With Umbrel, a Bitcoin node is so easy that anyone can do it

It has never been so easy to set up your own Bitcoin & Lightning Network node. With the free Umbrel software it is so simple that anyone can do it, even if you have no technical knowledge. With a Raspberry Pi, a hard disk and the Umbrel software you are ready in a few minutes. Umbrel shows that Bitcoin doesn’t have to be difficult at all.

One of the basic principles of Bitcoin is that anyone can independently check the transactions on the blockchain to make sure everything is correct. You do this with special software that downloads and checks all transaction information from the blockchain. You then have a so-called Bitcoin node. When you connect a Bitcoin wallet to it, you can be sure that your wallet is provided with the correct transaction history.

If you don’t have your own Bitcoin node, your wallet is probably connecting to someone else’s Bitcoin node. This is at the expense of your privacy because the other person can watch and you have to trust that you will not receive any wrong information. If you want maximum control and security, running your own Bitcoin node is essential.

That was still something that required some technical knowledge until now, but thanks to Umbrel it’s so easy that anyone can do it.

Umbrel

Umbrel is free open source software for a Raspberry Pi 4 mini computer, with which you can set up a Bitcoin node and Lightning node in no time. You hardly have to do anything for it, because the software takes all the work off your hands. Umbrel is still in Beta, which means the software is not finished yet and may still contain bugs , but it has recently become available to the general public.

All you need is a hard disk and a Raspberry Pi 4. This is a small and cheap mini computer that originates from the open source community.

A Raspberry Pi 4 only costs a few tenners and hardly consumes any power, which makes it ideal for running your own node. There are several Dutch resellers where you can buy ready-made starter kits containing everything you need. You also need an external hard drive, preferably one with a storage capacity of 1 TB or larger.

Then it’s a matter of plugging everything in and installing Umbrel. You install this via a normal computer on the SD card of the Raspberry Pi. When you then insert the SD card into the Raspberry Pi, the software takes care of the rest. It only takes a few minutes and after that you are the proud owner of your own Bitcoin and Lightning node.

You can then log in to your node via a computer that is connected to your home network. You do this simply by entering an address in your favorite browser, after which you end up on the login screen.

Once logged in, you will see a clear overview of your node, which is currently already busy checking blocks from the blockchain. That has to be done from the beginning and since there are already more than 650,000 blocks it can take a while. Expect it to take at least a few days.

When the blockchain is synchronized, you can connect it to a Bitcoin wallet. You select which wallet it concerns in Umbrel, after which the software provides you with an address that you enter in your wallet to establish the connection. After that, your wallet is connected to your node.

Lightning Node

In addition to being a Bitcoin node, Umbrel is also a Lightning Network node. That is quite special, because many people consider setting up and running a Lightning Network Node as quite a technical challenge. With Umbrel, however, it is so arranged. You can just start opening channels right away and experimenting with the possibilities.

The Lightning Network is optional and you can only use Umbrel as a ‘regular’ Bitcoin node.

Tor

To protect your privacy, Umbrel automatically connects to the Bitcoin network via the Tor network. That way all data is encrypted and the IP address of your node is not visible.

Umbrel also generates a Tor address for your node. If you are not near your home network, you can still log in to your node via the Tor browser. Pretty handy.

More nodes

Bitcoin nodes are important to the Bitcoin ecosystem. Bitcoin nodes check whether the blocks that Bitcoin miners find are valid. In this way they individually check whether any strange antics are happening, but together they actually determine which rules apply to the network. This is especially relevant when part of the Bitcoin miners try to change the rules of the network, i.e. the code, such as with a hard fork . It is then up to the Bitcoin nodes to decide whether to go along with it or reject the changes.

Bitcoin nodes therefore have quite a lot of power. They jointly determine what ‘truth’ they believe; this creates consensus on the network. It is therefore important that there are as many independent nodes as possible, because then the network remains decentralized and therefore reliable. Your own Bitcoin node is therefore good for yourself, but also good for the network.

Worldwide there are currently tens of thousands of Bitcoin nodes and over 7500 Lightning nodes. The hope is that barrier-reducing innovations such as Umbrel will help to increase that.

NB! Umbrel is still in Beta, which means that the software is not quite finished yet and may still contain bugs. So don’t rely too much on it and realize that something might go wrong – so don’t risk large sums!

If you can’t figure it out or have questions, take a look at the Dutch-language Lightning community on Telegram.

Credit: Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0, iklash/SparkFunElectronics

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