What does a node do?
A node has three jobs:
- Follow rules
- Share information
- Keep a copy of confirmed transactions
1. Follow rules
Each node (bitcoin client) has been programmed to follow a set of rules. By following these rules a node is able to check the transactions it receives and only relay them if everything is cool. If there are any problems, the transaction isn’t passed on.
For example, one rule is that a person must own an equal or greater amount of bitcoins than they are trying to send. So if your node receives a transaction where someone has tried to send more bitcoins than they own, the transaction won’t be passed on to other nodes.
2. Share information
A node’s main job is to share information with other nodes, and the quintessential information a node shares is transactions.
Now, there are two types of transactions that nodes share:
- Fresh transactions – transactions that have recently entered the network.
- Confirmed transactions – transactions that have been “confirmed” and written to a file. These are shared in blocks of transactions, and not individually.
3. Keep a copy of confirmed transactions
As mentioned, each node also keeps blocks of confirmed transactions. These are held together in a file called the blockchain.
Fresh transactions are bounced around the network until they are etched in to the blockchain, which is a ledger of confirmed transactions.
Each node has a copy of the blockchain for safe keeping, and shares it with other nodes if their copy isn’t up to date.
Do I have to be a node to use bitcoin?
You can send and receive bitcoins without having to be a node. You just need to get the transaction in to the bitcoin network and you’re good to go.
If you’re using a web wallet for example, they will feed the transactions you make in to the network for you.