Block Hash

Unique reference for a block

Diagram showing how a block hash is created by hashing the block header.

A block hash (or block ID) is a unique reference for a block in the blockchain.

Every block hash is unique and is determined by the contents of the block. You can therefore use the block hash to search for a specific block in a blockchain explorer. For example:

There's nothing too interesting about these block hashes, as they're ultimately just a random-looking bunch of bytes.

However, you'll notice that all block hashes begin with a bunch of zeros. This is because for a block to be added to the blockchain, a miner must get a hash for their block below the current target value. And if the block hash is below this target value, then the block hash is naturally going to have a bunch of zeros at the start.

Creating

How do you create a block hash?

A block hash is created by hashing the block header.

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Block Hash

Create a block hash from a block header.

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Used internally inside raw block headers

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Used externally when searching for blocks on block explorers

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The steps for creating a block hash are as follows:

  1. Construct a block of transactions.
  2. Construct a block header for that block.
  3. HASH256 the block header to get the block hash.
    • HASH256 is shorthand for double SHA-256; you put the block header through the SHA-256 hash function, then put the result through SHA-256 again.

Code

require 'digest'

# ------------
# block header (genesis block)
# ------------
version = "01000000"
previousblock = "0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000"
merkleroot = "3ba3edfd7a7b12b27ac72c3e67768f617fc81bc3888a51323a9fb8aa4b1e5e4a"
time = "29ab5f49"
bits = "ffff001d"
nonce = "1dac2b7c"

blockheader = version + previousblock + merkleroot + time + bits + nonce

# ---------
# block hash
# ----------

# Note: Don't put the block header in to the hash function as a string.
#       Convert it from hexadecimal to raw bytes first.

# convert hexadecimal string to byte sequence
bytes = [blockheader].pack("H*") # H = hex string (highest byte first), * = multiple bytes

# SHA-256 (first round)
hash1 = Digest::SHA256.digest(bytes)

# SHA-256 (second round)
hash2 = Digest::SHA256.digest(hash1)

# convert from byte sequence back to hexadecimal string
blockhash = hash2.unpack("H*")[0]

# print result (natural byte order)
puts blockhash #=> 6fe28c0ab6f1b372c1a6a246ae63f74f931e8365e15a089c68d6190000000000

# print result (reverse byte order)
puts blockhash.scan(/../).reverse.join #=> 000000000019d6689c085ae165831e934ff763ae46a2a6c172b3f1b60a8ce26f

Transactions. You'll notice that you're not directly hashing the transactions inside the block. However, the block header contains a merkle root, which is the hash of the transactions, so the transactions inside the block are part of the block header.

Valid Block Hashes. Not all block hashes will have a bunch of zeros at the start (at first). Miners increment the nonce value in the block header to try and get a block hash that is below the target.

Byte Order. The actual result of hashing the block header will produce a block hash that is in natural byte order. However, when searching for blocks in a blockchain explorer the block hash is in reverse byte order.

Usage

Where are block hashes used in bitcoin?

Block hashes are used in two places:

  1. They are used when searching for a specific block in the blockchain.
  2. They are put inside the previous block field of the block header to connect blocks together in the blockchain.
Diagram showing blocks connected together through block hashes in the block header using the previous block field.
Blocks are connected by their block hashes.

So you'll most commonly use block hashes when searching for a specific block on a blockchain explorer, but the previous block field is critically important as it's the glue that holds the blockchain together.

FAQ

Is the block hash just some bytes or is it a number?

It's both.

Anything that comes out of the SHA-256 hash function is just a bunch of meaningless bytes. But they are unique (for that particular data), so they're perfect for use as a unique reference for some specific data. This allows you to confidently search for and reference previous blocks when building a blockchain.

Again, this is the unique block hash for the genesis block:

000000000019d6689c085ae165831e934ff763ae46a2a6c172b3f1b60a8ce26f

The hexadecimal characters you see here are just representing 32 bytes of meaningless data.

However, in bitcoin, during the process of mining these block hashes also get interpreted as numbers. If you convert this block hash from hexadecimal to decimal you get:

10628944869218562084050143519444549580389464591454674019345556079

By doing this you can check to see if the block hash is below the target, and if it is, the block can be added on to the blockchain.

So it's makes sense to think of the block hash as being a unique number.

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