubaslat, a masters student at Wright State University, has posted instructions on how to set up a Lightning Network node on the bitcoin test network. While these steps may not be quite as easy to follow as Mubaslat would have you believe, they don’t require any advanced programming skills.
What Is the Lightning Network?
The brainchild of co-creators Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja, Lightning Network is what’s known as a second layer solution to the scaling problem faced by both Bitcoin and Ethereum. If successful, the Lightning Network will allow for potentially billions of transactions per second and at incredibly low fees when compared to today’s high prices.
Lightning network is currently being designed for both Bitcoin and Ethereum (via the Plasma project, also created by Poon). As well, the upcoming OMG network will be tied to the launch of Poon’s Plasma system.
Other Second Layer Projects
Aside from Lightning, there are several other second layer solutions that are either in development or coming out soon, including Raiden for Ethereum and RSK for bitcoin.
In an interview with Bitsonline, RSK CEO Diego Gutiérrez Zaldívar recently said of the two networks:
“The main difference [between RSK and Lightning] is that RSK is targeting on-chain scaling while Lightning is focused on off-chain scaling. We think both scaling solutions are needed and that in practical scenarios off-chain transactions without proper on-chain scaling will be limited to servicing only a few tens of millions of users.”
In simplified terms, second layer solutions such as Lightning Network typically operate by combining many hundreds or thousands of transactions into larger, grouped on-chain transactions. This spreads the cost of each individual transaction as they are not all done on-chain, and also offers the potential increase in speed if the design goals are met.
Some in the cryptocurrency community have said that while second layer solutions are interesting, they should not be the end-all solution to scaling. Vitalik Buterin has said that blockchains should aim to have all transactions on-chain. Specifically, Buterin suggested using a technical process called sharding to achieve this goal.
Sharding, however, is still currently only theoretical, and likely only exists in the Ethereum Foundation test labs.
Lightning, on the other hand, already has test nodes now, and it’s available for the public to test, review, and check for bugs.
Setting up Your Own Lightning Network Node
To set up your own Lightning node on the Bitcoin test network (meaning it won’t handle real bitcoin, so you can feel free to play around with valueless test bitcoins) you’ll need to install a number of software packages and compile some of the code yourself using command lines.
While some of the options, such as the Zap wallet, offer an intuitive graphical user interface, neatly packaged executables or installers are not yet available for most as the software is still under active development on GitHub.
Once you have the node up and running, guide author Jad Mubslat suggested you try buying a virtual coffee, or some virtual mobile phone minutes from test businesses that exist on the test network.
Lightning Network is designed to not only offer low-cost fees but also to increase transactions speeds from many tens of minutes or hours into mere seconds.
The author of the guide noted that while the software still is not perfect, when it does work it’s very exciting to see the test transactions to go through almost instantly.
Still Not Ready for Prime Time Launch
A lot of work has been done on the software, but it is still not ready for the main chain. When you are handling valuable assets that could be lost due to a technical error, extreme caution must be taken.
So if you are a technically inclined person who is interested in the Lightning Network and have 30 to 60 minutes to spare, give Mubaslat’s guide a look. You can be one of the first people to kick Lightning Network’s tires. Then see for yourself if you think this represents a potential next leap forward for blockchain transaction technology.
What do you think of second layer solutions like Lightning, RSK, and Plasma? Will they be the next evolution, or will on-chain techniques like sharding be the winner? Let us know in the comments below.
Images via YouTube, Pixabay